Post updated: March 2021 – Especially in the US, fewer and fewer families seem willing to “take the risk” of taking their kids to a naked place. This was our journey, and a recap of all that has evolved since our kids were little.
I wrote this piece while in France a few summers ago, as was my 20-something daughter, but she wasn’t traveling with us at that moment. In fact, she took a beach trip that day with several friends and acquaintances – all of whom I know – to just an ordinary beach on the Cote d’Azur. Not long into their stay, off came her bikini top. Hardly necessary on any beach in France, so why not?
Our daughter is what I would call naturist friendly. Would she drive 300 miles to get to a naturist beach (as I would) just to add it to her bucket list? Probably not. But given the choice to swim naked or adorn herself in wet nylon – well, that’s a no-brainer! Nylon and Lycra be gone! As one of her naturist-friendly peers so aptly stated, “What’s the big deal? We all know what’s down there!”
The big deal, at least for Americans, is that we are very much confused about the meaning of nudity, especially when it comes to bringing the kids along. The AANR (American Association for Nude Recreation) will tell you that naturist travel is enjoying a significant upswing, especially when you consider offerings like the Big Nude Boat that packs 1000+ nudies onto a Carnival cruise ship. But in our experience, this marketing niche is directed to either the 30-something “I need a spark in my life” set, or the over 50 empty-nesters, who wouldn’t dream of telling their children that they were going on a nakation.
As I wrote this from a sweet little hotel on Ile du Levant, it occurs to me that I saw many children that day – some clothed, some not – as well as just about every other age demographic over the course of the day, and not a single person looked shocked, disgusted, or otherwise traumatized. Which leads me back to my daughter’s naturist curious friend when she asks me, “So when you took your kids on nakation in France, weren’t you concerned about the inevitable back-to-school essay called, What I did last summer?
Our good friends have always known about our aversion to wrapping ourselves in fabric, as have most of our siblings. But it is true that we were a bit more cautious when it came to telling the grandparents that the true meaning of summer vacation meant not having to launder your underwear, or anything else for that matter. How could anyone fathom the context of a family naturist resort in the South of France had they not experienced such a thing? Might we be putting our children in harm’s way? Will they need to see a psychologist in 15 years having repressed memories of seeing people with (or without) pubic hair? Or perhaps to most viable concern, will they show up on the internet on some unsavory website?
To be sure, the digital age has not been kind to the naturist agenda, at least not when it comes to the proliferation of unauthorized images captured from devices hidden and unknown, only for the purpose of exploitation. Though having acknowledged that, I have yet to find an unauthorized image of myself or any family member anywhere, which is quite remarkable given my 30+ years as a naturist. Could it happen tomorrow? Of course, but that is a relatively small danger within the broad strokes of cyber-crime.
But I digress.
What did we/do we tell people when they ask about our holidays in Spain, Greece, and the South of France? We tell them where we went, and about how we rented a house, an apartment, or stayed in a hotel there, conveniently omitting the name of a specific naturist venue. In one case, upon mentioning a specific geographical destination (the Gironde peninsula in France) to a colleague, we both recognized the common denominator. Simply the mention of the town of Montalivet was enough to identify our shared desire for holidays without clothing.
“But what about the grandparents?” asks my young friend. What do you tell them? And what will the children say when you’re not around?
We were quite direct with our children, telling them that out of context, not everyone would understand the inherent value of family naturism, and that while our vacations were not to be thought of as secretive, there are many people with different value systems that simply would not understand, and your grandparents quite likely would fall into that category. But, if you inadvertently let the cat out of the bag, or even the absence of tan lines was noticed while changing for bed, then by all means, tell the truth and we’ll take it from there.
Interestingly enough, that happened on at least a couple of occasions, but alas, the comments were so lacking in context, that they went unnoticed by the grand-parental units!
“We don’t wear swimsuits in France.”
“Of course you don’t honey. Now let’s get ready to go to the pool.”
The bi-product of all this, however, is that until adulthood, our children never found a level of comfort with nudity at home. France was a place to be naked; home was the place to be modest. And this would carry across, rather mysteriously, from one year to the next. As of this writing, none of them are avid naturists, but any of them will gladly accept the offer of food and housing, (note that clothing is missing) in an exotic Mediterranean or Caribbean destination. Funny how that works.
As for the grandparents? We eventually fessed up to one side, as grandpa became increasingly internet savvy and wanted to know precisely where we were staying on an upcoming European adventure. Knowing we were just a Google search away from full exposure, I wrote a thoughtful email saying that I was less ashamed about the naturist thing than I was about keeping this information from them for so many years. If it was such the right thing to do for our family – and it was – why not just come out and tell the full story?
But social norms are powerful, especially within the family structure. We were fortunate to have more freedom and autonomy than many, but then again, we had the sole responsibility of raising our children to be thoughtful humans with a worldly perspective. A world in which a naked man disabled by polio or a woman recovering from a mastectomy would become a casual topic for dinner conversation while living in a community of mutual acceptance. That is the very best face of naturism, and the environment we have experienced time and again during our travels throughout naturist Europe.
Would we do it differently if we had it a do over? Too many variables to answer that question, and those variables differ a great deal from one family to the next. But our naturist family vacations are among our most prized memories, and I believe our (adult) children would tell you that as well. As stated above, we all know what’s down there! Why we load that up with so many taboos remains a mystery to me to this day. Somehow, violence and porn have become commonplace, but lying naked on a beach is still a source of suspicion and contempt.
Grow up America! We know what you’re hiding!
Epilogue: Since I originally posted this essay in 2017 we have visited perhaps two dozen naked places in the United States, due mainly to international travel restrictions during a pandemic. About half of those places have clear policies that prohibit anyone under 18 years of age on the property – sometimes because things get racy on the weekends and nobody wants kids around, other times simply due to the fact that the resort managers don’t want to deal with the liability of what might, or could, but probably wouldn’t happen if they had naked kids running around. Our society has become increasingly litigious, with so many unfortunate precedents in the Church, scouting troops, and college locker rooms.
Meanwhile, as recently as 2019, we visited several naturist places in Europe where young families were in abundance, organized day programs for kids were going full tilt, and a child of any age would immediately feel at ease in a peer group of dozens, if not hundreds, of others in their own age group. Acceptance perpetuates acceptance. Weirdness and lonliness confirms weirdness and loneliness. An unfortunate truth for the future of family naturism in America.
If you’re reading this as a parent of young children and giving consideration to a potential family nakation, reach out to me should you so desire. Perhaps I can provide a bit of guidance like a kind fellow extended to me back when our kids were young. It was literally life-changing, and I’d be happy to pay that forward.