“Naked Truths” Raw Perceptions

[Images for this post were acquired from a Google Image Search. Please advise if I have used an image without appropriate permission.]

By the time I went home, I’d seen a hundred soft dicks…

Such is the opening line of a recent piece in RACKED, an online fashion magazine, for which the author was sent on special assignment to experience a week at a typical naturist gathering, intended to provide fodder for an article about how clothing defines who we are. Does it though?

Not surprisingly, Naked Truths: Who Are We Without Our Clothes by young freelance writer Jamie Lauren Keiles could easily be the sequel to David Sedaris’s final essay from his 1998 book, Naked. In each case, the writing style is someplace between unabashed and irreverent. And in each case, the author grapples with the awkward dichotomy of something (nakedness, that is) that should be natural and empowering, while drawing attention to the bizarre customs that have shifted the emphasis of the ideal from rejuvenating to weird!

After dinner, I walked to the lake, down an isolated trail in a thicket of trees. The sun was not scheduled to set for two more hours. The light came green and filtered through the leaves as I stopped midway to pull off my shirt, then continued down the trail, fully nude except my shoes. A breeze off the lake took stock of every fine mammalian hair on my body. Walking naked in the woods makes you feel like a real goddamn Homo sapiens. My posture looked stupid, like it had been formed in a time before women were dainty. My brain was a mass of electrical signals; I wanted to kill an animal, or maybe be killed by one.

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Not the author pointed out in the photo. Don’t know who that is!

Ms. Keiles takes us through her week-long stay at the TNS Eastern Naturist Gathering one step at a time; at times with a sense of admiration for the genuine nature of the people she meets, at other times, sardonic and cutting in her realization of so much irony.

The following morning was cold and rainy. Most people at breakfast were wearing at least one article of clothing — a silk kimono or a terry-cloth bathrobe or a souvenir sweatshirt from a regional nude beach. One couple stepped out in matching tie-dye Snuggies. Only two well-insulated men remained nude, one very hairy and one very fat. The scene felt like the relief effort following a tragic YMCA locker room fire.

Or later, when she reflects on the ritual square dancing lessons…

Square dancing is an elaborate coupled dance with lots of touching and changing of partners. My partner was a shy man in black tube socks and a Casio watch. I did not feel eager to have him hold my naked body, but soon he proved a dependable dancer. Our first song was a wife-swapping routine called “Push Ol’ Pa, Push Ol’ Ma.” It opened with a jaunty fiddle and a move called “grand left and right” that involved shaking hands with different partners around a circle. As the ladies traveled clockwise and the men counterclockwise, I took extreme care to connect with each outstretched hand. I shook the hand of a 7-foot-tall man with black hair. I shook the hand of a gay man in pearls. When the song was over, everyone agreed that I was a really good square dancer. It is easy to learn quickly when the risk of failure is grabbing a stranger’s penis.

First of all, square dancing lessons? Can you think of anyplace else you might go for a week-long retreat wherein one of the main events might be square dancing lessons? (Author’s note: My parents were life-long square dancers, albeit, most definitely not naturists. Square dancing is an important part of the American tradition, and I suspect, still a wonderful pastime for many people in our midst. But really? This is a headliner event at a naturist gathering?)

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Pudding toss at a naturist event. Awkward.

The reason Keiles’s article resonated with me so deeply – as well as that of David Sedaris before – is this thing that has clearly become an obsession of mine to somehow normalize perceptions related to social nudity amidst even a few “on-the-fencers” here in the United States of America. I am sometimes criticized regarding the content of my blog, as so much of my reportage suggests that you have to travel to Europe to experience naturism in any altruistic sort of way. The longer I’m at this though, and the more I read pieces by unsuspecting journalists like Jamie Lauren Keiles, the more I succumb to the fact that, this may indeed be true.

There is some irony, I suppose, that I’ve been a member of TNS (The Naturist Society) since about 1990. Keiles talks a bit about this organization in her essay, noting that it was born out of the nude beach groupies of Northern California (my homeland), in what I always perceived to be a push back against some of the politics and weirdness of the AANR. (American Association for Nude Recreation) It may be that I’m a bit bent out of shape that TNS has never been willing to accept an article submission under a pseudonym, despite repeated requests and explanations that since I am a published author in academia, it might not the best idea to entangle my naturist writings with those about education and pedagogy.

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A genuine perception of naturists. Sigh.

I digress, but not really! The TNS policy on pseudonyms – and square-dancing for that matter – reflects a distorted reality as to just how the average American perceives the naturist idea.

Another excerpt, this time about the grand finale talent show at the end of the week,

Curtain down, curtain up: A woman played a beat on a gong and a drum as her pendulous breasts hit the twos and fours. A man with a 12-gauge ring through his dick read an original poem about his sisters.

Really? Like that of Sedaris, this essay in a fashion magazine will reach more people in a week’s time than all the positive PR about American naturism could possibly find in a year! But let me be clear. The author is merely reporting – with flair, to be sure – what she saw and how she experienced it as a 20-something female on assignment. To that end, I found her impressions from the stretching workshop (pseudo-yoga) to be really intriguing as well…

I looked around the group and watched the other people stretch. An eightysomething man and wife reached for their toes on towels in the corner. The room was a showcase of strange and gnarled postures. Spines curved over in improbable ways. Everyone else had at least a few liver spots. In your 20s, there’s a cognitive fail-safe that makes it impossible to imagine your body becoming an old person’s body. Our access to the symptoms of aging seems to be meted out according to market potential. (I know about wrinkles, only because I know I should buy a cream to prevent them.)

And there it is! Perhaps the thing we have most admired about naturist travel in Europe is the way Europeans perceive themselves, naked or otherwise. Not only do we see that in the European naturist resorts, but in every small village as well, where one finds an abundance of 90-something humans making their way through the streets to the village market, on foot (!), acknowledging that aging is part of the life cycle, and at least “I have all day to get to the market.”

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Supposedly real naturists dining together, but alas, nobody is sitting on a towel.

In the meantime, the naturist scene in American seems to be as polarized as the country itself. (Little political jab there!) In fact, we have something of an imperfect trifecta!

  • The constituencies of TNS and AANR that continue to host events reminiscent of a 1950s “covered-dish dinner,” (Click through to the definition. It’s worth it!) despite the fact that as Keiles noted, the attendance of a contingency of under-60s hasn’t “proved true in any statistically significant way.”
  • The places where nudity does equal sex! Though Keiles’s piece was published three days ago, I found the two comments on the publication website informative in a sad sort of way. The first comment was from some guy who was advocating for his right to sport an erection when naked in public. The second post was committed to shutting the first guy down. Go to the wrong naturist place in Florida, and you’ve signed up for lingerie dances and hocus pocus in the pool. All very confusing, and most definitely not helping the social nudity cause.
  • And finally, the no-nudity, unless it sells skin products culture. I could write volumes on the puritanical implications of an age in when sexuality sells so many movies, beauty products, and even swimwear lines at the expense of simple immodesty that says, “I’m OK with who I am, with or without clothing.”

Remember, Keiles writes for a fashion magazine, which is why she set out to do this piece in the first place. She says right in the title of the essay that this was intended to explain, “what we accomplish when we choose to wear clothes.” Given all the rhetoric to we are all the same people when we’re naked, Keiles makes a fairly compelling case that that’s not really true at all. We are the people that we are – naked or not.

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Dad!?! What the Hell are you Doing?

We made some new friends today at lunch during our first day (second visit) at Skinny Dippers Resort on Mallorca. As was the case during our stay last year, the typical introductory visit follows a fairly predictable script; Where else have you done the naturist thing? How did you get into nude recreation? And, if the pre-screening test goes well, the inevitable, “Do your kids know you’re here?”

As it happens, our kids do know we’re at a naturist place. We had a FaceTime session with our 29-year-old daughter today (appropriately undressed for the occasion) and her 27-year-old sister will join us (here at Skinny Dippers) for a few days in the coming week. As I have mentioned before, each of our daughters are naturist-friendly, or more directly, “we will undress for a free vacation.”

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Es Trenc Playa

Turns out that we are the exception to the rule by way more than a country mile! In fact, in our informal survey of other parents we have met at naturist places over the past ten years, there are approximately zero subjects who have told their children, “Yeah, we’re going to lie in the sun naked for two weeks – come join us if you’d like.” Which leads to an amusing story our new friend told us at (naked) lunch today…

Seems he and his wife were visiting a clothing-optional beach in Great Britain when their (now-adult) daughter was about six years old. Having completed a rejuvenating swim, the father came ashore with swim-trunks in hand, surrounded by naked people,  wringing out the seaweed and salt-water and enjoying a brief dose of fresh-air-all-over. To which the daughter replied in horror, [insert charming British accent here,] DAD!?! What the HELL are you doing?

What the hell, indeed!?!

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I find myself more introspective than usual during our world travels, with an unusual amount of time to read, and even a few minutes to catch-up on a few reliable news-feeds by the likes of John Oliver and Seth Meyers. (Sorry friends – if you’re an avid Trump fan, you may want to X out of this page now and get on with your day. Don’t let my little rant here diminish your appreciation for my blog.) Today’s confluence of events, besides this delightful story delivered with passion from my Brexit disdaining comrade, also included time on a floaty in the pool – naked, of course – while reading Bassem Youssef’s Revolution for Dummies, and the discovery of this handy little flow-chart that attempts to explain the terms of engagement for the President of the United States and the first lady of France.

Donald! What the hell are you doing?!?

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Thank you for setting the bar for us, President Trump.

In the case of the Youssef book, he walks his readers through the Arab Spring and the Egyptian revolution, step-by-step, so that westerners might have some insight into the rise of radical Islam, and just how that aligns with the other religious-gone-political campaigns the world over. Today’s lesson was, “Liberal thinking leads to discussion, which leads to democracy, which leads to freedom of thought, which leads to women baring skin (and driving cars!), which leads to… wait for it… mass orgies in the streets in every city and town the world over. You would think these observations to be ridiculous until you realize that Youssef struck such a nerve with his ironic humor that he was forced into exile, and now resides in asylum in the United States of America. (Don’t tell Donald.)

So let’s be clear. I’m one of those professor types that works pretty hard to draw conclusions out of non-sequitur ideas, but I have to say, we live in a bizarre age when the leader [sic] of the free world can essentially make a pass at another diplomat’s wife, when women of the Arab world are banished to a life of physical (fabric) and psychological (everything else!) imprisonment, and a six-year-old child is shocked by the appearance of her father’s penis at the distance of fifty meters on a clothing-optional beach.

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And for that matter, we are only frank with our adult children about our naturist doings because we had the audacity and resource to be naturists with them while they were children, though we had to travel all the way to France to make that seem normal and acceptable for them.

My point exactly? Well really, I just wanted to tell that humorous story from lunch today. But that aside, my desire to create a blog in the first place was to create a place on the internet where social nudity assumes its rightful place in this bizarre and chaotic world in which we live. In America, we even have children’s books that help us teach our children that “this is an elbow, this is a toe, and this is a penis.” If you’re really progressive parents, maybe you have those books in your house that help explain to your children that at a certain age you grow hair on your body and things start to protrude.

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But really? How does a child understand the oppression of women in the Middle-east, let alone the behavior of an American president, if they can’t see a penis or a breast without reeling in horror and disbelief? Especially in this day and age when they are simply a Google search away from the most extraordinary elements of sexual deviance, and god knows what else.

Clearly, my mind is warped in favor of nakedness, along with body acceptance, truthfulness, and a realization that humans have a finite number of body parts that make them human. If there are, indeed, orgies on the street, I don’t think you can ascribe those to the nudists. Truth be told, anecdotal evidence suggests people who are into sexual deviance (orgies, et al…) are quite shy about total nakedness. Too vulnerable. Too real.

“Dad? What the Hell are you Doing?”

“I’m being human, dear one. Go back to playing in the sand.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Naked Rules!

On our way northward from the island of Rab yesterday, we decided to deviate by taking the ferry to Krk, where subsequently a bridge would connect us to mainland Croatia. Lunchtime destination? Buncaluka Naturist Resort on the southern tip of Otok Krk. It’s a lovely spot, and it was a lovely day – Father’s Day after all – until I got scolded by a German patron for… ready for this? Being naked. We had taken our cue from a German couple next to us; he was naked, she had a pareo around her waist – we followed suit. But when I dashed down to pay the beach attendant the rental fee for our lounge chairs, a less-than-pleasant restaurant patron ceased conversation to issue me a citation.

“Bitte?” says I.

“WEAR SHORTS!”

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Beach-side bistro at Buncaluka

To be fair, I was naked in the restaurant area, which is exactly 0 meters from the beach area, and I had actually read something about the need to cover up in the bistro, though it’s always very difficult to tell exactly what that means. And what’s more, we had been interacting with our server for at least 45 minutes, who certainly had noticed our weapons were not concealed, yet he did not seem alarmed by us or the similarly attired couple at the next table. Apparently the actual rule here is live and let live.

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Naked surveillance

In each of the French naturist resorts we’ve visited, nude dining is always permitted, though most guests do not exercise the option. Where we’re staying in Valalta, it’s similarly nebulous – put clothes on to eat, unless you’re at a beach bar, or near a beach, or … well I don’t know exactly. Go across the fjord to Koversada to have lunch at the fish restaurant and you’ll find more naked patrons than not. You’re at a naturist resort for God’s sake. Is it such a stretch to be naked?

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Should I dress to walk home?

I suppose there is the argument to be made for hygienic conditions in an area where food is served, (though I find naturists to be more conscientious than most about hygiene, especially compared to the typical beach town crowd) or maybe the other patrons simply don’t want to “see your junk” while eating their grilled squid, but that’s not actually my point.

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Seems clear to me.

Given the relentless rhetoric about naturism as ultimate freedom, the rules and regulations that govern most naturist places are often complicated at least, and downright contradictory at best. I was particularly amused by a sign right outside the restaurant and bar of an Italian naturist resort that said, and I quote, “Naturista? Si Grazie!” But walk three meters beyond that sign and sit at that bar and you get reprimanded by an old Italian woman for indecent exposure.

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Buncaluka – It really is a beautiful spot.

Perhaps I’m sounding overly-sensitive, but we have found time and again that it literally takes the better part of an entire week to learn the explicit and implicit rules of virtually any naturist place we have visited. And it works both ways! My wife was once chastised for wearing a scarf around her midsection at a French naturist resort, despite the fact that she was covering a scar from a recent surgery. “You must be naked in the pool area! Undress or leave!”

So with that, here is a summary of the typical resort rules for European naturism:

  • You must be naked here.
  • You can’t be naked there.
  • No nudity after 8:00 pm
  • No nudity before 8:00 am – even in the shower!
  • No clothes when swimming… unless you’re wearing a swimsuit… or you’re an adolescent… or you’re shy.
  • No display of genitalia, at times and under certain conditions, which may include breasts, (but not man breasts) in places were food is served, unless it’s OK with the server, or you’re drinking a beverage with a sexy name or a pun invoking some absurd double entendre, like White-ass Russian, or Skin and Tonic. (There’s an entirely different post to be written about self-deprecating signage at nudist places, but for another day.)
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Naturism on the Island of Krk

I’ve grown weary from reading the long and winding thread of forum posts regarding the decline of naturism and the aging of the naturist population. But the fact is, if I visit a textile hotel and end up in a state of paranoia wondering if I’m pissing off the locals, I’m not likely to harbor fond memories about my relaxing vacation. For those who live in the eastern United States, it’s something akin to showing up to a summer wedding without a coat and tie, only to realize you’re the only person there who didn’t meet the dress code. Are you the only person smart enough to know how to dress in 90-degree heat, or have you ruined the bride’s most special day in ignorance of the dress-code? We keep saying that nudity is all about acceptability and tolerance — except when it’s not.

Of course, there’s also another post to be written about photography at naturist places, and the fact that I’ve included a few pics in this post, taken before I saw the “camera-slash” sign, but after I had seen several others taking phone-shots of their friends and family on the beach amidst a sea of naked people. Just another tangent that makes the simplicity of nakedness way more complicated than it should be.

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And there you have it!

Don’t worry newbies. It’s not just you. It really is that confusing.

 

 

 

The Boob Conundrum – Can’t we all just get along?

Ad from a NY Subway Car

Ad from a NY Subway Car

So we visited our daughter in New York City a couple weeks ago. She was raised with naturist parents, so not much phases her. But I, her father, was immediately drawn to an advertisement in the New York Subway. For a very good price (about $4k, I think) you could have your tomatoes (Are those tangerines or tomatoes?) turned into extraordinary grapefruits. What a deal!

Before and after ad for breast augmentation. Just wow!

Before and after ad for breast augmentation. Just wow!

Before I continue, it’s only fair to confess that I am a heterosexual male, who happens to have an affinity for firm, small breasts. It’s not that large breasts are offensive – but let’s face it. Given the test of time, not only are small breasts perky and fun in the youthful phase, but more often than not, they hold their own a bit longer as gravity takes its toll. Just bein’ a guy here, but it is what it is.

But what struck me was the very essence of this advert on the NY subway. Really? Turn your tomatoes into grapefruits? Why?

A survey of breasts.

A survey of breasts.

If you follow my blog, you know we travel a lot; and we’ve found the naturist experience in Europe to be unparalleled in so many ways – but one of the most significant ways would have to do with breast augmentation. I would stop short of saying it’s simply not a European thing, but at the naturist places we have visited abroad, a breast is a breast – and that is all.

Lovely moons. Man breasts!

Lovely “moobs.” Man breasts!

And in fact, (as a guy who truly appreciates small breasts,) European women tend to be a bit more svelte, with breasts that match the proportions of the rest of the body. Particularly inspiring is the occasional sighting of a woman who has survived a mastectomy, but walks confidently amidst the naturists at the pool with one natural breast,l like everything is normal and natural – which, in fact, it is.

Seems to me that if the puritanical folks wanted to take on a cause worth fighting, it wouldn’t involve boobs, but MOOBS! Male breasts that frequently are more dramatic than those of their female counterparts.

Funny. Put up a picture of “moobs” on Facebook shrouded in body hair, and all is good. But put up a photo of a small breasted woman (lacking chest hair) and you risk getting booted off the network.

Attractive small breasts

Attractive small breasts

We are a complicated species…