To provoke, or not to provoke?

We’re on an island called Koh Rong Sanloem, off the coast of Cambodia. There’s no naturism here, nor anywhere else in the country. For the last couple of days, we’ve been asking several expats if they think it would be possible to start a naturist resort here. The locals are mostly fishermen or run small shops or restaurants. They don’t care much about us tourists. Although their culture and Buddhist religion isn’t really favourable to showing much skin, the people don’t seem to be the slightest bit offended by the white butts in thongs parading on their beach.

 

Most expats we met told us that the people might be offended by the idea that there would be a place full of naked people. We have our doubts, we think that a concept similar to what’s happening in Thailand, where naturism exists between the walls of a private venue, should be possible to pull off in Cambodia as well. But what do we know? We’ve only been here for a week or so.

 

 

Topless on a Cambodian beach

The other day, we walked away from town along the coastline towards a further, more secluded beach. There’s really nothing there, just forest, shallow blue waters and a long white sand beach. We walked into two women who were sunbathing topless. Not locals, obviously, we think that they were probably German, French, or Spanish. Given that those are by far the most common nationalities of tourists over here.

 

 
Locals don’t really have any business on this beach and are a very rare sight, but now and then you can spot one driving by on a scooter, for who knows what reason. To get some wood in the forest maybe, or check their fishing nets. Chances are that one day or another, they will run into one of those topless sunbathers. What will they think of us, tourists? And isn’t it up to us to adjust to the local culture when we’re travelling, instead of exposing them to our white breasts, knowing that this is a very uncommon sight in their culture?

 

The afternoon was hot, as is pretty much every afternoon in this country. We placed ourselves under a palm tree but nicely kept our bathing suits on. For us, this is a matter of respect. We are the guests here.

 

 

Topless in a German swimming pool

Halfway across the globe, Germany is known for its very relaxed attitude towards nudity. It’s one of the countries with the most public areas where clothes are nothing but an option. We’re not just talking about beaches or resorts here, but also about rivers, lakes, forests, spas, the whole range. Except for the local swimming pool in Berlin, where apparently even taking off your top can cause a problem.

 

Long story short, two German women have filed a complaint at the city’s department for justice, diversity and anti-discrimination, after being forced to leave the local pool for swimming topless. They won the case, and now Berlin allows topless swimming in all indoor and outdoor pools. Something we very much applaud.

 

We, in “the west”, are often very quick to criticise cultures and religions that enforce different dress codes for men and women. But yet, we’re still doing exactly the same when it comes to breasts. This is the 21st century, isn’t it about time to let all that “how men and women should dress” behind us and treat everyone equally?
 

 

 

500-year-old porn

While we’re virtually travelling around the world, let’s make a stop at the other side of the Atlantic. More specifically in Florida, where the principal of a school has been asked to resign after several parents complained that the fragile eyes of their children had been exposed to a naked man. The man in question was the statue of David by Michelangelo. What some consider one of the most splendid pieces of art ever made, is seen by others as pure porn.

 

This almost literally blew our minds. How can one not see that this is art? How can one consider this sexual? For ages, it has been a prominent piece in the cathedral of Florence. Apparently, 16th-century priests in Italy were more tolerant than 21st-century parents in Florida.

 

We wondered if the local naturist associations and federations would take the opportunity to have a say about this. This is a very obvious case of trying to sexualise non-sexual nudity. Isn’t this something they should protest against with all force?

 

This was our first reaction, but we soon realised that there was a political aspect behind it. US elections are coming up next year and one of the candidates is Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida who’s not particularly known for being very open-minded. A reaction from the naturist community could easily backfire in this case, and politicians could focus on social nudity as the next evil thing that should be banned from society.

 

 

Cultural, political, or discriminatory

These stories about the topless women on the Cambodian beach, the ones in Berlin’s local swimming pool, and that of the 500-year-old naked dude have some things in common. Other than that they talk about the acceptance of nudity, they are all a form of provocation.

 

When it comes to gender discrimination, we stand straight behind the activists to give them all the support we can provide. When it becomes political, we start having our doubts. Mostly out of fear for the powers that be and to avoid ruining what we have already accomplished in the past decades. From a cultural point of view, we have a rather negative opinion about provoking other people on their own lands.

 

This got us thinking, is there a right and a wrong form of provocation? And to a further extent, of activism? It’s great food for thought for our next afternoons on the beach. In bathing suits.

 
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24 thoughts on “To provoke, or not to provoke?”

  1. While germans (Berliners at least) already stepped into a Renaissance regarding acceptance of public nudity, the people of Florida still stay deeply in Medieval. Let’s be grateful, that they don’t burn witches. I hope, they don’t.

    Reply
    • Beware news items that are intended to stoke outrage. Both parties do this in the run up to an election, and the Florida governor is running for president. Ample incentive for both parties to find the perfect culture war meme.

      Florida is the state with the most naturism, including an official nude beach in a major metropolis. And it’s not hard to find an image of David anywhere in America, at most a quick Google.

      The reality of the story is that the teacher was fired for not notifying parents in advance (per a long-standing procedure), not for showing a photo of the David statue. And the administrator made the point that this has been far from the only issue with the teacher. While it may seem “medieval” to require parental notification before showing such an image, it could also be seen as a middle ground in a diverse country of immigrants from myriad places and cultures, and their descendants. (America may seem bland on a quick tour, but that hides, and importantly facilitates, an underlying diversity, easy to find off the beaten track.) This incident is the perfect culture war item for either party (with the hallmark of plenty of irate people on either side of the story gleefully promoting it), which is why I smell a rat.

      Reply
  2. One of my favorite beaches is Kemil Beach in the Indiana Dunes National Park. It’s not legally nude, but many people use it as such. Recently, there has been a Facebook group started to attempt to have the beach legally designated as clothing optional.
    I joined the group and was enthusiastic about it until I really thought about it. The area of the beach that is normally used as the nude area isn’t secluded or separated from the rest of the beach. It’s smack dab in the middle of the beach where the public has to pass through to get from one side of the beach to the other. And this is Indiana, folks! Unfortunately, this state is about as conservative as they come.
    The more I thought about the deliberate goal of the Facebook group, I started to realize that it is more likely to provoke problems rather than further our goal of promoting non-sexual nudity.
    In recent years, I’ve noticed a natural trend toward nudity and topfreedom being more common on this beach. It seems that the public’s attitude toward it has been gradually becoming more accepting on its own. My thought is that we should probably allow this natural trend to take its course without possibly provoking an unintended negative consequence.

    Reply
    • The question you always need to ask is if you’re willing to start a fight that you may not be able to win. There are lots of unofficial nude beaches around the world of which the locals know that people get naked there and tolerate it. If you strive to make it official, this could be good to make sure that the beach is actually recognised. But it also gets politicians and other interest groups (like churches) involved and this could seriously backfire.

      Reply
  3. I agree that it shouldn’t be up to “outsiders” to provoke change, but should come from the local population. As you said it isn’t up to tourist to dictate what is acceptable in another country.

    Reply
  4. “This got us thinking, is there a right and a wrong form of provocation? And to a further extent, of activism?”

    The only way to know is by the results. There’s no way to know if this approach or that approach will or won’t work at a particular time & place. All you can do is act to be the change you want to see.

    Now, having written that, I prefer to be mostly polite. e.g. Marching around City Hall naked waving signs and chanting slogans is most likely a bad move. But that doesn’t mean doing nothing. Being a little offensive is how you push boundaries.

    Reply
    • It’s a lot about common sense, and that is unfortunately something that isn’t given to everyone. To give you an example, public nudity is legal Spain. Technically, this means that you can be naked everywhere, but of course, people with common sense will only use this law to be naked on beaches or in nature. However, Barcelona had serious issues with naked people downtown. As a result, they forbid public nudity in the area, which also affects nature and beaches…

      Reply
  5. A little information for you. Paseo County Florida is the nudist capitol of the United States. There are more than 20 official and unofficial nude beaches in Florida.
    Just because one overzealous person got a bunch of negative publicity complaining that kids saw a penis is no reason to attack a representative a large majority of Florida residents.
    This was a very interesting story except for the interjection of politics.

    Reply
    • Sorry, it was not our intention to attack all people from Florida. But we do find it curious that we haven’t seen many reactions to this from Floridians, not even from the organised US nudist community.

      Reply
  6. En: https://www.pourmoi.co.uk/nowtrending/now-trending-a-global-guide-to-nude-topless-sunbathing , se puede observar un mapa muy aproximado de países donde el naturismo tiene diferente grados de aceptación. Sin generalizar, se puede comparar con otras cartografías sobre estados y derechos humanos y tomar conclusiones.
    Incluso en estados como el de Florida, bastante tolerante con el naturismo, por su número de playas y practicantes, hay gente retrograda. La lastima es que estas personas tengan poder para expulsar a profesionales de la educación que trabajan en la enseñanza del patrimonio artístico mundial. Esperemos que los “padres indignados”acepten la invitación del alcalde de Florencia y de la directora de la Galería de la Academia para contemplar una de las bellas representaciones del Renacimiento Europeo y puedan “renacer” de su oscurantismo retrogrado: https://www.diariodemallorca.es/sociedad/2023/03/29/florencia-invita-profesora-estados-unidos-85346363.html

    Reply
  7. “These stories about the topless women on the Cambodian beach, the ones in Berlin’s local swimming pool, and that of the 500-year-old naked dude have some things in common. Other than that they talk about the acceptance of nudity, they are all a form of provocation.”

    The display of the statue of Michelangelo’s David was not a form of provocation. It was part of the normal curriculum of that school that, by its own words, provides education in the liberal arts and sciences. Only one parent complained, and the issue is that the school’s board subsequently freaked out.

    Such overreactions also happen in social media where naturists are increasingly being cancelled. This is a significant threat to the promotion and acceptance of naturism.

    Reply
    • True, it wasn’t meant to be provoking, but it did provoke certain parents. Similarly, the topless women we saw in Cambodia probably also didn’t mean to provoke, but when encountered by the wrong people, it could be seen as provocation

      Reply
  8. “ Only one parent complained, and the issue is that the school’s board subsequently freaked out.”

    The board didn’t freak out. There had been many problems with the principal over the past year. Not following the procedure to send the note was the final straw.

    Reply
  9. I think it’s a risk to go against regulations in a different country. You don’t know how law enforcement will respond.

    I’m not sure I agree with your analysis on the situation in the United States and Governor DeSantis. I don’t think he has voiced opposition against public nudity. Florida is one of the top nudist destinations in the U.S. They have communities. I don’t think public nudity or increasing naturism will be a major issue in the 2024 presidential election.

    Reply
    • True, Governor DeSantis has never said anything against nudism. But when a minority starts to cause trouble right before elections, there’s always a possibility that arrows will be pointed at them. And whether we like it or not, nudism is a complicated topic and many people have many opinions about it, especially about the involvement of children.

      Reply
  10. And speaking of minorities: I’m trans, and this means my entire existence is a provocation (even though I just want to live my life in peace!)
    Trans bodies are so marginalized, that it became a trope how trans people just cannot even be on a beach in a swimsuit.

    And sadly this applies to naturist communities as well. A lot of people, even among naturists, see our bodies as inherently sexual, and see us as some perverts or rapists or child molesters, just for who we are, and they act on this; and most of the others either silently support the first group or just do nothing.

    I’m at peace with my own body. clothes or not; but almost nobody else is. So every time when I’m considering going to a naturist resort, I have to consider: will I even be let in? Will the management immediately expel me from the resort once they learn that I’m not cis? Will I be harassed by other guests? Will the management side with them and expel me after I’ll be harassed?

    Me and my partner were considering to go to that very popular but not so large as to be impersonal (not like Euronat) resort in France. It has a mandatory nudity rule; and they spend so much time on their website explaining how all human bodies are OK and how naturism is about acceptance of all kinds of human bodies. We’ve emailed them, just in case, and it turns out when they say about human bodies, apparently they do not consider trans people to be humans. According to their response, they do tolerate gay people (to an extent), but they’re a family resort, there are a lot of families with children, so naturally some of them might be disturbed by seeing a body that does not conform to cisgender body standards, and if we want to avoid conflicts, we should choose another resort. One thing they didn’t mention in their response was that, according to the rules published on their website, disturbing children is not tolerated and those who disturb children will be forcibly removed. So, were we to come there, I would most likely be harassed by other guests from the start, and then the management would get involved, and then they would remove… not those who harass me, but myself, for, what some parents will likely say, disturbing their children with my mere existence. Fun.
    Maybe someday someone will “provoke” them by existing while trans, and will be removed for “disturbing” children, and then will go to French court and maybe even win the case, like these women in Berlin did. I can only hope.

    (This comment turned into a rant, but I just cannot not mention yet another thing about that resort in France… when they at first thought that we were asking whether they’re OK with gay guests, their first response was that yes, they’re ok with gays, but that we need to remember at all times that the public sex is not allowed, because there are children present. I wonder how many straight couples are being explicitly and specifically told that yes, couples are tolerated, but they should remember at all times that public sex is not allowed. Because straight people are seen as normal while gay people are seen as perverts and sex maniacs… but I digress. I wish there was an easy way to tell which places are queer-friendly and which are transphobic or homophobic, but sadly, for naturist places there is no way to tell because they all hide behind “we accept all humans” without explicitly mentioning any of their implicit footnotes that they consider gay or trans people to be subhuman.)

    Reply
    • Wow! We are well aware that some naturists are quite narrow minded when it comes to their philosophy of “all bodies should be accepted”, in the sense of “as long as those are bodies that I’m used to seeing”. But we did not know that there are resorts in France who bluntly dare to say that you’re not welcome because it might disturb other people. That’s not just pure nonsense and very anti naturism, it’s also pure discrimination and you’re right that if people take this to court, they would probably win this.

      We hope that you found an other resort that’s more openminded!

      Reply
      • The thing is, they didn’t say this explicitly (probably because they knew it would be illegal).
        But I can put A and B together, and here A is them saying that they recommend us to go somewhere else if we want to avoid conflicts, because they are a family resort, there are many families with children, and naturally some families (or their children) will be disturbed by trans bodies. While B is their public policies saying that anybody who disturbs children will be forcibly removed and prohibited from ever coming back again (I guess this rule is against sexual offenders, but trans people are often seen as sexual offenders just for existing, and their response confirms this).

        It might be anti-naturism, but a lot of places seem to be anti-naturism in that sense, and there is no way to tell in advance, and for someone who just wants to have a nice vacation in peace, the risk of learning that the naturist place they chose for their vacation turns out to be anti-naturism after all is just not worth it.

        The sad thing is that finding a “more openminded” resort takes a huge effort, and even after all that effort I know of exactly one naturist resort in Europe that explicitly claims at least somewhere on the internet to be LGBT-friendly, and not to shy away from that fourth letter. With everything else, it’s trial and error, with such a huge price in case of error. So the most I can do without fearing for my safety is to go to something large like Euronat, de facto clothing-optional (i.e. where I won’t be harassed for not completely undressing), and be topless there, while taking care to wear something non-revealing otherwise (and avoid all activities that mandate 100% nudity). Which of course is absolutely not the same as being able to swim or sunbathe without being confined by clothes…

        I bet that if at least some of the naturist resorts made a clear stand for LGBT rights and explicitly mentioned in their rules that harassment on the basis of gender identity is not tolerated (as opposed to the generic vague rules that make it possible to call trans people harassers just for existing), they would see a significantly higher popularity among younger generations! But the way things are, naturist vacations sadly remain completely inaccessible to most trans people or, by extension, their families.

        Reply
        • Something that may help you is to send an email to the EU Assessor of the International Naturist Federation (INF): [email protected] . It’s their job to protect the rights of naturists. Additionally, he’s French and gay, so also from a personal point of view he might be willing to help.

          Reply
  11. One thing at a time. The core issue is about respect. I think that Florida is a very conflicted place that has chosen to regard nudity as disrespectful. I suspect it’s a minority but right now they are driving this regardless of reason or logic. To me that means walk away.The situation in Cambodia involves Buddhist culture. It seems to me that there is a lack of understanding that naturism and nudity isn’t about a party. To me is an enhancement of my connection to the world, even to “god”. It’s a spiritual attitude and if this was made known it might mitigate the suspicion and discomfort about nudity.
    I will confess some confusion about the situation in Germany, but these are two individuals. Even in the most liberal and progressive situations you will find outliers. Probably even three, or five. With my apologies, it can’t be treated as significant.

    Reply

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