She Says: The bottom line about nude beaches
What does He say?

By Marlene Parrish

After years of being pestered by my husband, Bob, I finally did it. I took off all my clothes and walked stark naked on a public beach. Bob's pitch had been that as long as I'd know no one and no one would know me, I'd be anonymous and virtually invisible.

Uh-huh.

I countered with objections. I have stretch marks. I have cellulite, for Pete's sake. These are not exactly tourist attractions.

He gently persevered.

"Well," I finally said as I stuffed my bathing suit into the carry-on the night before we left for a week in St. Martin, "why not?" As I would come to learn, the hardest part of getting publicly naked is making the decision.

Fast-forward to the parking lot near the southern end of famous-for-you-know-what Orient Beach, on the (what else?) French side of this binational Caribbean island. The rest of the beach is "merely" topless, which alone took a bit of getting used to, but which served as a convenient toe-in-the-water test before the big plunge.

As we walk toward the beach, Bob has a bemused look on his face, and I'm practicing sucking in as much size 10 stomach as will fit into a size 8 bathing suit.

We rent an umbrella and beach chairs in an excellent jumping-off (taking-off?) place: right near the beginning of the section reserved for naturists -- the better term for what I've always called nudists and what one of our earlier tour guides kept referring to as "naturalists."

I look around. Quite a few women, French, I suspect, are topless, wearing just the bottoms of their bikinis or having rolled down their one-piecers.

More than a few sit in mixed groups, chatting so casually that I figure they'd probably wander that way into a 7-Eleven to buy a pack of gum.

Me? Strangers are one thing, but I'd rather die than "share" with my neighbors or pals, women or men. Yes, it is indeed a good thing that we're far from home.

Glancing over to the nude end of the beach, I see at least a hundred bodies of varying ages, genders, shapes and sizes. They're mostly middle-aged couples, who are probably in the majority because they can afford a Caribbean vacation.

What I don't see are any youngsters over 6 years old and no teen-agers at all.

While some folks are lithe and trim, others appear to have had belly implants. To some extent all are, like me, fighting the ravages of time and gravity. I feel much better now.

And what is everybody doing? To my relief, they're simply minding their own business.

Meanwhile, Bob and I are slathering as much of ourselves as we can reach with SPF 30 sunblock. "OK, I'm ready," I say.

But I'm going to do this in two stages.

First I'm gonna put the top down. If I survive going topless, then I'll "go all the way," giving new meaning to the phrase I learned in high school. I unhook my top, peel it off, fling it onto the chair and say, "Let's go."

We stand up and cross the imaginary line into the nude region, strolling along the water's edge. To my surprise, no lightning bolts zap from the sky. No one points or laughs, either at my bare top or my still-covered bottom.

Now for the big moment -- swapping my whole bathing suit for my whole birthday suit. At Bob's suggestion, we wade waist-deep into the water. There, a few feet offshore, I slip out of the bottom half of the suit. (Bob is already out of his.) Fine. Great. But what'll I do with it?

I drape it over my shoulder. Surely, people will now point and laugh. But no. After getting used to the feel of the water in unaccustomed locations, we venture ashore and join other folks who are moseying along the beach.

Gee, I think. This is a non-event. Of course, I'm looking as I walk.

There are no tan lines in sight, and nobody is red and scorched. These folks are veterans, and whiteness is the mark of a rookie.

I notice that tan skin doesn't look as naked as white skin, and I'm glad that before I left home I slapped on two coats of self-tanning lotion. I am a respectable, if streaky, beige. And then a funny thing happens.

My self-awareness turns outward. I feel the warm sun on those places where the sun don't usually shine, and it feels good. I feel liberated. And the breeze is, excuse me, titillating.

After a while, it's time to get out of the fierce sun. We wade back in (for modesty?), replace the bottoms of our suits -- not easy when they're wet -- and return to our umbrella and chairs for a nap. Bottom line? Piece o' cake.

In the company of others of like mind, nobody cares who you are or what you look like.

Will I do it again? Absolutely, but with a little fine-tuning. Next time, I'll go directly to an all-naturist beach where there may be changing facilities, and where I won't have to worry about disrobing in the solar spotlight.

As we begin to doze off in our beach chairs, I lean over and tell Bob that I feel anonymous and virtually invisible. He smiles.