Skinny dipping is the practice of swimming naked, whether in natural bodies of water, swimming pools or hot tubs. Today, most nude swimming takes place in private swimming pools, at nude beaches, at naturist facilities, or at segregated public swimming areas. Some countries of Europe have no laws prohibiting nude swimming in public areas, but some countries around the world strictly enforce various laws against public nudity, including nude swimming.
The term "skinny dip" was first recorded in English in 1947.
In the United Kingdom until the mid-19th century there was no law against nude swimming, with each town being free to make its own laws. For example, the Bath Corporation official bathing dress code of 1737 prohibited men and women to swim nude either in the day or in the night. Bath's specific rules for men were prescribed as follows:
It is Ordered Established and Decreed by this Corporation that no Male person above the age of ten years shall at any time hereafter go into any Bath or Baths within this City by day or by night without a Pair of Drawers and a Waistcoat on their bodies.
Bath Corporation's official bathing dress code of 1737 prescribed the following rules for women:
In rivers, lakes, streams and the sea men swam in the nude, where the practice was common. Those who didn't swim in the nude, stripped to their underwear.
Female bathing costumes were derived from those worn at Bath and other spas. It would appear that until the 1670s nude female bathing in the spas was the norm and that after that time women bathed clothed. Celia Fiennes gave a detailed description of the standard ladies' bathing costume in 1687:
The Ladyes go into the bath with Garments made of a fine yellow canvas, which is stiff and made large with great sleeves like a parson’s gown; the water fills it up so that it is borne off that your shape is not seen, it does not cling close as other linning, which Lookes sadly in the poorer sort that go in their own linning. The Gentlemen have drawers and wastcoates of the same sort of canvas, this is the best linning, for the bath water will Change any other yellow.
The Bath Corporation's official bathing dress code of 1737 also reveals that women of the era were required to weat a Shift on their bodies when bathing.
The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker was published in 1771 and its description of ladies’ bathing costume is different to that of Celia Fiennes a hundred years earlier:
The ladies wear jackets and petticoats of brown linen, with chip hats, in which they fix their handkerchiefs to wipe the sweat from their faces; but, truly, whether it is owing to the steam that surrounds them, or the heat of the water, or the nature of the dress, or to all these causes together, they look so flushed, and so frightful, that I always turn my eyes another way.
Penelope Byrde points out that Smollett’s description may not be accurate, for he describes a two-piece costume, not the one piece shift or smock that most people describe and is depicted in contemporary prints. His description does, however, tally with Elizabeth Grant’s description of the guide’s costume at Ramsgate in 1811. The only difference is in the fabric the costumes are made of. Flannel, however, was a common fabric for sea bathing costumes as many believed the warmer fabric was necessary in cold water.
In the 18th century women wore "bathing gowns" in the water; these were long dresses of fabrics that would not become transparent when wet, with weights sewn into the hems so that they would not rise up in the water. The men's swim suit, a rather form-fitting wool garment with long sleeves and legs similar to long underwear, was developed and would change little for a century.
Prior to the mid-19th century, swimming nude was unexceptional. The English practice of men swimming in the nude was banned in the United Kingdom in 1860. Drawers, or caleçons as they were called, came into use in the 1860s. Even then there were many who protested against them and wanted to remain in the nude. Rev. Francis Kilvert, an English nude swimmer, described men's bathing suits coming into use in the 1870s as "a pair of very short red and white striped drawers". Excerpts from Kilvert's diary show the transition in the England of the 1870s from an acceptance of nude bathing to the mandatory use of bathing suits. Kilvert describes "a delicious feeling of freedom in stripping in the open air and running down naked to the sea".
Among notable Americans, Benjamin Franklin, an avid swimmer, possessed a copy of The Art of Swimming by Melchisédech Thévenot, which featured illustrations of nude swimmers. Presidents John Quincy Adams and Theodore Roosevelt are perhaps the best-known skinny-dippers. Roosevelt describes nude swims in the Potomac with his "tennis cabinet" in his Autobiography: "If we swam the Potomac, we usually took off our clothes."
During the century, the woman's two piece suit became common—the two pieces being a gown from shoulder to knees plus a set of trousers with leggings going down to the ankles. In the Victorian era, popular beach resorts were commonly equipped with bathing machines designed to avoid the exposure of people in swimsuits, especially to people of the opposite sex.
Before the YMCA began to admit females in the early 1960s, swimming trunks were not permitted in their pools, and high school swimming classes for boys sometimes had similar policies, citing the impracticality of providing and maintaining sanitary swimming gear and clogging swimming pools' filtration systems with lint fibers from the swimsuits. These practices were common because of the perception that there was nothing wrong or sexual about seeing members of the same gender in the nude, especially in these indoor contexts among equals in 'birthday suit uniform'. In some areas, this extended well into the early 1970s.
In some English schools, Manchester Grammar School for example, nude swimming was compulsory until the 1970s. This was also the case for some American high schools. and junior high schools. A 2006 Roper poll showed that 25% of all American adults had been skinny dipping at least once, and that 74% believed nude swimming should be tolerated at accepted locations.
In the United States, states, counties and municipalities may enact their own dress codes, and many have. According to an Australian magazine, "In the early 1900s, women were expected to wear cumbersome dress and pantaloon combinations when swimming. In 1907, at the height of her popularity, Kellerman was arrested on Revere Beach, Massachusetts, for indecency - she was wearing one of her fitted one-piece costumes." In 1919, Ethelda Bleibtrey was arrested for nude swimming at the beach of Manhattan — she removed her stockings at a pool where it was forbidden to bare "the lower female extremities for public bathing." The subsequent public support for Bleibtrey led to the abandonment of stockings as a conventional element in women’s swimwear.
Nude swimming is fairly common in rural areas, where unexpected visitors are less likely. However, in some places even that type of swimming is forbidden by law. There is no federal law against nudity. Nude beaches, such as Baker Beach in San Francisco, operate within federal park lands in California. However, under a provision called concurrent jurisdiction, federal park rangers may enforce state and local laws, or invite local authorities to do so. Today, many swimmers in the United States confine nude swimming to private situations due to concerns about attitudes to public nudity.
Since the early 20th century the naturist movement has developed in western countries that seeks a return to non-sexual nakedness when swimming and during other appropriate activities. In some places around the world, nude beaches have been set aside for people who choose to engage in normal beach activities in the nude.
The bikini appeared in 1946, comprising a two piece swimsuit, the bottom large enough to cover the wearer's navel. It was advertised as the world's "smallest bathing suit". Bikinis gradually became briefer and lower with narrower sides in the 1970s, and by the late 1970s and early 80s very low hipster bottoms with string ties and sides became popular. Other minimalist swimsuits are described as microkini, which typically use only enough fabric to cover the genitals and nipples, to stay within the law. Other minimalist swimwear worn by some women include thongs and pasties. Meanwhile, in the 1960s, the topless bikini or monokini made its appearance for those women who desire to engage in water or sun activities with the torso uncovered, in a practice often described as "toplessness" or "topfreedom". For men, swim briefs were the briefest swimsuit.
Today, most nude swimming takes place in private swimming pools, at a nude beach, at naturist facilities or at secluded or segregated public swimming areas. Some Western countries, such as Canada and the United Kingdom, have no laws prohibiting nude swimming in public areas, but some countries around the world strictly enforce various laws against public nudity, including nude swimming. Despite this, even some jurisdictions which maintain strict laws against public nudity, such as New York City, may turn a blind eye to incidents of skinny dipping depending on the circumstances, as police officers on the spot decline to make arrests.
Conflicts have arisen in the United States on Federally-designated beaches, which are nevertheless patrolled by local police, since there is no Federal law against nudity in these areas, but there may well be local ones. Skinny-dippers generally deal with this by keeping an eye out for local patrols, who generally do not go out of their way to find violators, as long as it is not flagrant.
In popular culture
Nude swimming was a common subject of Old Masters (painters from before the 1800s) and Romantic oil paintings, usually bucolic or in a mythological or historical settings. For example, Swedish painters Georg Pauli and Anders Zorn painted a number of nude swimming scenes. In later periods depictions of nude swimming scenes became rarer, but more likely to depict straightforward contemporary scenes. The cover of the June 4, 1921 edition of the Saturday Evening Post had Norman Rockwell's painting No Swimming, depicting boys in various states of undress escaping from the local authorities.
Several films have become notable in whole or in part due to their nude swimming scenes.
- Ecstasy (1933) was banned in many places and censored in others. The film included a nude swimming scene with Hedy Lamarr.
- Tarzan and His Mate (1934) featured the female lead (played by a double) swimming nude. However, religious groups lobbied to have the scene removed. Three versions of this movie now exist.
- Child Bride (1938) featured the female lead, 12-year-old Shirley Mills, swimming nude. It is considered the most notable scene on the film.
- In Age of Consent (1969), an Australian film by British director Michael Powell, Helen Mirren swims naked in several scenes.
- Walkabout (1971), an Australian/British film directed by Nicolas Roeg, shows actress Jenny Agutter and actors David Gulpilil and Luc Roeg swimming nude. The nude swimming scenes are set in several water holes in the Australian outback, during an extended time disconnected from civilization.
- Jaws (1975), in which the character Chrissie Watkins, played by Susan Backlinie, goes skinny dipping in the ocean and then gets eaten by the shark. Susan Backlinie later reprised the scene in a self-parody in the comedy 1941 (1979), where she is snagged up by the periscope of a surfacing Japanese submarine.
- The Blue Lagoon (1980), starring Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins, shows nude swimming scenes, which were shot in Champagne Bay, Vanuatu. Because Shields was 15 years old at the time, she was replaced for these scenes by her body double, Kathy Trout.
- Paradise (1982), a Canadian film directed by Stuart Gillard, shows actress Phoebe Cates swimming nude. Most of the scenes were shot underwater, in both the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee, in Israel.
- A Room with a View (1986), James Ivory's film based on the novel by E. M. Forster, contains a scene in which characters George Emerson (played by Julian Sands), Reverend Mr Beebe (Simon Callow) and Freddy Honey church (Rupert Graves) swim nude in a pond.
- Lake Consequence (1992), features actress May Karasun swimming nude.
- In 2-Headed Shark Attack, a 2012 film, three characters are skinny dipping when they are attacked by a shark.
- Sirens (1994), an Australian/British film directed by John Duigan, shows actresses Elle Macpherson, Portia De Rossi, Tara Fitzgerald and Kate Fischer swimming nude. The nude swimming is set in an artist's country property in the Blue Mountains in Australia and highlights the clash of sensibilities held by the main characters.
- Wild Hogs, a 2007 comedy outlaw biker film, featured a scene where William H. Macy's character jumps nude into a pond and then convinces his friends – played by John Travolta, Tim Allen and Martin Lawrence – to join him. Shortly they are joined by a gay cop (John C. McGinley) who earlier had his sights on the four men, who quickly leave once they realize the cop's intentions.
- In 2009, Eve Kelly hosted The Skinny Dip, a Canadian travel show that sought out the world's most out-of-the-way swimming holes.
- "Skinny dip" from the unabridged Oxford English dictionary online dictionary
- Quoted in Byrde, p.50
- Quoted in Byrde, pp.48-49
- The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker, pp.68-9
- Jane Austen Society of Australia page on bathing
- Robinson, Bruce A. (January 24, 2011). "Nudism and Naturism Introduction, history, & glossary of terms". Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. Retrieved December 23, 2011. "Nude swimming has probably been the rule rather than the exception during the history of mankind."
- Quoted in Cinder, Cec. The Nudist Idea, Ultraviolet Press, Riverside, California: 1998, p. 331-3. ISBN 978-0-9652085-0-5
- Thévenot, Melchisédech. The Art of Swimming (1696)
- Roosevelt, Theodore. An Autobiography, New York: Library of America, 2004. pp. 298–300
- Seton, Ernest Thompson (1951), Trail of an Artist Naturalist, London: Hodder and Stoughton, p. 297, ISBN 0-405-10734-X
- Tate, Cassandra (2001-03-14). "Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) of Greater Seattle: Part 3: Readjustment, 1930–80". HistoryLink. Retrieved 2007-03-25.
- Cohen, Michael (December 2005), "Swimming Naked at MGS" (PDF), The Mancunian (Old Mancunians), retrieved 2007-11-27. From about 1930 until at least the 1970s.
- Naked in High School: Bad Dreams Do Come True, Aug 1, 2006, retrieved 2007-11-27
- Nude Swimming at Johnston JHS, 1959 to 61, October 15 December 2007, retrieved 2007-11-27 . From about 1951 to 1970?
- Roper poll online, Naturist education, 2006.
- "Herstory: Annette Kellerman". The Dawn (54). March 2004. Archived from the original on 2005-11-18. Retrieved 2010-09-27.
- British Naturism (BN), ISSN 0264-0406, retrieved 2011-08-30
- Cole, Thomas G., II, "(The) Bikini: EmBodying the Bomb" Genders Journal. para. 8
- Cocozza, Paula. "A little piece of history" The Guardian, 2006-06-10
- The Bikini Turns 60, 1946 to 2006: 60 Years of Bikini Bathing Beauties, Lilith E-Zine
- Goodman, J. David. "Daring Enough to Bare It All for a New York Swim" New York Times (July 17, 2013)
- N.L. skinny dipper hosts TV travelogue
- Byrde, Penelope. "That Frightful Unbecoming Dress: Clothes for Spa Bathing at Bath", Costume, (No 21, 1987)
- Rew, K. (2008). Wild Swim: River, Lake, Lido and Sea: The Best Places to Swim Outdoors in Britain. Guardian Books, London. ISBN 978-0-85265-093-6.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Skinny dipping.|
- Nude Male Swimming Historic Archives Extensive archive of past era skinny dipping including the YMCA and various public schools in the U.S. up to the late 1970s
- EtymologyOnLine- Skinny
- Guide to Swimming Holes and Hot Springs
- The Naturist Society
- NetNude (International Social Nudist Website)
- South Florida Free Beaches (Haulover Beach Park)
- Naturist Education Foundation
- B.E.A.C.H.E.S. Foundation