An Accidental Nudist
Here I am, lying on a stony beach, near the border of Spain and France, my white ass-cheeks being kissed by the golden, mid-summer sun. How did I get here?
I’d been walking for hours along the crystal coast of Cadaques, hopping from perfect beach to perfect beach. My body was encased in salty sweat and begging to be plunged deep into the crystal blue water. The wind had started to pick up, providing cool respite but disturbing the lagoon-like coastline. I began to search for a sheltered cove as I walked along the cliffs, past speckled wildflowers.
Finally, I turned a corner. There it was: an oasis. The blue water turned turquoise around the rocky edges, only disturbed by quiet snorkelers passing by.
Something odd caught my eye, perched upon the rocks. It was the flat, wrinkly pancake bum of a man with flowing grey hair, his tanline-free body a golden example of endless hours spent in the sun. Then I saw another. And another.
I had stumbled upon a nudist beach.
I hesitated, internally debating as to whether to continue. I’d never been to a nudist beach before, and something about it made my stomach curl. But, I was alone, on the other side of the planet. I knew absolutely no-one, and no-one knew me.
“Fuck it. Let’s do it,” I said to myself as my sneaker-clad feet stepped forward onto the stony beach.
I spent a few minutes working up the courage to secure a spot. I decided to perch right next to a big rock, providing me with a shred of privacy and security. My heart began to pound; my stomach did somersaults as I undressed.
Suddenly, I was naked. A 20-year-old woman, naked, in front of a group of 30 or so people. Mostly old. Mostly men. A scene straight from my nightmares.
I lay face-down on my towel, trying to enjoy the warmth of the late afternoon sun, my heart slowly beginning to lower its pace. I look around, prepared for gawks, for glaring eyes. But, no one is looking at me. I am just another one of the many naked butts on the beach. I get to my feet, feeling bare and exposed, and rush into the water for a dip. I’ve always loved skinny dipping; the freedom of my slinky, uninhibited body, like an eel, beautifully natural, but I’d only ever done it whilst protected by darkness.
I dive deep into the blue water, unable to resist the slow, self-satisfied smile that spreads across my face. I turn back, looking towards the beach. I see families playing together, a three-year-old girl (naked) holding hands with someone who I presume is her grandfather (also naked). In a different context, or viewed upon with different eyes, this scene would be a perverted nightmare. But, none of this nudity is sexual.
It takes a while for my brain to compute this fact. Throughout my life, I have only really seen naked bodies in a sexual context. I have been conditioned to see nudity as something inextricably linked to sexuality. Something forbidden.
Growing up, naked bodies were always something to be hidden, a taboo. It wasn’t that my family were particularly conservative or anything, it was just how it was. Accidental encounters with nudity in the home were always highly embarrassing for both parties. These attitudes seeped their way into my subconscious, leaving me with an unshakeable feeling that there was something inherently dirty or naughty about my body. Something to be ashamed of.
I wonder how my experience would differ if I were placed into the body of a man. Are men made to feel as vulnerable within their bodies? Do they feel susceptible to intrusion?
Somewhere in my brain, a link had been made between nudity and vulnerability. I had been inadvertently taught that my body is something to be ashamed of, that if I reveal too much, I am putting myself at risk. I thought of times when I had been walking down the street, in skinny jeans or a skirt.
The echoes of, “Hey, beautiful!” or a simple honk would jolt me to my core, leaving me feeling empty and small. “You should take it as a compliment!” my grandma would try, and fail, to convince me. These weren’t compliments, they were an ambush. Sometimes, I would question the way that I was dressing. Was this skirt too short? This dress too low cut? It made me feel unsafe within my own body. Now, however, I was completely naked on a beach in a foreign country, feeling deeply comfortable.
I watch fully unclothed families make sandcastles and dig holes, older couples read books and smoke cigarettes. Groups of people share food and crack jokes, a little French girl sings ‘Frere Jacques’ completely out of tune. They are doing everything you would normally do on a beach, just naked. It all seems foreign to me.
What would my relationship with my body be like if I had grown up going to nudist beaches? If I had seen naked bodies outside of a sexual context? If nudity had been an empowering force?
Maybe I would understand nudity as freedom, rather than as a vulnerability.
I slink out of the ocean, diamond droplets of water shaking from my skin. This time, I walk tall, unashamed and my feelings of vulnerability slip away.
Cover by the author