Post updated: March 2021
So a few years ago, while staying at Vera Playa, we decided to exploit a particularly lovely morning with a leisurely walk down the beach. Having done my homework before departure for this, our first visit to this famous naturist town on the Andalusia coast, (you can read that report here) I had a pretty good sense of the general layout of the authorized naturist zones, as compared to the nudity tolerated zones, well delineated on the most excellent map on the Vera Playa friends webpage (Now, since vanished from the web!) where the color fades away to indicate, “You have now left naturist wonderland! Have a nice day!”
Of course, I didn’t bother to print out the map before heading off to Spain, and it seemed less than practical to lug along my MacBook as we meandered down the broad sandy shoreline, simply for the benefit of adhering to these rather arbitrary borders on this Spanish beach where the law reads that any beach can be a naturist beach, as long as you don’t offend the locals. Well! That pretty much clears things up! How far can we walk naked until we should turn around or cover up? And how do we assess the attitude of the locals as to their collective threshold for taking personal offense?
How about this for a possible guideline: As long as we can see another naked person, it’s all good!
Intellectually, that policy makes a lot of sense to me, though in practice, the margin of error related to such real-time-decision-making is incredibly wide. For starters, how does one identify “the locals,” and once having done so, how do you determine whether or not they are offended? That topless middle-aged woman reading a book on the beach – is she a local? How about that nude woman simply lying out, working on her all-over tan? Is she a local? And what about that naked guy walking the beach about 100 paces in front of us? He doesn’t seem to be offending anyone. Oh wait! He’s not naked!
As we close in to about 70 paces, we notice he’s wearing one of those little nylon bathing suits that European men seem to prefer, in a color that might be best identified as “skin tone.” And it turns out one of the nude women is, in fact, only topless, adorned by a very small piece of fabric that, even at 50 paces, has created the appearance of one who is fond of that natural look below the waist. We turned this into sort of a game, “I can tell if that person is naked at ___ (fill in the blank) paces!” Followed by discrete, observation-based research during which we each had to adhere to the golden rule of the nude beach – DON’T STARE!
Long time Vera Playa patrons might be appalled to learn that we (quite by accident!) walked all the way to Garrucha, which is most definitely beyond the delineations of the naturist zone that adjoins Vera Playa. It was a Tuesday morning in May, so there were few tourists on the beach, and you could see life running full tilt up in the city near the port. Our pace accelerated as we were eager to walk the length of the beach, but we weren’t too crazy about getting in trouble with the local authorities for indecent exposure, and even more so, we are typically very sensitive about doing anything under the banner of pushing the envelope (e.g. being naked where you’re not supposed to) as that may well lead to negative consequences for the authorized naturist area down the way. But, alas, we were able to adhere to our “naked person in sight” rule for the duration of our outing, thanks to a couple of liberated young women who had settled in for a good read not far from their mainstream hotel.
But finally, to my point! Assuming “a pace” is between two and three feet (For the purpose of this argument, we’ll stretch the truth a bit to equal “one meter.”) and most of us can easily visualize the length of a football field as a measurement of 100 yards, it turns out that it’s really quite difficult to discern whether someone is naked or not from the distance of 100 paces. In fact, in many cases, depending on the color, cut, or size of the swimwear, it can be difficult to tell if a person is naked at 50 paces, or even 25 paces if that person is fond of flesh-tone bathers. And having gone that far, I have to say that even at 25 paces, depending on juxtaposition, lighting, and I truly hate to say this… body condition, it can be very difficult to discern whether you’re looking at a topless woman, or a “well endowed” man. But alas, regardless of breast size, topless men have been socially acceptable for nearly a century now.
What I find most intriguing about this topic, however, is the nuance of just what people find offensive about public nudity in the first place, when one really needs a very keen eye to discern the degree of nakedness when that person is more than at arm’s length. I find this particularly curious in the United States, where there are only three officially recognized nude beaches in the entire country. THREE! And the recurring theme at the official and non-official nude beaches in America is the ongoing problem with gawkers – those people who feel compelled to stand along the cliffs of the California coast to gaze upon the naked people playing Frisbee on the beach below. Really? At the distance of 200 paces, can you even discern who is naked, let alone, the corresponding genders or body proportions? The more resourceful voyeurs may arrive with binoculars and telephoto lenses, but really, is it worth all that? It’s sort of the same argument of watching a football game on portable TV while you’re sitting in the stadium so you can actually see who did what on the field, but in this case, you’re not trying to identify the players, but very specific (and relatively small) body parts. So much work for so little reward!
Yet the hysteria and paranoia about public nudity remains at a feverish pitch, as someone may well be offended by another’s nakedness, to the point that there have been recent citations and arrests on US beaches as a result of mothers helping their 2-year-olds change into a swimsuit – in public – on the beach! Such “reckless behavior” apparently represents child endangerment. Try that as an adult, and you risk being labeled a sexual predator.
Apparently, in the minds of so many, the simple state of nudity can’t be as innocent as purported… by naturists… to be. I defer, once more, to Philip Carr-Gomm (A Brief History of Nakedness, 2010) where he quotes Pope John Paul II, “Nakedness itself is not immodest… Immodesty is present when nakedness plays a negative role with regard to the value of the person, when its aim is to arouse concupiscence, [had to look that one up!] as a result of which the person is put in a position of an object for enjoyment.” As best I can tell, even the Pope thought it OK to be naked if your nakedness is devoid of the intent of personal exploitation or the desire to offend. But clarification, please! Is that from 100 paces away? 1000 paces away? Within sight of the people behind you on the beach, who decide to turn you in to the ranger for an accidental display of nipplage? How’s a naturist to know?
Those of us who take delight in simple and forthright naturist pursuits bear the burden of seeing ourselves as others see us – naked. It will be interesting to see if the people marketing the nipple bikini (pictured above) actually end up promoting the cause for positive public nudity, or simply stir up another round of hysteria as onlookers pull out the cameras and magnifying devices to discern – “Are those really your breasts, or are they just painted on?” History suggests the pendulum swings back and forth on issues like this over time, but as best I can tell, it’s been a while since the pendulum has moved in a direction that favors the naturist cause.
So much ado… about (wearing) nothing!