A Controversial (& Discontinued) Naturist Tradition: Miss Nude World – the Nudist Pageant
Interview with the founders of Ponderosa Nature Resort about their Miss Nude Nudist Beauty Contest
Nude Pageants – A nudist resort in Canada called Ponderosa Nature Resort just celebrated their 50th anniversary. For episode 72 of the Naturist Living Show podcast, Stéphane interviewed Hans and Lisa Stein, who founded the resort in 1964.
The couple is originally from Germany and when they moved to Ontario, Canada, they saw a market for a year-round naturist club in their area. They found some farmland to buy and together with Hans’ sister and her husband, built the Ponderosa nudist resort from the ground up.
The Steins always had a goal of targeting the general public and bringing new people from the mainstream into naturism. But Hans’ sister didn’t agree with this approach. So after some time, the Steins let go of Ponderosa and went on to open a new nudist resort of their own: Four Seasons Nature Park.
This is where it gets interesting!
They set out with their new marketing approach, but found that the traditional avenues of advertising were closed to them, due to the (naked) nature of their business. So they looked for a different way to reach the public.
That’s when they came up with a new gimmick:
Miss Nude World – A nudist beauty pageant
They created a big, nude beauty pageant for nudist women to compete for the title of Miss Nude World.
The beauty pageant was open to the public and just as they hoped would be the case, the mainstream media was all over it. They got tons of press coverage and thousands of visitors went to see the live event. Their nudist beauty pageant was held annually, for 5 years, from 1970 – 1975.
It was so successful, they inspired other nudist clubs to launch similar nude beauty pageants of their own. Cypress Cove was one. And they even sent their own pageant winner to compete for the title of Miss Nude World.
Though Miss Nude World was the first nudist beauty pageant to garner nationwide media attention, it was not the first naked beauty pageant held by and for nudists.
In a book called Contesting Bodies and Nation in Canadian History, authors Patrizia Gentile and Jane Nicholas have a short chapter on nudist beauty pageants and how they fit into the Canadian naturist movement.
According to this book, some clubs had started hosting “royalty pageants” in the 1960’s. Both men and women participated and the winners were elected / crowned as “king” and “queen.” The contestants were judged on their all-over tan (showed their commitment to naturism), personality, contribution to naturism and their physical embodiment of health or attractiveness.
Though these events were not open to the public, they still received media attention.
The Miss Nude World pageant resembled traditional beauty pageants in many ways. All contestants were women between the ages of 18 and 30. They were required to be a member of a nudist club, though not for any specific amount of time (One could join a club two days prior and still qualify).
Instead of being judged by other nudists, the judges were “local community members and minor celebrities, including business owners and members of the media.” It seems that most of the judges were white men.
As mentioned in the Nude Hiking podcast, below is a movie clip from The Naked Peacock, which covers a bit of the 1975 competition. While the spectators were a mix of nude and clothed, men and women, one can’t help but notice all the dressed, white male photographers and judges.
Contestants not only modeled nude, but in evening gowns and swimsuits as well (how was this “nudism” at all?).
Physical appearance was a central component and could earn a contestant the most points. They emphasized “natural” beauty which meant no wigs, no breast augmentation, no shaved pubes and no artificial suntan. However “natural make-up” was acceptable.
The other criteria were based on poise and personality. For the latter, each woman had a private interview with the judges.
In the USA, royalty / suntan / beauty pageants were being held at nudist clubs and resorts during the 1950’s, if not earlier. It must be in a history book somewhere, but I’m not sure what year they started or ended in this country.
Some of the pageants were organized by the membership / leaders of clubs. Others were organized by the American Sunbathing Association’s (which is now called AANR) regional groups.
Like the royalty pageants in Canada, these contests were more of an internal affair with club members as participants and spectators. They seemed far more innocent than what went on at The Four Seasons. Miss Nude World took nudist pageants to whole new level and certainly spurred on the trend throughout Canada and the U.S.
There’s no question that a beauty pageant goes against naturist values. A contest like Miss Nude World is sexist, exploitative and sexually objectifies women. It places a woman’s value in her appearance and judges her based on how she meets society’s beauty “ideal” standards. In Miss Nude World, those standards were strictly enforced with the “natural beauty” requirements. All of this totally negates the idea of body acceptance in naturism and the concept of judging people by their character – not their appearance!
In fact, in the podcast interview, Hans and Lisa Stein acknowledge that their pageant gimmick was anti-naturism. They were naturists for ten years before starting the pageant and they knew that naturism was not supposed to be about worshiping some sort of beauty ideal. But in their eyes, the ends justified the means. They made millions of dollars in profits and gained new members after starting the nudist beauty pageants.
Did other naturists recognize that beauty pageants were not exactly in line with their ideals? It’s difficult to say how many people were for or against it, but it appears that many saw nothing wrong with it.
From looking through our small personal collection of nudist magazines from the 40’s – 60’s, people had a different mentality back then. Naturists felt that they should honor the beauty of the human form and that people should strive to achieve a healthy, toned physique. Health, during those days, was equated with beauty. (And still is today, with how people think thin = healthy = beautiful.)
At the same time, it’s not as if naturists didn’t recognize how naturism promoted body acceptance and offered a way of looking beyond superficial qualities.
In a 1958 issue of Canadian nudist magazine Sunbathing For Health, there’s an article, written by a female naturist, entitled: “Naturism – What’s in it for we women?”
The author writes:
“Many women imagine that they would never dare to walk naked amidst a crowd of strangers in any sun club; believe me, I did too, before I ever tried it. … ‘But my figure — I’ve lost it — I’d feel awful walking around in the nude,’ you say. The vast majority of the women (and the men too!) have probably lost their youthful contours with the passing of the years, but don’t let that worry you. Naturism is no social whirl, you are not going to try and ‘keep up with the Jones’s’ so to speak. Everyone is accepted for what they are as PEOPLE, and not what their vital statistics are!”
But then, in another article, in the same magazine, a female columnist offers exercise and diet advice to women who are worried about extra fat on their hips. And on the opposite page is an exercise guide aimed at women for “creating body beauty.”
So the naturist philosophy wasn’t entirely absent. They just didn’t seem to see it as contradictory to designate only certain bodies as “beautiful.”
Canadian History presents evidence that some nudist club owners were definitely conflicted or against the pageants. On the one hand, they were aware of the contradictions in putting young, “attractive” female bodies on display to promote naturism. On the other hand, the amount of publicity and money generated by the pageants was undeniable. It became a cost vs. benefit analysis.
Authors Gentile and Nicholas say that the nudist beauty pageants were supposed to show the public that nudity was natural, not obscene, or sexual. In Miss Nude World, that basic message was easily lost. The authors came to this conclusion:
“However, while nudist pageants were purportedly intended to encourage the public to see the body in a new light, the public appeal of these events depended on an exploitation of the taboo nature of nudity and made a spectacle of nude bodies. In doing so, these pageants were as revealing of the tensions within nudism as they were of the contestants on stage.”
Additionally, the authors concluded the pageants were a way for nudists to prove they were “normal” by using a mainstream type of event that adhered to sexual and gender norms. Celebrating women for their beauty and femininity, putting them on display, electing a “king” and “queen”…these were ways of showing how nudists maintained their masculinity / femininity and embraced heterosexual normativity.
Ultimately, was the Miss Nude World Pageant more harmful or beneficial to the nudist movement? That’s up for debate.
In the Steins’ view, it was a resounding success and brought more attention to nudism than any other event ever had. At the end of the interview, Stéphane asked them if they could go back in time, would they change anything? They answered with a resolute “no.”
Personally, I wish nudism hadn’t so easily abandoned its ideals for profit and publicity.
Listen to the full interview with the Steins in the podcast below. In my segment, Stéphane and I talk about the celebrity nude photo hack.
Podcast show links:
- Ponderosa Nature Resort (Flamborough, Ontario, Canada)
- Episode 26 – Exploitation (Ponderosa Sun Club in Roselawn, Indiana)
- Bare Oaks blog: Four Seasons Nudist Resort going textile
- Bare Oaks blog: The closing of Glen Echo Family Nudist Park
- Mondo Nude film (1979) about the Miss Nude contest at the Four Seasons Nudist Resort
What do you think of the nudist beauty pageant? Should it be forgiven as a relic of its time, or is it a permanent smear on the nudist movement?