By Chiogor Constance Ikokwu
Dateline: Barceloneta, Barcelona, Spain
Would you dare to walk down the street stark naked or strip within the confines of a location? You’re probably wondering where this question emanates from. Well, keep reading!!
Last summer, my Kenyan friend Angel informed me that her younger sister was visiting from London. She had everything planned. They were going to have a wonderful time in Barcelona – restaurants, museums, shopping, dancing, etc.
On the beach day, I was invited to join the joyful holiday train, which I gladly accepted. We board the bus to Barceloneta beach, not too far from town. It’s crammed with people. Barcelona is eventful during summer. The city is chock-full of visitors from everywhere. A combination of beaches, mountains, excellent food, whimsical nightlife and amazing architecture makes it irresistible.
We stroll out of the house without giving a thought to what Europeans would term appropriate clothing (bikinis) for the occasion. Angel and her sister are dressed in jeans and top. I’m wearing shorts and t-shirt – standard attire during this time of year.
We alight from the bus and start walking leisurely – ice cream, cold drinks, finger food, pictures with hands thrown in the air, idle talk, gossip, we are having a blast. We decide to take a stroll along the seashore. The cool breeze is incredible under the scorching sun. We tumble into the water, clash with the roaring waves, play with it and watch as it retreats with less intensity.
Take Me as I am
We’re still having fun. Then boom, we start noticing naked people. We stare at each other, speak with our eyes and keep walking. There’s more nudity and more, and more, and more. It’s men, women, old, young, oh gosh. We’re not sure what to do as we break out in giggles. I particularly remember one hunk standing, hands on his waist with an amazing six-pack and his privates on full display. I’m thinking, is this a contest for Tarzan or what?
Clearly, we are the odd ones out here. Angel suggests we beat a retreat. By now, we are laughing uncontrollably, with a tinge of embarrassment. Passing by the shower, we see a woman nude in her full glory with no care in the world. She’s having a bath as if she’s in her home. When I narrated the experience to friends, they told me we strayed from Barceloneta into the nudist beach called La Mar bella. I had no idea.
On a serious note, why is nakedness unsettling, particularly in regards to people we’re not intimate with? Is there a psychological or theological explanation to it? Even in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve scrambled for leaves to conceal their genitals once they ate the forbidden fruit and suddenly realized they were uncovered.
I spoke to Neus Flores www.neusflores.com – a culture expert and indigene of Barcelona about this unforgettable day. Neus tells me that the birth of the nudism movement gave rise to nudist public spaces such as at the beach. Nudism, a political and cultural movement that promotes nudity is common in Europe especially in the Northern parts. The adherents believe humans should as much as possible live in their natural state. Typically, loads of nudists converge here during the beach season around the beginning of May, peaking in August. Plus, it’s a popular spot for gay sunbathers.
I remind Neus that when Europeans arrived Africa centuries back, they told the Africans “living in the natural state” to put on some clothes. Now, the Europeans want to run around naked like the Africans. She collapsed into unrestrained laughter. “That’s an interesting turn of events,” she whispered, after gaining composure. We laughed about it.
It’s an intriguing concept and it was fascinating having this conversation with different Europeans. I wonder for instance, how parents feel uncovered in front of their children or siblings of the opposite sex in front of one another. This must take courage, plus strong convictions.
To the best of my knowledge, being naked in public is a big deal in today’s Africa. I stand to be corrected but public nudity is not socially and widely accepted. You’d be hard pressed to find a nudist inclined group. I think that the culture attaches a lot of significance to decency. Even at the beach, people are generally cautious about exposing their bodies. At the same time, some women these days are scantily clad on the streets. It’s a fashion habit that I think, partly emanates from watching Western television programs.
As a little girl, my mum ceaselessly tried to cultivate prim and proper behavior in us, as do many Nigerian families. The admonition flowed freely: sit down properly; put your legs together; that skirt is too short; cover yourself; pull your dress down; walk properly; comport yourself, etc. My proper African mother will most probably be thunderstruck if I ever brought her to Mar Bella. She won’t last five minutes.
Dear visitor to Barcelona, be aware there’s a designated nudist area next to Barceloneta. Don’t go strolling into these parts except you want to join the naked family. Finally, Neus has invited me to a nudist beach. She assures that I’ll get used to it after the first time. Thanks Neus but emmmmm, I’m not confident enough to pull that off. I’ll keep it within the precinct of my room.
What about you? What are your thoughts on nudism? Enjoy!