Yet another round of CRAZY on Ile du Levant!

I have been to Ile du Levant twice in the past six months, once by myself over a weekend adjoining a business trip, then just a few weeks ago – again for a weekend – with my wife and daughter. An annual pilgrimage of sorts. It’s an incredibly serene, beautiful place, well removed from the hustle and bustle of Nice and Marseille. The South of France as one might imagine it before all the hoo-hah about Bridget Bardot and celebrities at St. Tropez. But the best part… it’s a naturist island! Ostensibly, people live there – or at least vacation there – to live naked on the day-to-day. In this author’s opinion, there’s scarcely a better place in the world to do that. At least, until the police municipale* arrive to write you up for… wait for it… BEING NAKED!!

*In my original post, I had referred to the police as gendarmes. An on-line friend from France tells me that, in fact, the police municipale are actually quite a lot less that gendarmes – at the bottom of the ranking order for official authority in law enforcement. (Somehow, I’m thinking security guard at Walmart – with all due respect to those who perform that service.) But it does add to the comical drama of the thing. “Dispatch the security guards to secure the island from nakedness at once!” Ah, geez!

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If you read French, you can click through to read the entire newsflash (no pun intended) here! As it happens, the village of Heliopolis on the “Island of Levant” is actually a commune (or a borough) within the greater metropolis on the mainland called Hyères. It is apparently the law enforcement unit from that municipality that has dispatched two officers out by ferry boat to the island to make sure the inhabitants and visitors are abiding by three simple rules.

  1. You cannot be naked at the port! (Don’t want to frighten the people on the ferry bound for the next island. Seems a bit irrational in France, but let’s go with it.)
  2. You can be naked in the town square, but only if you are walking across the town square in transit to someplace else. If you want to stop to talk to a friend about the fresh croissants, you need to cover your genitalia – for hygienic reasons!
  3. You may not be naked in the shops on the island. Because… um. I don’t know because.

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In fact, we’ve been to Ile du Levant perhaps a dozen times now and I thought I had read every bit of legislation regarding nudity there, but this was the first time I had even heard about rule #3! Apparently, this has been a particular issue at a little grocery store with a terrace attached, where locals tend to perform on an open mic while onlookers soak up the late day sun over a glass of rosé. Mais non! say the police! Cover up now or we will issue a citation.

By the account in the newspaper, the locals – at least the diehard naturist locals – are outraged, which as has been typical in the past, leads to a call to bare arms and rally for the rights of people to live naked on the naked island.

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I have probably mentioned in a previous blog entry the most excellent book by Stephen Harp, Au Naturel: Naturism, Nudism, and Tourism in Twentieth-Century France. Among other things, the author tells the story of how the naturist movement first began on Ile du Levant well before World War II and continued to grow into a tourist boom-town, especially for Germans who were all too thrilled to learn of a place that was both warm and legal for nudists. Right from the start, there were issues with the local government about how naked is too naked, which resulted in this bizarre little garment called le minimum, which I think we would refer to today as a “banana hammock.” You can still buy them on the island, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to do so, as stuffing my genitalia into a little cloth sack held up by a g-string seems way more sexualized (or at least sensualized) than being completely naked.

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Interestingly, the post-war tourism boom brought even more people to this little nude island, which while controversial, was generating big money in both tourism and taxes, so the story goes that the local magistrate turned a blind eye to the entire enterprise under the guise of freedom of expression. But as societal norms became more liberal, altruistic mores like naked for the sake of nature and health became much wider, which attracted the swinger crowd who embraced a different mantra something like – “You’re naked. I’m naked. Let’s do it!”

Apparently, that all changed when the naturist quarter of Cap d’Agde came on line in the 1970s. The amenities were greater, the accommodations more modern, and you didn’t even have to take a boat to get there. The legend goes that the swingers moved to Cap d’Agde, and for the most part, Ile du Levant returned to its sleepy little self where naked was normal in the most bucolic of settings.

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I suppose the argument for hygiene is a legitimate one. Apparently, the authorities are reporting that people are showing up at the bars in the town square, buck naked, and planting their bare asses in lounge chairs to enjoy an evening cocktail. I have to say though, most of the naturists I’ve encountered – especially in Europe – have been incredibly conscious about hygiene, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone seated anywhere on the island without a towel or pareo underneath. The implicit dangers of stopping for a moment while walking across the square seem a bit too grotesque to imagine, but it’s difficult for me to fathom that’s really a problem having visited so many French cities where the smell of urine permeates the air of a plaza or parking garage from somebody’s makeshift urinal of the night before. (I was in a big city in France the morning after the World Cup, and I have to say, it smelled disgusting!!)

Of course, I’m an outsider. Maybe there’s more to the story that I simply don’t know. But I can report that every time I’ve brought this topic up with a local on the island the response is pretty much the same – a puzzled facial expression, and a simple reply, “It’s complicated.”

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Seems not so complicated to me. When I stop to consider the officer who reported to work one day last week to get his assignment, “Take the boat to Levant and yell at the naked people,” I have to wonder about the bewilderment on his face. It’s one thing to be pissed off about catching an policeman writing you up for a parking violation, but getting a verbal admonition for being naked, on a naturist island? Sounds like that’s a bad day for everyone involved.

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Naturism & Exhibitionism: Enemies or First Cousins?

Some people dismiss streakers, naked protesters and even nudists and life models as ‘exhibitionists’ without fully appreciating that we are all, to a greater or lesser extent, motivated by exhibitionism. We learn to be that way in order to stay alive. A baby needs to be seen and to be noticed by its mother, and this need continues to operate in us throughout our lives… Every human being is motivated by this deep desire to be seen, to have attention paid to them, to be noticed and to be heard.

Philip Carr-Gomm, A Brief History of Nakedness, 2012

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Naturists or Exhibitionists?

I keep trying to figure out how the social media thing coincides – in a meaningful way – with the naturist cause. I recently re-established my presence on Facebook and Instagram, (simply waiting for someone on a minimum wage salary to shut off my account for too much butt cleavage), hoping I might reinvigorate my web/blog presence to keep spreading the word that naked is not as weird as some have made it out to be.

But I have to say, forging the shark-infested waters of social media can be daunting! I’m less than a week into a new Facebook profile, and I can’t even count the number of “friend requests” from “beautiful women” who all have the same bio and no profile, or even more bizarre (to me!) private messages that routinely follow this same script:

Them: Hi. How r u

Me: Well, thank you. Trying to get a lot of morning stuff done.

Them: r u naked?

Me: Ummm… (In fact, I probably am.)

Them: Full body shot focused on genitalia appears in thread.

Me: Wow. Nice work there. Gotta go, Have an 8 o’clock meeting!

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Naturists or Exhibitionists?

I’m a blogger. And a middle aged white guy who spends a lot of time at the computer. You’re going to have to go a long country mile to even begin to register on my shock value meter, but really? Isn’t there a better place to show your wares than finding Facebook friends who call themselves nudists? There has to be a more direct route than that to finding what you’re looking for. Actually, what are you looking for?

But back to the point. Sometime ago, I wrote an entire blog post about Philip Carr-Gomm’s book, A Brief History of Nakedness; a book I would strongly recommend it to anyone who finds themselves fascinated with naturism, nudism, or simply shedding one’s clothes. I found the entire volume to be thoughtful and thought-provoking, in the best sort of way, but especially when he got to talking about the exhibitionist thing. My take-away from his assessment, and quite frankly, a belief that I’ve held for quite a long time is that that humans spend quite a lot of time, energy, and money trying to shape the way other people see us. You could begin with the fashion industry, and work your way down the ladder to how much you pay for a haircut, but truth be told – we care about how we are visually perceived by people me meet from one day to the next.

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Naturist or Exhibitionist?

I think that Carr-Gomm would make the case that from that perspective alone, we are all exhibitionists. We present ourselves in a way that we’d like people to perceive us, implicit of all sorts of information about our religiosity, our political or sexual persuasion, our social status… you name it. The bizarre part of this conversation, however, is how people see us when we’re naked?! I made quite a rant in a previous blog post called The Demographics of Nakedness suggesting that nudity is not quite the equalizer that we like to think it is, but that not withstanding, a person without clothing will be perceived someplace on a scale of vulnerable to seductive, with so many variations in between, that it is simply too simplistic to say that nudity is genuine, real, and forthright. Nudity has a full palette of social cues that are no less complex than those in the textile world, especially in front of the lens of the camera.

My personal sense of purpose on this front is quite clear. In a perfect world, I come home from work, feel constrained by clothing, remove said clothing, then seek the nearest warm spot that provides the necessary conditions for nakedness, such as the chair in front of the wood-burning stove or immersed in the hot tub in the winter, or simply walking out into the Mid-Atlantic balmy heat in the summer.

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Naturists or Exhibitionists?

But tomorrow, we’ll load the dog into the car to spend the weekend at a naturist retreat some four hours from our home, (A long drive!) to spend a day or so with other naked people. I am fortunate. We have the space and the freedom to be naked at home, and to a large extent, behind our home. Our neighbors know about our proclivity for nudity, but we’ve made the appropriate adjustments to “protect them” from a chance encounter with our unclothed beings. But alas, we’ll make the long drive anyway to get naked, and be naked with other humans, who also have this strange affinity to be naked with us. I reiterate, we are a monogamous couple that is not on the prowl for new sexual conquests, and we are intentional in choosing places that uphold those values so there is no confusion as related to such personal boundaries.

But do we enjoy seeing other naked people? Well yes. In the same way, I suppose, that you enjoy seeing what the celebrities are wearing this year at the Academy Awards, or more aptly, the joys of simply people watching while sitting in a shopping mall or train station. “Hmm… that’s an attractive person. I bet s/he has an interesting story to tell.”

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Naturist or Exhibitionist?

Carr-Gomm says that humans are inherently voyeurs, and essentially implies that such is necessary simply to perpetuate the human race. That’s a dicey argument in this age of political correctness, but quite frankly, I think he’s right. Social nudity is validating in knowing that you’re with other people who like to be naked, but it would be a bit disingenuous to suggest that naked people don’t derive some level of “pleasure” in looking at other naked people, in the same way that humans take pleasure in simply looking at other humans – even when fully clothed. For many, especially when fully clothed!

I realize this is dangerous rhetoric amidst the super wholesome values and guidelines implicit of nudist club creeds, which seem particularly out of sync with the “so called nudist folks” who keep popping up on line that are all too eager to show me more than I asked for. But I think this is a critical part of the dialogue if we’re going to elevate naturism to a place beyond dumb jokes about nudist colonies and worn-out clichés about the people who frequent such places. Truth be told, a person who can find comfort in a social setting, bedecked only in his or her own skin, has found some sense of peace within themselves. I have to believe that’s really a thing.

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Naturists or Exhibitionists?

When I’m naked in a social setting, am I guilty of gazing upon the other naked humans around me to admire the artistry of the human form? Yes, of course I am. And am I at least a bit self-unconscious about the parts of my physicality that I wish were a bit more gaze-worthy? Of course I am. I am human. We are hard-wired to admire, and we wish to be admired in return. Not sure that’s shameful. It simply is what it is.

Sorry… I’ll get back to the travel reportage stuff soon, but I do think these are conversations that need to be had.

All images in this post were lifted from Tumblr under the search prompt of “nudist” or “naturist.” Suffice it to say, I left out the extremes on each end.

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Naturists or Exhibitionists?

Social Nudity and Social Media: Two great tastes…

So I’m a blogger.

As far as I can tell, there are two reasons to blog, both legitimate, but depending on who you are and where you are in life, maybe not of equal weight. 1) You blog to get your thoughts out into print. A sort of catharsis. An exercise to see if you can formulate your thoughts into a coherent sentence. If not, maybe your thoughts were actually… nothing. (Brian, Family Guy, c.2012).

Or 2) You actually have this delusional perception that maybe your thoughts, once committed to cyberspace, might actually sway the masses, or maybe even a few people on the fence, to consider for a moment the absurdity of the textile industry and how the entire human race has somehow decided that certain anatomical parts are dangerous, while others are simply… functional. A penis may get the credit for perpetuating the human species, but when I imagine life without elbows or opposable thumbs, I get pretty sad!

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To be sure, the airing of one’s thoughts in a public forum is cathartic, especially when it’s something you believe in, like naturism, for example! While some people can get a bit evangelical about this whole thing, I would be pretty happy if the “whole thing” wasn’t actually a thing. This blog is my third attempt to normalize the ideals of social nudity, so that people might even say, “That’s not for me, but there are things way more offensive than that to sit up and worry about!”

In the meantime, I had an awkward bout a couple months ago where I inadvertently linked my naturist Instagram account to my professional Facebook page. The implications of such a blunder are many and potentially severe, as one who works in an education-related field in an era where nude = lewd = sexual predator. I’ve pretty much come to grips with the “I go to nude beaches – I hope that doesn’t offend you” thing, but I’m not too keen on taking down my colleagues and institution on the basis of ill- conceived notions as to what social nudity is about, and why a rational person might find one’s proclivity for nakedness to be less abrasive than, say… anything coming out of the news channels in Washington D.C. these days.

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But more to the point… even the most humble of bloggers would like to think that when the tree fell in the forest, somebody said, “Did you hear that?” We should check that out!”

Today, I spent a good bit of time combing through the Instagram policies regarding nudity. Genitalia – check! Female nipples – check! But I have to say, the phrase “close-ups of fully-nude buttocks” is something of a gray area! Exactly how close is “close-up?” And for that matter, how is a buttock more offensive than a female nipple. (Note that male nipples are not problematic, though I would submit that in some cases, one might have difficulty identifying an isolated male nipple from the female counterpart, let alone a supple male “moob” from that of a lesser endowed female.) I get it. The corporate dudes at the Facebook/Instagram corporate offices have been charged with shutting down anything that is even remotely titillating (an intentionally poor choice of words) and they are simply doing their job. But really? A buttock? A nipple?

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I have made this point several times through my years of blogging on this site, but I also realize that people who read blogs may or may not be serial readers, so I will offer this perspective yet again. HAVEN’T WE BETTER THINGS TO WORRY ABOUT IN 2018 THAN THE RANDOM APPEARANCE OF A NIPPLE OR PUBIC HAIR?

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And then there’s Twitter and Tumblr, where I have a presence as well, where I typically seek out posters who are earnestly interested in normalizing social nudity, but quite by accident, stumble into threads of the most explicit sexual activity known to man or beast. I’m pretty open minded on such media, and rarely find such things particularly offensive, EXCEPT… when it falls under the nomenclature of nudism or naturism. Sex is good, and people should have some! Watch other people having sex on film should you so desire. But PLEASE… do not confuse the God-fearing public with images of intercourse and bestiality under the hashtag of nudism or naturism. Think about it! Everyone leaves disappointed, when some horny dude couldn’t find what he was looking for on a lonely Saturday night, while a would-be naturist couple resigns themselves to the fact that nudity does, in fact, equal sex. So once again, they wrap their selves in nylon and Lycra and find their way to the beach.

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In the meantime, like many of my naturist peers, I’ve been thrown off Facebook for the untoward display of buttocks, and I’ve gone through the painstaking process of isolating my Instagram account so that my colleague in the office next door doesn’t come asking for advice about the best naturist beach in New Jersey. Honestly, if that were the full extent of it all, I would welcome the inquiry and provide the information, but social media has essentially turned social nudity into a sex crime! A bizarre dichotomy, really. With the internet, people have greater access to naturist possibilities than they could have ever imagined a generation ago. But with that comes smartphones, Snapchat, and facial recognition software that pretty much negates any hope for anonymity even under the best of circumstances.

And so there it is. Social Media and Social Nudity… Two great tastes that don’t go so well together. I can find a remote naturist resort in a quiet corner or Europe, but I’d better make sure I have the location detector disabled on my smartphone when we arrive. And so it goes for naked people in 2018.

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