Nudists creeping too close to the clothed
Members of clothing-and-modesty-optional set wander off course into dog-walkers' haven
Kerry Gold - Vancouver Sun
April 1, 2006
VANCOUVER, BC -- As he picked his way along the rocky shore he drank from a beer bottle. He wore a dirty T-shirt and socks, and nothing else.
It was only as he got closer I noticed the absence of clothing from the waist down. Not a good look. A stylist might say the outfit lacked balance. The eye was drawn away from the face and to the crotch, not anyone's best asset in the harsh light of day.
I feigned a sudden fascination with the ground. As he passed, I turned to give my companion trailing behind a shake of the head. It was the third time we'd encountered a nudist who'd gone seriously off-course along this stretch of dog-walking beach, the westernmost part of Spanish Banks. This is the stretch before it becomes Acadia Beach, where clothing -- and modesty -- become optional.
Considering the number of fully clothed people walking by, you'd think naked guy might have noticed his pants-free lifestyle was out of bounds. But I get the feeling he knew, alright. He just didn't care.
Another time on the same stretch of beach we encountered mom and dad nudists. Mom had her beach chair on the narrow walking path, which made the sight of her splayed nakedness impossible to avoid. Dad was a couple of feet away, hairy legs spread wide on a beach blanket, closed eyes to the sun. I felt a pang of sympathy for their two fully clothed pre-teen kids, who looked like they wanted to dig a hole in the sand and crawl in.
In this world, there are the people who are most comfortable gearing down in public, and then there are the people who'd really rather not. Naked yoga classes have been offered in places like San Francisco since the '60s, and they've arrived in Vancouver.
According to a New York Times story a couple of months back, bare-naked bodies are a trend again in modern dance, and unlike the '70s or '80s, it's less about liberation or political statement than simple metaphor. Writer Gia Kourlas observed that even sophisticated Manhattanites squirm at the near proximity of naked bodies.
New York visual arts writer and organizer RoseLee Goldberg is quoted in the same story: "Your skin is disturbed by being that close to naked people."
No kidding. It's an obvious observation, but in the realm of the arts, there is no more immediate statement than nudity, which is probably why artists will forever come back to it. In the mundane real world however, nudity is a state of being that requires the When In Rome principal. Either we all gear down, or we all keep the clothes on.
If you're the only person baring it all, or even part of a minority, you're either terribly brave or feeling terribly vulnerable. For onlookers, you're often either an amusement or an irritation. And as the bicycle activists know, public nudity is always political. It implies true liberation, a benign refusal of one of society's most universal codes of behaviour, that is, to cover up.
But it can be an angry statement too. In the case of Naked Guy inappropriately roaming Spanish Banks, his nudity was like a big diss to the rest of society. Perhaps it brought him a modicum of power to make others squirm. Or perhaps he is truly inured to other people's "hang ups."
That's the thing about public nudity: it's only a neutral act when placed in context. Otherwise, where is the line between liberated nudie and weirdo flasher?
Even an innocently subversive act like nudity for political statement requires a power-in-numbers approach.
A documentary on naked bike riding activists compared the public's relative indifference to the ride in Vancouver compared to a city in a place like North Carolina, where public outrage was strong enough to intimidate riders into keeping their clothes on. One guy who bravely rode naked was shown being disciplined by a good-old-boy style cop.
"Put your pants back on," the cop told him, in a voice usually reserved for a child. The guy sheepishly pulled over and struggled into his pants, his political statement immediately diminished by the comedy of it. On his own, he was too easily targeted.
Mostly, here on the coast, we are an accepting bunch when it comes to public nudity. Aside from the sad bunch of guys who turn out to look at boobies at the occasional nude protest, nobody really cares much.
Some hard-line public nudists are way too defiant about it, mind you. They might try to accept that not being comfortable with public nudity doesn't mean a person has body issues or is horribly repressed, or is any way trying to quell their naked fun.
I brought up the subject the other day with a bicycle activist guy who frequents Wreck Beach, and boy, he got his back up: "What's your problem? The naked body is a beautiful thing!" he said, shrilly.
Really? And all this time I thought the body was shameful and dirty.
In the women's locker room, there are those ladies who feel compelled to luxuriate in their naked splendour as they gab, rub on the moisturizer, make telephone calls. Just the other night in the locker room, a naked lady stood with one leg propped up on a bench while she yakked loudly for many minutes to her pal across the room. She could have been at home with her foot on the edge of the tub.
I think one's comfort level about public nudity has less to do with how secure you are about your body and more to do with how your parents raised you. As a teenager, I had a friend whose geriatric hippie stepfather liked to watch TV naked, even when she had friends over. Let's just say we mostly avoided the living room when the old man was around.
Then there are those of us who've never witnessed any members of our family naked, and at this point, would probably go involuntarily blind if it were to happen. Those types either rebel and go naked at the drop of a hat, or opt to keep the clothes on.
Everybody's got to march to a different drummer, as Henry David Thoreau said.
I just don't want to see their naked rear when I'm walking the dog.
Contact Kerry Gold at firstname.lastname@example.org