Nudism emerged in early twentieth-century Germany as a corrective to the ill effects of industrialization. As recreational nudist clubs took root in Canada after the Second World War, their members engaged with contemporary concerns about mental health, juvenile delinquency, and sexual deviance. They promoted nudism as familyfriendly and as a means to realize the widely shared parenting objective of creating psychologically healthy, well-adjusted citizens.
Nudism in postwar Canada was an embodied practice intended to re-make the mind. Canadian nudism both challenged and reinforced postwar social norms. Committed to dissociating nudity from sexuality, nudist clubs created space for men, women, and children to socialize in the nude. Nudists argued that the acts of going nude and looking at the nude bodies of others satisfied natural curiosity and loosened the hold of social taboos. Despite their transgression of taboos around nudity, nudists sought social respectability. In particular, they embraced the hetero-normativity of mainstream Canadian society, and argued that their practice strengthened rather than undermined marriage and family life.
This dissertation explores local club operations, nudist representations of the body through photography and pageants, and tensions surrounding new forms of social nudism that emerged around 1970. It situates the body as a site of both social regulation and resistance, and explores the negotiations of a group of otherwise ordinary Canadians as they grappled with the nature of the body in modern life.