I’m in France right now, as is my 20-something daughter, but she is not traveling with us at the moment. In fact, she took a beach trip today 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 write this from a sweet little hotel on Ile du Levant, it occurs to me that I saw many children today – 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 many 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 fair, 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 became a noted issue, 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 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 to 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 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!