• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

I asked Kellersch how F.K.K. in Europe differed from nude recreation here in the States.

"In Europe, nude recreation is more of a family affair," Kellersch said. "The whole families go, the people are much younger than here, and you see all ages -- young kids, high school students, college students, everybody. Because it's a very inexpensive, easy way to have a sports experience, get a suntan, and just hang out."

The first time I ever went to a nude beach, ten years ago in Antibes, in the south of France, I (fully clothed) walked over to an "interesting" spot (near hordes of topless women) and stood there and gaped through sunglasses. "If only in America," I thought.

After a minute, one particularly picturesque young lady popped up off her blanket and started up the strand toward me. She was swaying, striding and smiling, unhurried, and carrying something in one of her hands.

As she approached me, stuff got suddenly deliberate, like everything decelerating into slow motion. With every advancing step, this exposed young beauty convinced me: she was walking all this way just to chat. With yours truly!

At the last moment, I looked her full in the face. We both smiled. She was an arm's length away from me now. I could smell her suntan lotion. And she reached up slowly and extended her hand...just past me? I shifted my weight.

And then, like that, she spun around -- no words exchanged -- and sauntered slowly back the length of the beach.

She'd been throwing away a candy wrapper; I was standing in front of a garbage can.

In Europe, it's always possible to spot plenty of flesh. Besides the clothing-optional beaches and crazy nightclubs, there's ample nudity all over TV. By the end of a week or two over there, I don't care much about butts and boobies anymore: they're everywhere. It ain't no big thing. And it occurs to me that it just seems so much healthier that way. The less we leave to the imagination, the less the imagination needs to lash out and create its own lurid details.

But where did our nudity taboo come from? Did we just get used to wearing clothes for practical reasons, because it was cold or because the sun was too intense? Or did it have something to do with sexism and the subjugation of women, where men in patriarchal societies decided that they had to cover their females to keep the eyes of other men from seeing too much?

(Remember, the first thing God said to Adam after Eve ate the apple was, "Where were you?"

And Adam answered, "I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself."

And ever since, we've witnessed our own natural-born state as something private and naughty and needing to be veiled. We tried to "improve" Michelangelo's David, for art's sakes!)

Nowadays, in our culture, most nudity is either private or specifically intended for consumption. But the nudity of a nudist isn't like those other nudities; although public, it isn't intended for gazing enjoyment, nor for sex.

Nudists would have us believe that they're nude because they enjoy being nude, and that's it. They don't want to show off, and they don't want to be looked at.

But that doesn't mean other people don't try to feast their eyes.

Nudists call these ogling opportunists "gawkers."

(For the record, journalists aren't gawkers, though our behaviors are similar. In fact, our behaviors are identical: we lurk and sniff around, watching things closely while our minds churn a mile a minute. We maintain our distance. Our presence makes people uncomfortable, to the point that many folks act differently whenever we're around.

But it's the intention, and the intention alone, that condemns the gawker and saves the journalist. The gawker gawks solely for his own selfish enjoyment. The journalist gawks so he can tell everyone else about it.)

Dave Cole coached me on how to recognize a gawker.

"It's pretty easy to spot body language," Cole half-joked. "Especially when someone's body is fully exposed."

He paused for effect. "But okay. One common thing is somebody's walking down the beach with no clothes on, but he's carrying all of his clothes under his arm. So he's not set up anywhere. And then he'll focus on someone, usually a woman, and he's focused on her so much that he starts stumbling over people, trying to find a place to sit down near her. And then he'll just sit and stare. Won't do anything, won't say a word to her, but just stare. And a lot of times he'll sit at a woman's feet. And he'll face the water, with his back to her, and then, eventually, he'll decide, 'Well, it's time to roll over,' and then he lies on his stomach, and he's got the perfect view."

Standard procedure for the Bares when they catch a gawker getting overly inappropriate is to approach him and serve him with a flyer. This long piece of paper thoroughly outlines the penalties for illegal beach conduct and suggests a better beach etiquette. At one point, Johnson bounded up off his towel -- mumbling angrily -- reached into a bag for one of these informational flyers, and marched with purpose over to some nearby reclining fellow.

Returning to his towel, Johnson looked me in the eye and proclaimed, "There's your story right there."

He went on, "That guy was playing with himself. We've decided it's best not to say anything to people like that. We empower each other to confront lewd people, but we don't want to get into fights. Instead, we let them know that we've seen what they're doing and that they won't get away with it. We're not going to just ignore them and let them have their fun. We give them the paper, and we walk away."

Kellersch let me in on another defense against gawkers.

"Sometimes, we put up a vision block between the woman and the gawker," Kellersch said. "And these are just pieces of canvas. They're on little bamboo sticks. Also, we invite women, when we see single women on the beach, to come and sit with our group, because there's safety in numbers. There's lots of couples, families with small children, and we're just a larger group where they can feel safe."

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

More from SDReader


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!