Simon Dickenson* loves to swim and sunbathe au naturel at every opportunity, but he doesn’t appreciate the labels given to those who prefer to go without clothes.
On any warm summer's day, my first choice of activity, or inactivity, is to lie on a beach and soak myself alternately in sunshine and seawater. I have often wondered why I love the beach so much. Is it the association with happy childhood holidays or does my memory stretch back further to a time when, according to the aquatic ape hypothesis, early humans evolved by adapting to life on the shoreline? All I know is that I feel at home on the beach and my spirits are always lifted by the ozone-rich borderline between land and sea.
Shedding the shackles of clothingI can remember the first time I found myself on a beach where everyone was naked and how unremarkable it seemed to me. My own swimming trunks remained in my rucksack and have never again been worn on a beach. So appalling now is the prospect of being wrapped in a strip of elasticated synthetic material that I would choose my garden over a beach where being naked would invite disapproval, perhaps even prosecution. I find it hard to comprehend how being naked can be considered a crime, but such is the law in the UK.
I always use the word naked because I don't consider myself to be a nudist or naturist. I only want to be naked on a beach and I have no desire to abandon my clothes for a trip to the supermarket. Nudists, or naturists, have a zeal that I don’t appreciate, especially when I hear them disparaging people wearing costumes on a beach as ‘textiles’. To be clothed or not should be a choice.
Why go naked?What is so good about being naked on a beach? First, there are the practicalities. I like to sunbathe and swim alternately and on a hot day I am in and out of the sea a dozen times at least. My skin dries in seconds whereas swimming trunks remain sodden and uncomfortable for hours. Lying naked in the sun means no ugly white swimsuit marks and then there is the simple sensual pleasure of nakedness, whether your skin is being caressed by air or water. Some people confuse sensual with sexual and this, I believe, is the source of their disapproval.
Second, there are the psychological benefits of nakedness. It enables you to connect with the natural world in a way that seems impossible in a swimming costume. As the word costume implies, there is an element of pretence in avoiding nakedness. We are all born naked and we are all naked beneath our clothes. Nakedness is our natural state and when I am on a beach, I am there to reconnect with the natural world and to leave behind the trappings of the so-called civilized world. For me, a swimming costume on a beach is a perversion of nature.
The beach is my paradiseOf course, there will always be those who consider naked people on a beach to be perverts and it is undeniable that naturism attracts its share of unsavoury characters. But the beaches I have discovered where nakedness is normal are harmonious places. Men and women, individuals and couples, blend together and people chat together easily. There is a sense of camaraderie and goodwill and if someone chooses to wear a swimming costume, there is no hint of disapproval in reverse.
If I could choose the location of my last day on earth, it would be a beach. I don't believe in life after death and the beach is my earthly paradise. I would wish for one last swim in the Atlantic Ocean, followed by an hour in the sun, with its warmth seeping into my bones and then sleep. However I go, though, my wife will know to mix my ashes with the sand of my favourite beach.
*Name and identifying details have been changed.
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