Why nudists are driven from Spanish beaches | Life in Spain

Nudist beach Benalnatura in Benalmádena.Martin Mesa

West of Ibiza, in the municipality of Sant Josep de sa Talaia, a town of 27,413 inhabitants, is a small beach at the foot of a cliff, officially known as Es racó d’en Xic. Unofficially, it’s called Cala Escondida, which is the name of the beach bar that opened there seven years ago. An eco-friendly establishment, the bar offers only a handful of à la carte dishes as well as exquisite passion fruit cocktails, and allows customers to dine naked at its tables. Nudism is popular on this idyllic sandy beach in the Spanish Balearic Islands. “Everyone can go their own way,” explains Tess Harmsen, who runs the bar and has noticed that the practice of nudism is in decline. “Before, it was common to see people without clothes at tables, but now they are the exception. It’s the same on the beach. Originally from the Netherlands, Harmsen is not the only one to notice the decline of naturism; the situation is the same on most of the Spanish coast, according to various naturist associations consulted by EL PAÍS. The tourist influx, pressure from real estate developments and the ubiquity of cell phone cameras are some of the main factors behind the decline.

In Spain, there are around 450 naturist beaches as well as various public swimming pools and stretches of marshes or banks specific to the practice, according to the Spanish Federation of Naturism (FEN). But Ismael Rodrigo, president of the FEN, emphasizes that it is “perfectly legal” to do without a swimsuit or bikini on one of the more than 3,000 beaches in the country. The Costa del Sol in southern Spain and Ibiza were pioneers in this regard, even during the Franco dictatorship, and have become synonymous with nudist beaches.

View of Cala Escondida in Ibiza, with the Cala Escondida beach bar in the background.
View of Cala Escondida in Ibiza, with the Cala Escondida beach bar in the background.NOT.

Patricia Soley-Beltrán, an anthropologist who studied at the University of Barcelona and holds a doctorate in gender sociology from the University of Edinburgh, explains that the topless gained momentum in the 1980s and did not was not just a gesture of freedom, but also a way for women to assert themselves. . “They said in effect that we are masters of our own bodies,” says Soley-Beltrán, whose book Divinas! Modelos, Poder and Mentiras (or, Divine Beings! Models, Power and Lies) was released in 2015. Nudism was also a way of connecting with the body, having contact with nature, promoting respect for the environment and stripping the nudity of the sexual connotation that advertising persists in giving. this.

“It’s something that is not going well these days with the crowds on the beaches,” Soley-Beltrán explains. “You feel uncomfortable if you’re not wearing a swimsuit. And in the end, you hold back. I don’t want my breasts to create an uncomfortable situation for anyone. Nowadays there is competition to show off your sculpted body in the latest bikini style. As a result, nudism is in decline. And I think that’s a real shame. “

The average age of nudists is also changing: for future generations, the practice does not have the same symbolic appeal of empowering women as it did in its heyday. A survey by the French polling and market research firm IFOP revealed that 20% of Spanish women had been totally naked on the beach at least once in 2019. In 2016, this figure was 25%. The figure of topless swimming has increased from 49% in 2016 to 48% two years ago.

In the past, enclaves like Es racó d’en Xic in Ibiza were known only to a privileged few, but in the Instagram age, thousands of people flock here. Most wear clothes and ignore the naturist beach tradition, indicated by nothing more than a sign painted on a rock. “In high season most people wear clothes and people are shy about it [going naked]”Harmsen says.” People who get naked feel like they’re being watched or noticed and that makes them embarrassed. “

In addition to mass tourism, nudism is also hampered by urban sprawl. Marbella and its surroundings, which have experienced rapid urban development, are a perfect example. “Real estate development is our main enemy,” says Julio Romero, a regular at Costa Natura beach in Estepona, a seaside town of 68,286 inhabitants in the province of Malaga. In fact, the opening of the exclusive Nido beach bar in Costa Natura in July seems to threaten the practice of nudism in a place that pioneered it. “No one here has ever been forced to wear a bathing suit or not,” adds the 54-year-old. “What they can’t do is throw us away because we don’t wear any, that’s what they’re trying to do.” In response, Albert Beniflah, who runs Nido, said: “There was nothing here before, but things are changing. That’s life.”

The controversy in Estepona is not unique. On the Costa Brava, 1,100 kilometers away, a similar scenario unfolds. Begur, a tourist town of 3,925 inhabitants in the province of Girona, is home to the naturist jewel of Catalonia, the cove of Illa Roja. The reopening this summer of a beach bar closed since 2004 has caused tensions between the new owner, nudists and those wearing swimsuits. The nudist association Club Català de Naturisme lodged a complaint in early August against the beach bar for not wanting to serve naked customers, a line it considered discriminatory. “In the old bar, there was no problem, and even the waiters bared themselves,” says Segimon Rovira, the president of the organization. “Now we are losing ground. But bar owner David Maronda believes he has the right to dictate the dress code. “I am an absolutely tolerant person and have always lived in Begur,” he says. “I know the philosophy of the beach and I respect it. But it seems surreal to me that they are complaining about a request to wear a simple sarong.

The situation is very different in Benalnatura, a small beach in the heart of Benalmádena, a town of 68,128 inhabitants in Malaga. Next to the stairs providing exclusive access to the area, there are signs that this is a nudist beach and another sign that says: “The bar will not serve anyone dressed or wearing a swimsuit. »On August 26, at 10 am, around thirty people were already enjoying the turquoise waters of the beach. Among those consulted, no one wanted to be identified or spark any controversy, but they made it clear that they did not tolerate clothed bathers. “We start clapping until they leave,” said a man in his sixties. The city council has not received any complaints from non-nudists in this regard, according to city sources. But according to FEN, this is an isolated case and should not be taken as the norm, pointing out that such a practice is “illegal” in the same way that it is, in their opinion, illegal to prevent nudists from using sun loungers.

Nudist beach Costa Natura in Estepona.
Nudist beach Costa Natura in Estepona. García-Santos (El Pais)

Further east, on Cantarriján beach, in Almuñécar, a municipality of 26,377 inhabitants in the province of Granada, this problem does not exist. A traditional naturist destination in the middle of a Natural Park, naturists and non-nudists coexist in perfect harmony. And in its two beach bars, there is no objection to nudists using the lounge chairs while in one, La Barraca, nudism is allowed in at least part of its outdoor dining area since 2018. “In general, there is a very good atmosphere. ”, Explains Pedro Pérez, secretary of the Association of Friends of the Nudist Beach of Cantarriján (AAPNC) which has 100 members. “But it’s true that in high season, in the middle of summer, there is much less nudism.

Referring to the summer crowd, a 28-year-old from the Balearic island of Formentera, says: “You lose your sense of privacy. In July and August, she keeps her bikini herself while the number of clothed bathers multiplies and the naturist tradition carried in the 1960s by those called els peluts (les poilus) is outnumbered. Two of these pioneers from the 1960s starred in the cult classic Following, Barbet Schroeder’s first film, shot in Formentera and released in 1969, much of which shows them naked in the sea or at home.

Naturists like Pedro Pérez think that the practice of nudism only brings advantages: a feeling of freedom, the comfort of avoiding wet clothes, hygienic advantages. “You have to try it. It’s addicting,” he says. He ditched his swimsuit at the age of 17 and is now 47. In those three decades he has seen nudism decline .

Naturist associations say there are several reasons for this trend. First, advertising and stereotypes of beauty have instilled fear of revealing imperfect bodies. “But being naked, seeing other real bodies, helps eliminate complexes,” Pérez explains. “We are all made as we are.” According to child psychologist Jesús Paños, “naturism can help improve our body image”.

The second reason concerns concern about what other people think. “Part of society still sexualizes nudity. And that raises doubts among many naturists, such as what they will think of me at work or in the family, ”explains Pérez. “Education has a lot to do with it because we are taught which parts of our body to cover. Pérez also points out that there is censorship regarding nudism on social media – for example, female nipple censorship, “with the implication that showing it is false.”

Nudist beach Illa Roja in Begur, on the Costa Brava in Girona.
Nudist beach Illa Roja in Begur, on the Costa Brava in Girona. © Toni Ferragut

The fourth factor concerns the ubiquitous cell phone camera. In the age of the selfie, it’s hard to know what the “photographer” is focusing on. “There can be confusion,” says Segimon Rovira of FEN. The fear is that a stolen image, mostly of women, could end up on internet forums or porn sites, which may have specific sections displaying images illegally taken on beaches. To avoid exposing themselves to this risk, many naturists prefer to go to coastal areas where only naturists go. However, Julián Santamaría, 53, from Gran Canaria, who heads the Canudists Association, says: “I usually go to the nearest beach or the one I want to go to. We must respect the fact that everyone can go as they see fit.

Santamaría has had some run-ins with the local police and those who don’t understand why he prefers to get naked. He attributes this to the ignorance surrounding nudism, which is legal on any beach, as well as any river and park and even on the street. However, some municipalities have banned it, such as San Pedro del Pinatar in the region of Murcia, which issued an order against the practice in the summer of 2017. Months later, the Ombudsman suggested eliminating the law against it. nudism in accordance with the European Court of Justice. Human Rights, which considers public nudity to exercise the right to freedom of expression. In 2016, however, the Spanish Supreme Court approved an order vetoing nudism on urban beaches in Cadiz and fining anyone who practiced it, in reference to precedents in Barcelona and Valladolid. The court declared that the fines “are neither discriminatory nor contrary to the principles of legality”. FEN believes they are, but lost the appeal. Beyond these legalities, naturism requires normalization, respect and above all coexistence without tension. Peace with or without clothes, but above all peace.

With a report of Carlos Garfella.

english version by Heather galloway.