Today was a good day.
I spent most of it sitting naked by the pool at a quaint little naturist resort on Rhodes (Greece), which allowed the luxury of a day of dozing and pleasure reading. And indeed, it was a pleasure to read Mark Haskell Smith’s Naked at Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist’s Adventures in the Clothing-Optional World. i’ll get around to posting a full blown book review in the coming days as I think this is a must-read for anyone interested in nudity; pro, con, or indifferent.
As I reached the end of the book, one of those silly internet quiz games came to mind, like this one, where you try to guess whether you’re looking at a picture of an ass or an elbow. While I don’t have statistical evidence of this, it seems that most people pretty-much fail these tests outright. When put to the task, most are unable to distinguish one from the other. In other words, all our family photos of arms in flexion should have been confiscated by the WalMart photo guy as pornographic – just a simple crop and Photoshop away from the photo line-up of inter-generational asses!
What’s most brilliant about Smith’s book is his assertion that being offended lies mainly in the eyes – or more accurately, the acculturation – of the beholder, well illustrated by the fact that in many parts of the world, the exposure of a woman’s elbow would be considered way more heinous than a guy like me dropping his clothes and walking naked through Barcelona. (Which up to a couple years ago, used to be legal, by the way.) After chatting up all the leaders of various naturist movements at play in the last fifty years, he concludes that the crazy ones are not the naked ones, but the people who can’t handle looking at them – or even simply knowing about them.
In any case, here’s where I think Smith delivers his knock-out punch
“Society needs to come to terms with the fact that some of us like pleasurable pursuits. A person shouldn’t feel guilt or shame for being naked any more than someone should feel guilt or shame for enjoying a ripe peach. So what if people want to go skinny-dipping at the beach? If it really bothers you, maybe you need to take a long look at yourself and figure out why it bothers you. Just because you’re offended doesn’t give you the right to keep someone from enjoying their own body and the environment. Two things we all share. Two things that are free of charge.”
I don’t want to throw out a spoiler, but this is coming from a guy who didn’t consider himself a nudist before writing the book, and admittedly, doesn’t consider himself a nudist after writing the book, despite the fact that he must have spent the better part of a year hanging out naked (sorry for the pun) while researching why people get naked, and investigating the psychological mêlée surrounding people who love getting naked, as well as the people who freak out when they hear there is nakedness occurring on the beach down the road.
Funny thing is, I have vivid memories from my adolescence when a local swimming hole became so controversial that it made the headlines of the local newspaper for weeks on end. (I was a paperboy, so I was tracking it closely.) It seems the problem was two fold; the first being that people were getting naked and jumping off the bridge into the river, but secondly, this became such a popular pastime for so many that parking and facilities became a real issue. People were blocking the driveways of the local residents, and lacking a better option, peeing on their trees. But by the time it hit the newspapers, crowd management wasn’t the offense – public nudity was the culprit, which led to strict legislation that would make any incident that involved nakedness a serious offense with “one-strike – you’re out” kinds of penalties. My father, who I always thought to be quite open-minded, applauded the authorities for shutting down the hippies at the river. “Why would anybody in their right mind want to be swimming naked anyway?” It was probably the first time I realized that I was a naturist at heart, as I tried to figure out if I could ride my bicycle to this place. It never happened. The whole thing was shut down before I could save enough money to buy myself a map.
A couple photos in this post are from a little villa we rented on a mountain overlooking the stunning Bay of Kotor in Montenegro a few years ago. We had a private veranda with a small pool, where we could watch the cruise ships creep in and out of the harbor. The neighboring villas on each side were closed up for the season, so while we weren’t sure whether we should be naked at the pool, we thought it was worth the risk, especially given the fact that people seem more tolerant about nudity on the Adriatic than almost anyplace in the world. On at least two or three occasions, a lovely Serbian woman from three doors down would magically appear on our veranda, either to look after the villa for the owners, or to deliver freshly picked grapes and figs, or a homemade pastry fresh out of the oven. And there we were, unable to conjure up a single word in her language, unsure of how Serbians felt about nakedness, only to respond with a smile – which was reciprocated each and every time. We were naked. She was kind. Nobody got hurt.
Isn’t that the way it should be? I’m not crazy about tattoos and have chosen not to get one, but I have little concern for those who enjoy them. I do have issues with people who fly the Confederate flag, despite the numerous explanations I have heard as to how that doesn’t imply what it seems to me it would imply. In short, I find that offensive, just as I find some of the political propaganda signs that appear in my neighbors’ yards to be offensive. But that is my choice to be offended – in this case, quite likely the desired effect of the offender! (I could launch into an entirely new tangent about the right to be offended in the land of the free, but I think you get my drift.)
But when I walk naked on the beach, i have no desire to offend anyone. In fact, I go out of my way to avoid offending people as best I can. But as many have noted, someone taking offense could lead to any number of untoward consequences, from compromising one’s career to being labelled as a sex offender. Unlike today, that would not be a good day.
All that ruckus… when you have to take a double take at the photographic evidence to determine whether you’re offended by my elbow, or my ass.