On a map, Mar Bella looks like any of the other beaches adorning Barcelona’s waterfront. But, in contrast to the boardwalks of Barceloneta or Bogatell, the entrance to Mar Bella is a relatively secluded sandy path that opens onto a narrow stretch of sand, which widens as it moves away from the city. Only past this point do hundreds of bare tops and bottoms become visible. This is Barcelona’s nude beach.
The beach is mostly populated by men, and the occasional women often have male companions. Apart from this demographic glitch, the vibe is no different from that of other beaches in the city: picnics, music, and entrepreneurs shouting, cerveza, cola, Fanta, agua… ¡fría! The most noticeable thing is not the nudity but the attitude; a complete lack of self-consciousness. There is no sense of overt exhibitionism, and people adopt standard beach postures and pastimes. They fly kites. Play paddle ball. Wade, swim, put on sun block and work on their tans.
In fact, these days naturism (the standard term for the philosophy and practice of public nudity) is common in Spain and downright popular in Catalunya, said Marcel·lí Alsina, president of the Club Català de Naturisme (CCN), a not-for-profit organisation founded in 1977 to promote and defend naturism in Catalunya. They seem to be doing a pretty good job of it: Catalunya has 40 nude beaches, three nude camping sites, and a host of periodic events such as a monthly naturist night at a discotheque in Cornellà de Llobregat. “Last June, the first nudist cruise of the Mediterranean departed from the Barcelona harbour.”
Things were not always so easy for would-be naturists in Spain. The penal code dating from the Franco era prohibited acts of public indecency, and showing a bare bum to the world was definitely a no-no. When Franco’s government began to promote tourism in the late Sixties and Seventies, Spaniards were shocked when female tourists from other European destinations wore bikinis on Spanish beaches. An exception was made for tourists, but Spanish women were not allowed, initially, to follow suit.
These days, however, the Spanish Federation of Naturism (FEN) claims no laws prohibit naturism in any public places, including city streets and plazas. A look at FEN’s literature suggests that the police may not agree, however, as the organisation distributes a pamphlet with detailed trilingual instructions explaining how nudists should respond to authorities that try to get them to dress. “If they opt to detain you, you must allow them to do so without resistance.”
Advice about what to do in such dire situations might seem to imply that authorities do not, even yet, have a totally relaxed attitude toward practitioners of naturism, but practising naturists do not seem at all concerned. In fact, Manel Vilajosana, director of El Templo del Sol, a naturist camping ground in Tarragona, sounded quite positive about the behaviour of the authorities. “They are already very far from the times of repression of the Franco regime,” he assured. “The current government has endeavoured to advance and enhance our civil liberties in Spain. The Spanish law is one of the most tolerant in Europe with respect to naturism.”
On Mar Bella, nude bather Jordi Corominas, a computer technician, said he never felt discriminated against for going nude, but like the great majority of visitors to the beach he has never tried to test his nudism rights in other public places.
So why are there separate beaches at all? Not all people who swim in bathing suits mind having nudists around. “I don’t see a reason why nudists shouldn’t be allowed at conventional beaches,” said human resources manager, Miriea Morela, who always wears a bathing suit when she goes to the beach. “I don’t know why people might be uncomfortable around nudists, or not want their children to see them. I don’t understand how people can want to prevent children from seeing people nude. It is hypocritical – children can see violence and blood and guns on television, but they can’t see naked bodies?”
The most likely reason for the separation, according to Morela, is for the sake of naturists. “The nudists might feel uncomfortable being around people wearing clothes.”
There isn’t one universally agreed-upon definition of ‘naturism’. The common thread, of course, involves not wearing any clothes, but parties differ in their choice of emphasis.
FEN links naturism with what it sees as a ‘right’ to be nude, and one that has been historically repressed much like certain other civil rights. FEN’s pamphlet warms naturists that asserting their rights to nudity may be onerous. “It is very hard because you need to be prepared to go through the situation in the same way as the women’s libbers had to, to achieve their rights.”
Alsina from CCN speaks conceptually of the link between naturism and nature: “Nudity is healthy, comfortable, pleasant, and gives a great sensation of freedom. Naturists maintain that all bodies are beautiful in their shapes, forms, sizes, colours, and ages. Naturists enjoy nature, and nudity in nature just extends this relationship. Naturism promotes health by its complete contact of the body with natural elements: sun, water, air, and land. To be a naturist is the simplest way to be human.”
For El Templo del Sol’s Vilajosana, today’s naturism is a response to the repression of the past. “At El Templo del Sol, we have discarded the systematic and dogmatic nudism of the past century (and with it the obsession of nudity in every time and place) that today is obsolete. Our motto is, ‘Naturissimo: to be nude, if I want, but I will always respect the choices of others.’
Of course, not all those who go nude call themselves ‘naturists’. “I wouldn’t consider myself a naturist,” said Jordi Corominas. “I don’t belong to any clubs or associations or anything like that. I come here [Mar Bella] a few times a month in the summer because I prefer not to wear a swimsuit.”
But, it is not always that simple. Of course, public beaches are public, nude or not, so don’t hesitate to bare it on Mar Bella, for example. The naturist clubs can be quite exclusive, however. In order to visit El Templo del Sol, which includes swimming pools, access to a public beach, restaurant, bars, supermarket, private shower, spa area, and—oddly for naturists—washing machines and dryers, you have to be a member of a nudist association recognised by the INF. The CCN is recognised by the FEN, which is in turn recognised by the INF, so those with CCN memberships don’t give them up easily.
These restrictions are clearly intended to send the message that only dedicated naturists need apply, but the rules and “recommendations” don’t end once you’ve gained entrance to the club. At El Templo del Sol, nudism is allowed everywhere, recommended at the beach, and obligatory in the swimming pools. There is some respite for the squeamish who visit Manel Vilajosana’s campground: “Nudity is not obligatory in the service areas (restaurant, supermarket, reception) for obvious reasons of comfort.”