In Praise of Nudity
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Vama Veche is the most popular nudist beach in Romania. Photo by Sorin Mutu, Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Art + Stories, Experiences

In Praise of Nudity

The Nudist Beaches of Central and Eastern Europe
Stasia Budzisz
Reading
time 14 minutes

They lie on towels, blankets and mattresses, without wind screens, but under umbrellas. Deep in thought, they stand up to their knees in the water. Some build sandcastles and collect shells. Others play cards, backgammon, volleyball or badminton. Some are reading. They rub themselves with oils and are damp from the water or bone dry from the sun. The old and middle-aged, young people and children. They nibble on sunflower seeds, slice up watermelon and drink beer. They don’t look at each other. They lie beyond a rock, behind a bush or just past the tributary of the river. The other side of some unspoken border.

For now, I just observe them. In order to join them, I have to meet one condition: I must take off my clothes! But I don’t have the nerve.

A run-in with nakedness

My tummy’s too big and I’ve got cellulitis and uneven breasts. My swimming costume gives me a sense of security. So I sit on my towel and, from behind the scrawny bushes, I follow the movements of people who don’t bother to suntan their clothes. I lie in wait for the first people to leave the naked zone. I still believe I will get away with writing this article fully-clothed.

The first to emerge are two elderly ladies. I pull on my beach tunic and make my way over to them. Poles. Basia and Hanka. Sisters from Warsaw. I’ve hit the jackpot. We go for a beer.

“But how are you supposed to write about it if you don’t know what it’s like?” demands Hania, the older one, more as a statement than a question. “It’s simply an un-journalistic approach. You have to try it, otherwise it won’t be fair.”

“It’s unlike anything else. It’s full-on freedom,” adds Basia. “I’ve been coming regularly to Sozopol in Bulgaria for 10 years. I’ve got an apartment here. I like it because it’s understated. It’s mainly Bulgarians that come to our beach. It’s quiet and peaceful. Recently, my sister has started coming with me. Our husbands are traditionalists. They don’t share our passion. They sit in the café and we’re here, the other side of the unspoken border.”

But their experience with nudism didn’t begin on the Black Sea. Hania saw nudists for the first time on the banks of Lake Balaton in Hungary, and Basia in Sweden. Brought up under the rules of communist Poland’s socialist morality, neither of them could get enough of the sight of naked bodies.

“We got to Balaton sometime during

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Opposing Attitudes Towards Nudity in Sweden
Katarzyna Tubylewicz

Nakedness in Sweden is no longer as straightforward as it used to be. For some, it is still the obvious, healthy norm; for others, it is revulsion, sin and dishonour. This is because ‘one’ Sweden and ‘typical’ Swedes no longer exist.

Sweden is commonly associated with a relaxed attitude towards nudity. On beaches all over the world, a ‘typical’ Swede can be singled out by his blonde hair, but also by the fact that he changes his swim shorts without a towel. In the locker room at my Stockholm yoga studio, women do not get hastily dressed and do not hide in towelling robes. Naked, they chat with friends, look in the mirror, or sit behind glass doors in the sauna. They see no problem in carefully applying body lotion to their entire body in the middle of the changing room.

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