Mass tourism, pressure from urban development and the ubiquitous cellphone camera are all working against naturists who are calling for the practice to be respected
To the west of Ibiza, in the municipality of Sant Josep de sa Talaia, a town of 27,413 inhabitants, there is a tiny beach that lies at the foot of a cliff, officially known as Es racó d’en Xic. Unofficially, it is called Cala Escondida, which is the name of the beach bar that opened there seven years ago. An ecological establishment, the bar has just a handful of dishes on its menu as well as exquisite passionfruit cocktails, and allows patrons to dine naked at its clutch of tables. Nudism is popular on this idyllic sandy beach in Spain’s Balearic Islands. “Everyone goes as they please,” says Tess Harmsen, who runs the bar and who has noted that the practice of nudism is on the wane. “Before it was common to see people without clothes at the tables, but now they are the exception. It’s the same on the beach.” Originally from the Netherlands, Harmsen is not the only one to notice naturism’s downturn; the situation is the same along most of the Spanish coast, according to various naturist associations consulted by EL PAÍS. The crowds of tourists, pressure from real estate developments and the omnipresence of cellphone cameras are some of the main factors behind the decline.
In Spain, there are about 450 nudist beaches as well as various public swimming pools and stretches of marshland or riverbanks specific to the practice, according to the Spanish Federation of Naturism (FEN). But Ismael Rodrigo, the FEN president, points out it is “perfectly legal” to go without a swimsuit or bikini on any of the more than 3,000 beaches throughout the country. The Costa del Sol in the south of Spain and Ibiza were pioneers in this respect, even during the Franco dictatorship, and became synonymous with nudist beaches.
Patricia Soley-Beltrán, an anthropologist who studied at Barcelona University and has a PhD in Gender Sociology from Edinburgh University, explains that going topless gained momentum in the 1980s and was not just a gesture of freedom, but also a way for women to assert themselves. “They were saying in effect that we are masters of our own bodies,” says Soley-Beltrán, whose book Divinas! Modelos, Poder y Mentiras (or, Divine beings! Models, Power and Lies) was published in 2015. Nudism was also a way of connecting with the body, having contact with nature, promoting respect for the environment and stripping nakedness of the sexual connotation that advertising insists on giving it.
“It’s something that doesn’t sit well nowadays with the crowding on the beaches,” says Soley-Beltrán. “You’re made to feel uncomfortable if you don’t wear a swimsuit. And in the end, you hold back. I don’t want my breasts to create an awkward situation for anyone. Nowadays, there’s competition to show off your sculptured body in the latest model of bikini. As a result, nudism has gone into decline. And I think that is really a shame.”
The average age of nudists is also changing: for upcoming generations, the practice does not have the same symbolic appeal of female empowerment that it had in its heyday. A survey by the French polling and market research firm IFOP found that 20% of Spanish women had been totally naked on the beach at least once in 2019. In 2016, that figure stood at 25%. The figure for topless bathing dropped from 49% in 2016 to 48% two years ago.
In the past, enclaves such as Es racó d’en Xic in Ibiza were known only to the select few, but in the age of Instagram, thousands flock here. Most wear clothes and are unaware of the beach’s naturist tradition, indicated by nothing more than a sign painted on a rock. “In high season, most people wear clothes and people are shy about it [going naked],” says Harmsen. “Those who do go naked feel they are being stared at or remarked upon and that makes them feel self-conscious.”
In addition to mass tourism, nudism is also being hindered by urban sprawl. Marbella and its surroundings, which have seen rampant urban development, are a prime example. “Real estate development is our main enemy,” says Julio Romero, a regular on the Costa Natura beach in Estepona, a beach town of 68,286 inhabitants in the Málaga province. In fact, the opening of the exclusive Nido beach bar in Costa Natura in July appears to be threatening the practice of nudism in a spot that pioneered it. “No one was ever forced here to either wear a bathing suit or not,” adds the 54-year-old. “What they can’t do is throw us out for not wearing one, which is what they are trying to do.” In response, Albert Beniflah, who runs Nido, says: “There was nothing here before, but things change. That’s life.”
The controversy in Estepona is not unique. On the Costa Brava, 1,100 kilometers away, a similar scenario is unfolding. Begur, a tourist town of 3,925 inhabitants in the province of Girona, is home to Catalonia’s naturist gem, the Illa Roja cove. The reopening this summer of a beach bar that had been closed since 2004 has caused tension between the new owner, the nudists and those who wear swimsuits. The nudist association Club Català de Naturisme filed a complaint at the beginning of August against the beach bar for not wanting to serve naked customers, a line it felt to be discriminatory. “In the old bar, there was no problem, and even the waiters went naked,” says Segimon Rovira, the president of the organization. “Now we are losing ground.” But bar owner David Maronda believes he has the right to dictate the dress code. “I am an absolutely tolerant person and I have always lived in Begur,” he says. “I am familiar with the philosophy of the beach and I respect it. But it seems surreal to me that they complain about a request to wear a simple sarong.”
The situation is very different in Benalnatura, a small beach at the heart of Benalmádena, a town of 68,128 inhabitants in Málaga. Next to the stairs providing sole access to the area, there are signs indicating it is a nudist beach and another sign that states: “The bar will not serve anyone dressed or wearing a swimsuit.” On August 26, at 10am, about 30 people were already enjoying the beach’s turquoise waters. Among those consulted, no one wanted to be identified or trigger any kind of controversy, but they made it clear that they do not tolerate clothed beachgoers. “We start clapping until they leave,” says a man in his 60s. The City Council has not received any complaints from non-nudists in this regard, according to municipal sources. But according to FEN, this is an isolated case and should not be considered the norm, pointing out that such a practice is “illegal” in the same way as it is, in their opinion, illegal to stop nudists using sun loungers.
Source: El País
Original publication 30 August, 2021
Posted on NatCorn 3 weeks ago
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