Traditional nudist groups are trying to re-brand their wrinkled public image by swapping out some of the older faces in online marketing pictures and replacing them with fresher looks. Yet their numbers are shrinking as former flower children slip into senior years. Since 2008, membership in the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR) has dwindled from 50,000 to 35,000, says spokesman Tom Mulhall.
Some say the decline may be partly because some clubs and resorts in the gray end of the movement are inept at using social media to replenish lost members. But young nudists also say they don't always feel welcomed by the old-timers at traditional clubs - and many, frankly, just can't afford to patronize cushy clothing-optional resorts, so they stick to shedding their threads at free, open-air venues: beaches, hiking trails, remote lakes, small ponds.
In the barest terms: the two ends of the movement appear headed, for now, in opposite directions.
Lately, AANR has been working to restore its ranks by wooing 20-somethings in big ways and small: sponsoring a September "young nudist leaders summit" in Florida and adding a touch of youth to its promotional campaigns.
"If you notice AANR's Facebook page, we do have some younger people on there besides older people. We're trying to get more younger people to allow us to use their photos," Mulhall said.
"Our reaching out to young people is being done, in part, to expand nudists' rights. For example, this year they closed Lighthouse Beach (on Long Island) for nude use. We're saying: If you want to protect nude beaches so that when you're older you can enjoy them, you've got to join the movement, too," added Mulhall, who began skinny dipping in college and today co-owns a Palm Springs, Calif., nudist resort, the Terra Cotta Inn. (Mulhall declined to reveal his age, saying: "My wife and I look way younger than we really are. I use our youthful looks to our marketing advantage.")
Still, many younger naturists are hesitant to join established nudists groups – (AANR was launched in 1931) – in the same way that much of the Millennial Generation is reluctant to sign up for anything organized.
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"We don't keep a roster," said Steve Vickers, 32, co-founder of Vita Nuda, a collective of nudist hubs on the west coast, in the midwest and on the east coast that attract 20- and 30-somethings. They often organize via Twitter. "We're more grass roots. You don't get an email blast from us. Usually people are more receptive to that."
In the youthful end of the movement, the numbers are small but a fresh energy is building. The Young Naturists and Nudists America (YNA) now counts about 300 members - double its size from last year with hundreds of additional unregistered followers, said YNA co-founder Felicity Jones.