A Cultural History of American Nudism

336 pages

29 halftones

May, 2015

ISBN: 9780814790533



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Brian Hoffman received his Ph.D. in History from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He has taught at the University of California, San Francisco and Wesleyan University. He lives in Guilford, Connecticut.

All books by Brian Hoffman

In 1929, a small group of men and women threw off their clothes and began to exercise in a New York City gymnasium, marking the start of the American nudist movement. While countless Americans had long enjoyed the pleasures of skinny dipping or nude sunbathing, nudists were the first to organize a movement around the idea that exposing the body corrected the ills of modern society and produced profound benefits for the body as well as the mind. Despite hostility and skepticism, American nudists enlisted the support of health enthusiasts, homemakers, sex radicals, and even ministers, and in the process, redefined what could be seen, experienced, and consumed in twentieth-century America.   
Naked gives a vibrant, detailed account of the American nudist movement and the larger cultural phenomenon of public nudity in the United States. Brian S. Hoffman reflects on the idea of nakedness itself in the context of a culture that wrestles with an inherent sense of shame and conflicting moral attitudes about the body. In exploring the social and legal history of nudism, Hoffman reveals how anxieties about gender, race, sexuality, and age inform our conceptions of nakedness. The book traces the debates about distinguishing deviant sexualities from morally acceptable display, the legal processes that helped bring about the dramatic changes in sexuality in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the explosion in eroticism that has increasingly defined the modern American consumer economy. Drawing on a colorful collection of nudist materials, films, and magazines, Naked exposes the social, cultural, and moral assumptions about nakedness and the body normally hidden from view and behind closed doors.


  • "Hoffman exposes the beginnings of public nudity as a legitimate movement in the United States, beginning in New York City all the way back in 1929, when groups of men began peeling off their restrictive clothing and exercising in the nude at the New York Gymnasium...Hoffman's book ably traces the ideological development of the American nudism movement from its health-and-fitness beginning to the more politically charged movement it became in the 1960s and 1970s. and on into the 1990s, when quasi-mainstreaming of recreational nudity began to surface.  An original, well-researched study."

    Kirkus Reviews

  • Naked achieves a rare blend of cultural and legal history, parsing both legal decisions and nudist magazines. Moving between the courtroom and the nudist camp, Hoffman illuminates how legal decisions inspired change—emboldening nudists to construct new camps, publish full-frontal nudity, or welcome more Americans to nude beaches.”

    Pacific Historical Review

  • “Hoffman provides a comprehensive overview of the history of American nudism….Hoffman adeptly documents and defines legal practices that determined the methods by which nudism could be viewed, consumed, and experienced in American culture.  Summing Up: Highly recommended.”


  • "[T]his book provides a fresh angle to discussions concerning reproductive rights and sexual freedom that is not so often given attention in the curriculum as a historic part of sexual freedom or displays of gendered assumptions and prevailing attitudes concerning men and women and how they should or should not behave."


  • “Brian Hoffman’s Naked is a thorough and engaging account of many of the contests over social nakedness that took place in American society from the 1930s to the 1990s.”

    The Journal of American History

  • “In focusing on how nudists reinforced the pastoral ideal to situate nakedness as morally, physically, and socially beneficial in modern America, Hoffman uses nudism to seamlessly join disparate historiographies of feminism and gay liberation, obscenity law, adult media, alternative medicine, and environmental tourism."

    Journal of Popular Culture

  • Naked provides a well-organized overview of nudism in twentieth-century America, documenting the contributions of nudist leaders, intellectuals, court battles, and milestones for the nudist community... Any number of scholars should take note of the book.”

    Journal of Social History

  • "A compelling and provocative interpretation of the American nudist movement, Naked makes a significant contribution to the literature on the history of sexuality in the twentieth century United States. Shedding light on a heretofore unstudied sexual movement and the political and legal response to it, Hoffman’s focus on the rurality of U.S. nudism pushes us to rethink the urban-centered bias of most studies of the history of sexuality."

    —Andrea Friedman, author of Prurient Interests: Gender, Democracy, and Obscenity in New York City, 1909-1945

  • “This book will be of much use to readers interested in the history of obscenity laws and controversies.”

    —, Bulletin of the History of Medicine