BUT THEN AGAIN
By Mary Schneider
A FRIEND in Australia recently announced that she and her husband were going on one of those alternative holidays that involve nude sunbathing and letting it all hang out.
My response? Count me out! Some things in life should be left to the imagination. A walk, a smile, a gait, a way of flicking the hair away from the eyes, the manner in which clothes encase a body, these I often find attractive, but those human appendages and accessories that are normally kept well under wraps often hold little appeal.
Once, while in my early twenties, I visited a nudist beach in the south of England. I'm not quite sure what lured me to the coast that day, but curiosity probably played a major role. I think I was keen to discover exactly what sort of people enjoyed slipping out of their clothes in public.
I had imagined a beach with sand as fine as corn flour, where the body-beautiful could display their finely toned physiques as they lay glistening in the sun. But I was in for a rude awakening. Even though it was the height of summer, the wind that blew in from the sea that day was chilly and the sky overcast.
And worst of all, instead of the silky sand dunes of my imagination, I was confronted with hard, unyielding pebbles. Nudists must have a certain propensity for the masochistic, I thought, as I spread my inadequately thin mat on the furthermost fringe of the beach.
As I was untying my shoe laces, a long, protracted procedure that day, a vast couple - both looking nine months pregnant - crunched past me. So much that shouldn't wobble, wobbled.
Peering out from behind the relative anonymity of my long hair, I took in my surroundings. It was evident that the more clothes that are removed from the average human body, the less appetising it becomes as a spectacle. After removing my outer garments, I sat for a while with my swimsuit still on, my arms hugging my knees to my chest.
As I studied my goose-pimpled arms, I prayed for the sun to make an appearance - a little warmth and I would feel a lot braver. I think God was testing me that day, because a short while later the sun peeked out from behind the clouds and the wind died down. But as fast as the temperatures soared, my spirits sank.
A group of middle-aged tourists heaved their undulating bodies down to the sea, giving everyone a panoramic view of the pebble imprints on their broad behinds. For the briefest moment, I thought of stripping off and making a quick dash to the sanctuary of the concealing waves, but I was too nervous to run the gauntlet of prying eyes.
Then I slowly became aware of a male figure purposely striding towards me. He was about my age and had the appearance of an Auschwitz inmate - you could have counted his ribs.
He stopped at the edge of my mat and greeted me cheerfully. It transpired that he was a regular there. As he told me a little about himself, I tried hard to maintain eye contact with him. As much as I really didn't want to look at his anorexic nether regions, I'm ashamed to say that I felt a strong pull in that direction. I concentrated on his short, spiky hair (on his head) and hoped he would quickly take his leave.
Finally, after telling me that I looked conspicuous with my swimsuit on and that the beach was designated for nude bathers only, he crunched off seawards. At that stage, the prospect of removing my last vestments of decency seemed just about as appealing as a trip to the gas chamber.
Most naturists usually defend their bare-all practice by disseminating some dogma about the state of nudity being what their god and Nature had intended for them. But how many of us embrace a lifestyle that is cognate with that which was originally intended? The majority of people these days (so-called naturists included) have bodies that reflect the excess and abuse that are almost inherent in our modern lifestyles - bodies that would be better kept under wraps.
Besides, as someone so wisely said when discussing the pros and cons of ballet performed in the nude: "Not everything stops when the music stops."