Reviews of OWB!
Experiencing life unhampered by clothing
Our Wonderful Bodies!
By Jim C. Cunningham
Photo-edited by Linda S. Cunningham
Published by Naturist LIFE International, Incorporated, in Troy, Vermont
2001, softcover, 100 pages, $10
Is the nude human body inherently shameful or dirty? Should the body always be hidden from view of others? What is it about a Judeo-Christian upbringing that makes people ashamed to be seen unclothed?
In response to these questions and more, Jim and Linda Cunningham have written and compiled a book of essays and photographs focused entirely on the benefits of experiencing life without being hampered by clothing. The Cunninghams are naturists and through their book, invite others to examine this lifestyle through biblical scripture.
The book is filled with photos of people doing very usual things — hiking, dancing, swimming, building sand castles, horseback riding, chopping wood, gathering sap, and washing dishes. The only unusual thing about the photos is that everyone in them is nude.
It should be noted immediately that this is not a book intended to titillate readers. The people in the photos are not attempting to arouse anyone. The photos have no element of sexuality in them, as the intention is to show the beauty of the human body within the context of morality. The first essay by Mr. Cunningham is called “Welcome to You!” Mr. Cunningham writes, “Wonderful bodies? Yes, they are. And we are not talking about some nebulous, hypothetical, ideal human body, but ours — yours and mine.”
Having been bombarded, since our first cognizant moments, with images of people with “perfect” bodies by American standards, it is refreshing to view page after page of regular people. Those shown in the book are tall and thin, short and round. The women do not have impossibly small waists and unnaturally large breasts, and the men are not muscle-bound diet pushers. They are real people.
Mr. Cunningham says that “because we were made to seek perfection” we tend to focus on what is wrong with our bodies because we are comparing them to an ideal we will never attain. He writes, “Deep down we all tend to want to believe the truth of the body's goodness and beauty, but this conviction finds little opportunity to be explored, expressed, proclaimed, and celebrated on account of various elements in culture which relentlessly threaten to contaminate it.” The idea is not that we should change our bodies, but that we should change how we regard them.
In America advertisements for diet pills proliferate while women and men starve themselves, exercise compulsively, and vomit after bingeing in order to pare their bodies down so small that they cannot even sustain life. For example, The Gap now sells pants sized zero. What are you when you fit into zero-sized pants? Do you even exist anymore? Mr. Cunningham asks, what are bodies supposed to look like? He says we don’t know because “without opportunities to see what others really look like, we have nothing left as a measuring stick but myths like the centerfold of Playboy.”
The book is a place where everyone fits in, where all are the “right” size and shape. He notes that it is odd that we feel free to show people our faces and other supposedly innocuous body parts, but deem some parts too awful to expose. He says that people should be known as whole people, not as fragmented parts. He writes, “A nude accepts not only himself, but also those around him.” Leading a nudist lifestyle is about shedding a need for external happiness and about learning that “now you alone are the arbiter of your own happiness.”
He furthers the point by writing, "I am not saying that body acceptance is nirvana or the height of spiritual perfection. But I am saying that to aim for those other spiritual perfections without first reconciling yourself with your physical reality which we cannot escape, is like trying to run the 100-yard dash with your shoe-laces tied to each other.” Loving your body’s innate goodness is not egotism, but an acute appreciation of one of the many gifts you have received from God."
According to Mr. Cunningham. Being ashamed of the body is the same as being ashamed of God. “I can tell you in all humility that I am beautiful. I say this despite total blindness due to 30 years of juvenile diabetes. I have not seen myself in over a decade.” Mr. Cunningham uses humor frequently throughout the book to illustrate his points. One of the major discussions in the book deals with breastfeeding and society’s urge to force nursing mothers to shroud their babies while they eat, as if the breast is a singularly sexual organ. “If babies should be veiled while dining, then why not adults? Why don’t we all go out to eat with baggy hoods pulled over our faces, lest anyone should be aroused by witnessing the supposedly erotic activity of adult dining? It would be hilarious if it were not so sad.…”
In the second essay, called “Let It Shine!,” Mr. Cunningham delves into “body image in light of Judeo-Christian revelation.” He says that within a Judeo-Christian background, people are given the guidelines for deciding what is right and wrong, and that often those guidelines are muddied when learned within a society that has its own ideas of right and wrong. He argues that many Christians do good acts, bestow kindness on their fellow humans, and otherwise avoid doing harm, but that they are still not living according to scripture.
“Let’s face it: When it comes to our bodies, like most everything else, we Christians are really messed up. We are far, very far, from the mind of Christ,” he writes. He says we are living according to the dominant culture and not the word of God. Again writing about the idea that some parts are dirty and some aren’t, Mr. Cunningham writes that because the body was made in God’s image, “not one part of it can be unholy or dirty. The notion that some part of it is indecent or obscene is entirely unscriptural. Those who believe the human body is ‘dirty’ (and 99 percent of Jews and Christians do, in practice if not in word) are judging by the erroneous standards of the world, which we are not supposed to blindly accept, but rather illuminate and correct.”
He goes into the history of nudity, explaining that at one point in time, public nudity was quite normal. Before plumbing in each house, people bathed together in public baths, nude. He cites many biblical references for laboring nude, fishing nude, and even preaching nude.
The third essay, in comparison to the free-spirited first two essays, sounds a bit preachy. The third is called “Behold: It Is Very Good!” and deals with morality based on Mr. Cunningham’s reading of the Bible. He writes that one should never do anything to willfully arouse someone outside of marriage, and that doing so is inherently immoral. He makes the distinction that arousing someone unintentionally is not immoral. He uses the example of arousal. He says sometimes it just happens, for whatever reason, without a source of stimulation. However, if a man went to a nude beach with the intention of being aroused or arousing others, he would be acting immorally. Taking his morals from a literal interpretation of the Bible, Mr. Cunningham asserts that “sex belongs only within marriage. Sex is good, great, and holy, but only in its place. Both natural law and God’s law tell us that marriage is that place, since it is obvious from the mere observation of sexual physiology, that sex concerns procreation (Genesis 1:28) and union of husband and wife (Genesis 2:24).” He advances his essay with guidelines one can use to determine whether an act, thought, or word is moral. He says the three components of a moral act are the act itself, the motive, and the circumstances surrounding the act. Basically it all comes down to intention.
Mr. Cunningham uses this example among others, “If it turns out that some lecher was lurking in the bushes and lusting, that cannot be something we wanted to happen, but something merely tolerated for the sake of the good effects of our nude swimming experience.” The final criteria for a moral act is that “the good effect must be at least equal to, or greater than the evil effect, or else the whole thing is not worth doing.”
All three essays are extremely thought-provoking, especially in light of the view many of us have of Judeo-Christian morality. The first two are a joy to read and invite those who might not agree to at least think about an alternative lifestyle within their ideas of right and wrong. The third takes the higher ground and might be taken as judgmental of those who don’t fit within Mr. Cunningham’s morality. His view of morality does indeed encourage readers to think about the morality of their own actions within his carefully drawn guidelines.
Many will not look kindly on the philosophy of the Cunninghams and those with similar ideals. How could they, based on the misplaced ideas of prurience and cultural ideals of morality pervasive in this culture? But nudity is not sex. Skinny-dipping in itself does not inevitably lead to sexual acts. It is people who sexualize the body. The people in these photos do not stare back at me seductively. They are not postured in degrading and subservient positions. Instead, they are doing things they would normally do. They aren't here to arouse, but only to be.
Reviewed by Jennifer Hersey
Our Wonderful Bodies!
Jim and Linda Cunningham
Copyright Naturist LIFE International, 2001.
96 pages, Paperback, $10.00
Jim and Linda Cunningham have produced a strikingly beautiful pictorial of naturist life. Naturist LIFE International has offered the naturist community a thoughtful discussion on ethical and spiritual themes flowing in and out of naturism.
Fifteen color photos grace the stiff paper covers and 188 black & white pictures fill the pages inside to overflowing with the best of naturist life. Jim Cunningham's publications have always boasted a fine selection of family shots gleaned from NLI members and from the "photo safaris" he organized every July, bringing models, photographers and stellar Northeast settings together to form a symbiotic simpatico. In Our Wonderful Bodies! he has pulled out the best of those photos he had stashed away. Naturist magazine editors would give the left arms of their most valuable staff members for such shots.
Whether we call Our Wonderful Bodies! a book or a slightly beefed up magazine is not terribly relevant. Readers familiar with NLI's magazine format will recognize the Cunningham desktop handiwork immediately. It may not be the glitziest coffee table book to come down the pike, but if you have non-naturist friends-and especially those with a leaning toward Christianity-this is the best thing Cunningham has produced yet to shut down all nonsense about naturism being somehow "dirty" or "sinful."
To no one's surprise, Jim Cunningham's text is imbued with the same Roman Catholic spirituality that made his magazine clothing-optional LIFE, later renamed Naturist LIFE International, synonymous in many people's minds with Christian naturism. There are many other naturist Christian groups, but Cunningham had a way of either hitting home with his readers or getting so far under their skin as to drive them crazy. He's been seen as a combination of Rush Limbaugh and the Pope to many naturists.
Our Wonderful Bodies! is, fortunately, void of most of the themes that seemed to alienate so many naturists. Here we have simple, unapologetic family naturism at home, in the garden, at a lake, alone, in groups…in short, in life.
Cunningham weaves three articles into the pictorial fabric. The first is a straightforward greeting to those new to naturism. The metaphors fly fast and furious, but Cunningham's passion for the purity found in naturism at its best is apparent, and will, perhaps, be persuasive to his intended audience.
The second article speaks to the Christian questioning God's acceptance of social nudity. Cunningham uses personal anecdote, Scripture and his impressive grasp of Church history to sit down and reason together with those believers who have serious concerns about naturism.
His third and final contribution to the book (his wife Linda edited the photo layout) is philosophically the most interesting. Cunningham can single-handedly give Catholic casuistry a good name. His appeal to the Principle of Double Effect has been masterful in the past (see, for example, NLI no. 8, pp. 22-24), and he here revisits this and other moral infrastructures.
Though Cunningham provides a valuable lesson in applying theory to practice by taking intellectual constructs and showing how they can answer real-life problems about nudity, he is too glib this time around. In this third article, he proposes that there are three components to a moral act: the act itself, the motive and the circumstance. He claims simplistically that by analyzing a particular act (e.g., of nude sunbathing in one's backyard) in these three terms, one can resolve any ethical dilemmas that might arise.
"So, that's all there is to it. If you are confused about some issue, just sit down and run through the above three simple components of every moral act."
He immediately admits that a "glitch" might need addressing. You may wish to do an act for a good reason, but something bad might come from it. For instance, you may wish to sunbathe nude in a city park for all the best reasons, but someone might see you and be offended or brought to lust. Cunningham lays out the Principle of Double Effect, arguing that it will resolve the last of a naturist's moral dilemmas.
"So there it is-no more glitches. You can apply the above to every situation like a stencil, and see if something is right or wrong." As powerful a tool as the Principle of Double Effect is, life is seldom this simple.
When all is said and done, however, Our Wonderful Bodies! is going to appeal to readers for its photos rather than its text.
by Mark Storey
A version of this review first appeared in Nude & Natural magazine, issue 21.3.
Reprinted with permission.
Our Wonderful Bodies! (OWB!) is chock full of the kind of photographs that truly affirm the title of the book. Our bodies, whatever age, shape and size they may be, are indeed wonderful. The fact that every photo in this book is of a completely nude person makes that fact even more abundantly clear.
If you're a bona fide naturist, the photos will warm the cockles of your heart. They practically shout the message of true, wholesome, family-friendly nudism/naturism. There are pictures of the elderly, infants, pre- and post-pubescent children, young and middle-aged men and women-just about every stop along the way from birth to death. The photos were culled from the archives of Naturist LIFE International's vaults and ably assembled by Linda Cunningham, who did the layout work.
The organization has hosted photo safaris for a number of years to encourage aspiring naturist photographers, so the general quality of the images is of a higher level. There are no blurry, out of focus snapshots here. I've known about NLI since 1999 and attended their REUNION that year. My wife and I got to know Jim, Linda (AKA Maggie), and their five kids, and spent time with them at their family devotions. I learned a great deal about naturism and about faith from Jim and his family. For those who are new to the idea of Christian naturism, there were a broad spectrum of folks from both the Catholic and Protestant side of the fence at the REUNION, including a number of clergy (yes, you can still be considered clergy without vestments). NLI is proof that the terms "Christian" and "naturist" aren't antithetical.
Along with the photos are three articles by Jim C. Cunningham: "Welcome to You!" (the Introduction), "Let It Shine!" (about body-acceptance), and "Behold: It Is Very Good!" (about traditional morality). I especially love to read Jim's views on the subject of Christian naturism, for he invests every effort with a depth and seriousness such a subject needs and deserves. His words are a breath of fresh air in an otherwise murky area of human social interaction. So much of American nudism has been tied up with undue sexual "noise," that it's no wonder so many people have only negative connotations about the practice. Read Jim's writings for about five minutes and your perspective will change drastically. If you are a long-time nudist/naturist, or merely thinking of getting involved in social nudism, OWB! is a must. For only $10 you will get plenty of food for thought and wonderful photos. It may also encourage you to order back issues of NLI magazine to further your education.
Editor of The Naked Truth Naturists' Nudesletter