Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Undressed for success

Admit it. We Brits are useless at nudity. Raised on an unhealthy diet of Robin Askwith's unruly pubic thatch and Barbara Windsor's ribcage-enhanced cleavage, we can't help but titter every time someone even says the word 'titter'. See? We associate nakedness with bawdy seaside comedy, to the point that whenever we see someone undress, we hear the distinctive sound of a slide whistle.

About eight years ago, I visited Kefalonia shortly after Nicolas Cage's risible Captain Corelli film was released. At that time, the island was something of a tourist hotspot, so the beaches were overflowing with people who'd borrowed a copy of Louis de Bernières' bestseller and had travelled to Greece in search of a timeless romance of their own.

Put off by the prospect of Brighton on a bank holiday Monday, we set off in search of quieter shores, eventually finding the unofficial nudist beach. Aged 27, it was the first time I'd ever been publicly naked, and it took me a couple of days to get used to the idea. It didn't help that the abundant fish swimming in the crystal clear water seemed particularly nibbly.

But any fears I had that the nudist area would be a haven of wanton sexual activity, were dispelled the moment I caught sight of an overweight septuagenarian attempting to put up a windbreaker. Although they clearly felt a sense of liberation by being a few layers closer to nature, no-one seemed particularly happy to be there. In fact, the only smiles I saw were the little arcs of white skin under each buttock, every time one of them bent down to sweep the sand off their beach towels.

It didn't take too long for me to realise that nudist beaches are, by and large, retirement homes with a clothing-optional dress code. And that seems to be the consensus around the world, as nudist resorts claim that they're in danger of dying out. Numbers have been dropping quicker than a pair of unsupported breasts, forcing groups to actively recruit younger generations by staging activities like volleyball tournaments  5k races and music festivals with names like Nudepalooza and Nudestock. Some have even held reverse-strip-poker nights. Maybe I'm missing the point, but playing cards until everyone's fully dressed sounds like a waste of everybody's time.

Nicky Hoffman, head of the Naturist Society, one of the largest nudist organisations in the U.S., warned the Wall Street Journal: "The whole lifestyle will just disappear unless we attract a younger crowd. The problem is, most of these resorts aren't geared to young people." It doesn't help matters that the rules are geared in favour of the older residents. Body piercings are forbidden, as is late night cavorting. And let me tell you, nothing kills youthful joie-de-vivre like seeing someone your grandparents' age, frowning disapprovingly at both ends.

Thankfully, social media has come to the rescue, enabling young skin enthusiasts to reach out and connect with their friends - albeit strictly above the waist. Now there's a thriving Facebook community of  nudists who meet up for a Spring Break Bash at Sunsport Gardens in Florida. Activities include a 'midnight skinny dip', which kind of loses its appeal when you've already spent the best part of the day copping an eyeful of sun-damaged genitals.

Although the young folk are carefully segregated from the older residents for most of the weekend, it's nice that they're all able to come together for that age-old nudist staple - volleyball. As for me, if I want to touch base with a bunch of seniors, I think I'll stick with boiled sweets and strained conversations about the war. I've seen enough generation gaps to last me a lifetime.

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