Arts & Culture » Juice

Undressed for success



While people in other parts of the world are beginning to climb out of their frigid winter hibernation like slimy baby birds from a confining egg, we in Florida have been running around half naked for quite a few weeks. Whether you peel off your clothes at the pool, the beach or in front of your window when you know the neighbors are looking, it's good to be warm enough to expose yourself to the elements.

You can expose yourself to the elements and not expect the elements to run off and call the cops. But you can't count on such poise from your fellow citizens. As summer approaches, we wait to hear about some ordinance or another being passed, fought against, voted on or dredged up that keeps so many nice things un-bare-able. If it's not the nudie bars in Seminole County, it's the beaches of Brevard -- specifically Canaveral National Seashore, a remote stretch you really have to work to get to. It's hard to believe people can get so offended by naked people who they can't see, especially when I'm offended by all the people I can't see naked. If more people were more naked more often we'd all realize that almost no one looks that great, and we'd all rest a lot easier on our flat or fluffy butts.

Naked calculations

If the state knew how much money this skinophobia was costing it, the anti-nudity ordinances might be abandoned decisively. Stephane Descehnes is media-relations director for the Federation of Canadian Nudists, a group that has occasion to give advice to the foreign nudist traveler. He says that European visitors, used to nudity on the beach, will often forgo Florida for resorts in the Caribbean, where their bare breasts are welcome, along with their money. "It's dumbfounding that it can be so hard to find a nude beach," he says. "When you come down to it, it's only a few people, and there are millions of beaches."

Nudists, Descehnes says, are happy in their isolation and keep their beaches both behaviorally and physically clean because it's important they stay on the good side of the community and the authorities. From littering to lascivious behavior, those who offend are unceremoniously booted by the naturists themselves.

It's kind of a shame they get picked on. Descehnes points out that nudists in Miami, looking for a place to hang out, found Haulover Park, which used to be filled with "drug dealers and dirtiness," and cleaned it up. That beach now has the highest concentrated use in all of Miami.

Still, nudists are forever being chased away from the beaches and accepting this fate relatively peaceably. And that makes sense to most of us. It seems much harder, or at least more jarring, to fight back when you're naked.

But not for everyone. A naughty bit of nudist heritage recently came our way through the Fortean Times. This story suggests that you can fight City Hall wearing nothing but a smile -- and, in fact, that might be the best way to do it.

Exactly 100 years ago a group called the Doukhobors emigrated from czarist Russia, where their radical Christian/hippie beliefs -- anti-military, pro animal rights and pacifism -- got them persecuted. Hoping to find a place with "primitive conditions" where they could go back to the Adam and Eve lifestyle (and presumably get it right this time) the Doukhobors tried Canada. There the group splintered, and the most radical faction marched toward Yorkton, Saskatchewan, preaching and burning their furs, leather and tools. Eventually they started protesting nude "in the manner of Adam and Eve," thus beginning their tradition of naked marches. When some Doukhobors in British Colombia were told to send their kids to school, they burned down nine schools.

Under exposed

The Doukhobors eventually returned to nonviolent behavior and, in order to assimilate, shed their extreme customs instead of their clothes.

Aside from the arson part, the Doukhobors offer some insight you seldom see in pyromaniacal religious groups. They reasoned that if humans were made in God's image, God must have been the first nudist; indeed, nobody has yet fallen out of the womb wearing an Oxford and a pair of Dockers.

The Doukhobors also realized that if one naked person in private has power, a bunch of naked people in public have a lot more. Wouldn't it be fun if modern nudists would show the cojones their ancestors did in the last century and take to the streets? Or is it just that I want to turn on the news and see a bunch of naked people of all sizes, shapes and ages traipsing through downtown Titusville?

Really, my interest isn't just about better TV news. It's about the right to go to a designated place and let your "skin breathe," as Descehnes puts it. It's about not wanting to forever be the victim of a cover-up.


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