In the 1960s it was free love and letting it all hang out. In the ’70s it was streaking. In more recent years increasing numbers of resorts and holiday destinations are catering to those who want to pack only a birthday suit for their vacation.
For as long as humans have had clothes to put on, it seems there have been those looking for any societal reason to strip them off.
This Saturday, many will take part in one of the latest in the string of naturist activities when they get down and dirty on World Naked Gardening Day, when according to the organizers’ website people around the world are encouraged to tend their gardens unclothed, as nature intended.
“Ah, yes, nudity — the new mainstream nonconformity,” Lorien Lake-Corral, associate professor of social science and coordinator of the social science program at University of Maine at Augusta, said. “Looking at it from a psychological approach, it seems to be part of this 24-7 online [social media] presence where people tell all and bare all.”
Lake-Corral said she is not saying World Naked Gardening Day is all about taking naked “selfies” but did say it fits with the notion that participating in ordinary activities sans clothes is the 21st Century way of rebelling against conformity.
However, with organized events taking hold across the country and even globally — including World Naked Cycling Day and Pantless Subway Day — it’s in danger of becoming mainstream.
“Nonconforming is almost conforming now,” she said.
According to the World Naked Gardening Day’s website, all it takes to be involved is getting naked to make the world’s gardens healthier and more attractive.
“World Naked Gardening Day has no political agenda, nor is it owned or organized by any one particular group,” according to the site. “Naked individuals and groups are encouraged to adopt the day for themselves.”
Whether it’s a pop fad or global phenomena, longtime gardener Carolyn Sherwood was working the soil “au natural” long before the first Saturday in May was set aside to do just that.
“This is a movement now?” Sherwood, 63, said with a laugh on Thursday from her Central Maine coastal home. “I feel like I’m always the wrong age at the wrong time. There are so many fantastic things going on out there now.”
In the 1980s, when Sherwood and her husband lived in northern Maine, she said she often tended their organic garden shirtless and always shoeless.
“I have gone barefoot all my life,” she said. “For me, it’s a grounding thing and that feel of dirt on my feet is the biggest thing.”
As for taking off more than her shoes and socks?
“The shirt coming off was so I could have the sun and heat on my skin after the long winters,” Sherwood said. “I really don’t like to be hot, but for me it was the air on my skin and you have to wear so much all winter that when summer comes, just get it off me!”
That desire to feel the earth and wind is a comment sentiment among avid gardeners, even the ones who keep their clothes on, according to Kate Garland, horticulture professional with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
“In my work I have the pleasure of seeing the impact and power that gardening has on people’s lives,” Garland said. “I talk to people in all stages of life who are going through good things and not so good things and gardening has played a big role in ways they get through or celebrate things.”
In addition to the relaxing component of working the soil, Garland said gardening is also a great community activity.
“It brings people together who then work together for a common cause,” she said. “I have seen so many wonderful relationships develop through gardening.”
When it comes to World Naked Gardening Day, it matters not if it’s celebrated in a group or solo.
“It’s taking part in something that is bigger than any one household,” according to the website. “In the case of World Naked Gardening Day, it’s fun, costs no money, runs no unwanted risk, reminds us of our tie to the natural world and does something good for the environment.”
The day also helps people move toward a more healthy sense of body acceptance, something Lake-Corral said could explain why the day is happening.
“I see it more as a reaction to the body shaming we see,” she said. “It’s a reaction against those who body shame or the media’s image that foster body dysmorphic issues. I suppose there is an element of getting back to the earth.”
To participate, according to the website, simply find an opportunity to get naked and do some gardening.
“Make it a quiet time or make it a public splash,” it said. “Just get naked and make your part of the botanical world a healthier and more attractive space.”
There are no numbers on how many Maine gardeners will be stripping down this Saturday.
Garland said she does not know any gardeners planning to get naked, but did say she had a brush with it close to home a couple of weeks ago.
“My 3-year-old daughter got halfway there,” she said. “We had this one perfect day two weeks ago, and we were planting peas and she took her shirt off.”
As far as Sherwood is concerned, it’s a personal choice.
“To me, it’s a private thing,” Sherwood said. “To have a day for it is kind of bizarre.”