The Big Issue : Edition 506
THEBIGISSUE4–17MAR2016 19 But I soon began to feel more out of place for having clothes on. So I did it. I took off my clothes, sat down on the sand and looked around sheepishly. Nobody was laughing, pointing or jeering. Nobody was really paying attention at all. I thought about the vehement statement on the SNF website insisting that nudity is not erotic by itself, or inherently sexual. This is, they say, just a myth propagated by a society obsessed with clothing. As I sat there conducting pleasant and banal conversation in a walnut-coloured sea of nude people, I tended to agree. As we chatted about learning languages and the Spanish economy, the only thing that made me feel nervous or uncomfortable was the possibility that not enough people would show up to break the record. The south of Spain has become somewhat of a naturist mecca, attracting hordes of Europeans searching for a place to shed their wintry robes. The utterly dependable warmth of the area partly explains the appeal, but the law plays a part, too. There is no law against nudity in Spain, which gives a real sense of security to people wishing to live their lives clothing free. This is not very easy in other locations, especially as urbanisation turns the inconspicuous and distant nude beach into someone’s backyard. Many a nude beach has now been permanantly clothed. After the dip, nobody was thinking about the politics of their lifestyle choice. They just walked around shaking hands and generally looking thrilled. A sense of warm camaraderie floated happily in the air as people donned their hats, sunglasses and shoes. I looked around at the bodies with rolls of fat, skeletal collar bones, asymmetrical breasts, breasts that had been replaced with two long scars, wild pubic hair, no pubic hair, tattoos, wrinkles and genitals in all shapes and sizes, I actually felt moved by how comfortable people were in their own, extremely tanned, skin. As I wandered back to my car through this community of happy, unashamed people, I felt a little reluctant to put my clothes back on. » Katherine Smyrk is The Big Issue’s staff writer/editor, who has decided not to renounce the “textile world” just yet. She was devastated to discover that she is no longer a world record holder, after 790 people from Perth skinny-dipped together in 2015. She might just have to do it again. A HORN BLARED and I started running towards the ocean, sand flicking out from behind my feet. Ahead of me, behind me, alongside me, more than 700 other people did the same. Some only went in up to their waists, others splashed around playfully in the waves, revelling in the relief of cool water on hot skin. A camera flew overhead and we waved and laughed like excited children. Oh yes – and we were all completely naked. In July 2013 I became a Guinness World Record Holder. I did not grow the world’s heaviest onion, put the most clothes pegs on my face in one minute or lift 11kg with my tongue (all actual records). I was a participant in the World’s Largest Skinny Dip. The previous record was set in New Zealand, with 506 nude swimmers. In Vera Playa, Spain, 729 people (myself included) willingly donned their birthday suits and got wet. It may seem strange that 729 people were convinced that this was a good way to spend a Saturday. But, then, Vera Playa is a unique part of the world. If you are thinking of googling it, maybe wait until you’re not at work. Search results will pop up with numerous pictures of people gleefully showing off their full-body tans, with absolutely no tan lines. Vera Playa is one of Spain’s most renowned “naturist” communities. In other words, a nudist town. The beach, the streets, the houses, the hotels and the restaurants are all clothing free. People get into naturism for different reasons. The Spanish Naturist Federation (SNF) website actually lists 205, some of which are pretty convincing. It says an obsession with wearing clothes creates insecurity about your body and that nudism helps to promote confidence and positivity about body image, especially among women. Also, that nudism promotes openness around sexuality and sexual health by countering any beliefs about parts of the body being unwholesome or shameful. It cites an American study claiming that nudist children showed significantly higher acceptance of their bodies. When I arrived on the day – convinced to attend through a muddy combination of journalistic research, curiosity and backpacker-style laissez faire – I had an open mind. But I also felt nervous and awkward. I confess that at my first sight of a man walking casually down the main road in just runners and a cap, I had to suppress a childish giggle. Express Yourself WHY AND HOW KATHERINE SMYRK WENT BACK TO BASICS IN SPAIN.