A week ago today I was in San Francisco, CA standing on a bluff looking at the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a beautiful day, about 65 degrees or so, blue sky, with a wonderful sea smelling breeze blowing off of the Pacific. I walked on the edge of the bluff taking it all in, snapping pictures, making sure I was out of the way of the local joggers and bikers. I kept looking down at the beach wondering to myself if there was an easy way down. As i looked south I could barely make out a staircase but I wasn’t sure how to get over there. Then I caught a glimpse of a young man making his way down the side of the bluff along a difficult, but doable, path. Figuring I couldn’t come to the ocean and not walk the beach I began my descent. When I finally reached the beach I noticed a few other people walking around – a guy walking his dog and a Japanese couple having a romantic moment. I snapped a few pictures of the bridge and took a short video of the crashing waves for my kids back home before deciding to walk a bit further up the beach. That’s when I noticed the fort like rock formations… like something my nine year old would make if he had an afternoon at the beach. As I admired the rock forts someone inside the stood up – a buck naked middle aged man. I quick looked around and noticed that all of the people lying on the beach wern’t wearing any clothes. Trying not to look surprised I turned and started walking up the beach. I made eye contact with a young man who had just arrived; he smiled, nodded his head as a greeting, and proceeded to whip down his pants underwear and all. Totally naked.
To be honest, I’ve never experienced a nude beach before. Now, maybe this wasn’t officially a “nude beach” but people were naked so I’m going to count it. Most adolescent males fantasize about moments like this… envisioning nude beaches as mythical places where “attractive” people get naked. I’ve talked to people who’ve experienced them before and they tell me that most of the time the people who are naked are people who you wish would put their clothes back on. As I stood on the beach last Saturday I fully understood what they meant. One guy decided he needed to do some calisthenics so he left his little rock abode, went to the water, picked up a large stone, and started doing exercises. Here’s where my Seinfeld brain kicked in, you know, the episode where Jerry differentiates between “good” naked and “bad” naked?” Well, this qualified as “bad” naked… a middle aged guy with a gut doing jumping jacks holding a rock. As more people began to undress I decided it was time to head back up the bluff. Up I went, huffing and puffing, stopping every now and again to look back at the water… only to see this guy still doing his exercises.
My first nude beach experience has me thinking about how our culture, and the Christian community, deals with nudity. We bemoan the increased sexualization of adolescents, the way young men and women try to live up to idealized versions of male and female that leads to an increased obsession with perfect idealized bodies. We decry how the media sells young people an image of “sexy” that shapes their sense of what the human body should look like. The problem is that these images are all the same: perky breasts, tight waists, and rock hard abs. There’s a desperate uniformity that is certainly harmful, but it’s also very uninteresting and lacking in creativity. Which makes me wonder: Is it possible that nude beaches provide an antidote? The naked bodies I saw were far from ideal – they were very real. Maybe that’s what our culture needs – a good dose of naked reality. Maybe we all need to see saggy breasts, protruding guts, and hairy backs so we can be reminded that our unique diversity is a gift from God. Maybe nude beaches offer an important reminder that to be a human person is not to exist as a copy of some unattainable ideal; instead, to be human is to exist as a unique, imperfect, asymmetrical, embodied soul. So this morning I thank God for nude beaches… and, to be honest, I thank God for clothes.