When visiting a nude beach, I figured a sunbather should be certain to bring along three things: plenty of sunscreen, an extra-large towel, and her seventy-five-year-old mother.
Sure, the last item seemed a wildcard. But, when both of my formerly fun sisters vetoed this side trip during our vacation in south Florida, my mother hesitated only briefly. “Just be sure to mention both of us kept our clothes on,” she said.
“Um, yeah,” I replied. “Maybe I didn’t clarify that point to you. I’ll be going au naturel, too.”
“Oh.” She pondered this news for a moment. “Well, just don’t sit near me. I saw you naked as a baby, and I don’t really care to now.” My mother didn’t want to see her own daughter naked, but she seemed okey-doke with viewing dozens of strangers who were letting it all hang out? I didn’t question her reasoning. As I considered the idea, I decided I wouldn’t wish to sit next to her if she were naked either. Apparently, awkward nudity is something best reserved for total strangers.
We made the one-hour trek down to Haulover Beach, near Miami, on a windy, overcast afternoon. As we approached the warning sign on the beach that said, “Attention: Beyond this point you may encounter nude bathers,” I reminded my mother about the rules of Nude Beach Social Etiquette that I’d researched on the internet. The first was to keep your eyes on the other sunbathers’ faces and not on their other body parts.
“Do not ogle or stare,” the website instructed. “Nude sunbathers expect eye contact if they choose to be spoken to.” Sound advice, although I was pretty sure neither of us would be choosing to speak to any of them.
A few feet within the “special” area of the beach, we encountered a man—sans even a Speedo—walking in our direction. I had no trouble not staring at him, since I was momentarily preoccupied with helping my mother negotiate, with her cane, across the sand.
We heard a deep voice, and we both looked up. “This sand is hard to walk on, isn’t it?” he said.
My mom paused, leaning on her cane. “Yes, it is,” she replied. She smiled at him. He smiled back. I grabbed her arm, and we continued down the beach.
She leaned in and whispered to me. “Did you see how good I did? I made really good eye contact.”
I snorted, calling bullshit. Neither of us maintained full contact with the man’s two blue eyes. No matter how much we tried, how could we avoid his third eye, when it was right out there, only a couple feet away?
Next, we passed by a bronzed Adonis. Late forties. Dark, wavy hair. Twinkling eyes. Holy Mother of God! Was he standing at half-mast? I yanked my mother’s arm, before anyone had a chance to speak.
We wandered a bit and found a place for my mother to plop down, next to a stack of rental lounge chairs. I headed further down the beach. As I plodded across the sand, I glanced around. The winds were high and the sky was ominous, so the beach wasn’t nearly as crowded as I’d been told it usually is, with as many as seven thousand visitors in a single day. Although it was advertised as a “family-oriented nude beach,” I didn’t spot a single child. In fact, I saw very few women.
Ninety-five percent of the sunbathers were men. Some lay spread-eagle on the sand, their hands behind their heads. Several roamed the beach, in what I could only assume they believed to be their untethered glory.
It was a blustery day. All around me, winky-dinks waved in the wind.
I lowered my head, focusing on searching the beach for the perfect spot to drop down—and to drop my drawers. I didn’t want to be within close vicinity to any other sunbathers. I also didn’t want to face the highest traffic line of passersby. About three miles away, I figured, would be just about right.
I finally gave in to the futility of any privacy. Privacy at a public, nude beach was probably an oxymoron. And considering how stupid I was feeling for ever believing I could go through with this, “moron” was the operative word.
Spreading out a towel, I sat down, still wearing my swimsuit and cover-up. I opened a book and pretended to read, while contemplating my next move and still questioning my sanity. I realized I could only get this over with by ripping off the Band-Aid quickly, and that meant ripping off my swimsuit. And so I did.
I promptly covered myself with a second towel. It was windy! It was cold (relatively speaking)! I needed that towel! But the wind immediately whipped the towel up, over my body, until it landed neatly folded against my face, leaving the rest of my body fully exposed. I sprang up to spread it back over me, but then the towel beneath me went awry in the wind. I tried several times to unfurl it, before I finally heard a voice say, “Here, let me help you with that.”
Swiveling my head, I saw a young man kneeling behind me. “I saw you struggling,” he said. “Here, let’s just put one of your sandals on each edge of the towel to anchor it down.”
I forced a smile back, praying he’d make good eye contact, too. “Oh, uh-huh. Good idea. Thank you.”
He returned to his spot several feet behind me. I lay back down, holding the towel on top of me with both arms extended over it, and stared at the sky. As time passed, more slowly than it ever had in the history of the universe, I finally pulled the towel off. I squeezed my eyes shut. I adopted a two-year-old’s thinking: If I can’t see anyone, then no one can see me.
I heard voices as people passed by, and I flinched any time I heard a pause in their conversation. Wait: What were they doing? What were they looking at? A couple helicopters passed over me. I prayed they weren’t taking aerial photos.
Fifteen minutes later, my mother texted me from her secluded spot a hundred yards away. “I think it’s starting to rain. Want to go?” No, it wasn’t raining—probably just sea spray from the wind. But yes, I wanted to go. “Fifteen more minutes,” I wrote back. I figured forty-five minutes on the beach and I could check this experience off my list.
As I yanked my swimsuit back on and collected my things, I also gathered my courage and looked behind me. The young man who’d helped me with my towel was fully clothed and reading a textbook, with a small pile of other books and spiral notebooks lying next to him.
He glanced up and smiled. I nodded. I supposed any beach was a nice alternative to the campus library when you’re a college student. I pictured him writing a term paper on awkward, overweight, middle-aged women who visit nude beaches, for his abnormal psychology class.
My mother shot me a look of relief when I returned. She rolled her eyes and gestured to her right, just around the stack of lounge chairs. It seemed Adonis had shown up there just after I left. He’d asked her, “Do you mind if I sit right back here behind you, to be away from the wind?”
She’d replied, “No, you’re fine.” She told me she had smiled to herself, thinking yes, you are fine, indeed! But over the next half-hour, as he frequently stood and walked around her, preening, she squirmed a bit in discomfort. When I arrived, he immediately stood up, walked around to us, and watched us get ready to leave.
I think I would have found Adonis to be more attractive if he’d left a little bit to our imagination.
As we walked away, my mother reminded me she’d been to a nude beach years ago, in St. Martin, where the Europeans are much more nonchalant and everyone is more comfortable with nudity. The Americans here? Not so much.
Some go to nude beaches here regularly because they like to flaunt their stuff. Others, like me, are there out of curiosity. Maybe a few just prefer full body tans. I’ll take the tan lines.
Our little side trip to Haulover Beach proved to be quite the sideshow. With a great amount of trepidation, I took part in it, from top to bottom. I’ll give myself some credit for that.
And next time I whine about trying on bathing suits, I’ll remind myself anything is better than nothing.
Ever bared it all in public? Is less, more? Will I be getting a full chapter in someone's textbook on abnormal psychology?