What does one pack on a three-day trip to a nudist colony? It was late-August and I somehow found myself asking this question as I frantically packed my bag en route to a remote nudist beach in the south of Spain.
I was three months into a long-haul backpacking trip, and thought I had shed a lot of the fabrication of my former Sydney self. I’d slept in a tree house in the jungles of Laos and camel trekked through a sandstorm in the Sahara Desert. ‘I can do this,’ I thought.
Oh, how wrong I was.
San Pedro beach is a small slice of sand hugging the rocky coastline in the south of Spain. It’s famous among locals as a down-to-earth hippie spot, where Spanish free spirits shed their material positions (read: go butt naked), sleep under the stars and drink fresh water from a natural river source. (Christine Anu talks to Mamamia TV about body image. Post continues after video.)
Sounds exotic, right? I had visions of wandering the shore gloriously naked with a glowing full-body tan and overcoming the language barrier by singing kumbaya at night.
The reality: It was a shadeless beach with no WiFi connection, communal toilet pits and a ton of naked people – the ultimate place to really test how I felt about my body.
1. The first hour is the hardest.
When I arrived at the beach with three friends (one of whom was a guy), we felt like outsiders in clothing. ‘This is it,’ I told myself. No big deal.
But it was. I sheepishly ducked into our tent and popped on my bikini bottoms. When I came out I half expected people to gawk or whisper, but no one even noticed. I lay for the first half hour face down on my towel, trying to act cool but desperate not to expose my belly or boobs. (Post continues after gallery.)
When it came to walking to the water I was mortified. What people don’t tell you about doing normal activities in the buff is that things move. Parts I didn’t know could jiggle, jiggled. After a first dip I even took a stroll down the beach. Baby steps.
2. Nobody’s perfect.
I thought I’d overcome my body insecurities when I left high school. I was so wrong. Years of watching the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show has given me a warped idea of what naked looks like. From the second I stepped foot on the nudist beach I leant the truth about nudity: We’re basically all the same.
The people on the beach were refreshingly normal. Bare-breasted mums played with their babies in the sand while a group of men in their 30s played Frisbee. It was kind of reassuring to see real bodies, and, in case you were wondering, dress size didn’t equate to sexiness.
3. Beware of the wildlife.
The first morning, I walked down to take a morning dip in the ocean (nudist colony = no showers). The only problem? A huge school of jellyfish had washed into the bay overnight. There are some places you should never get stung.
4. Embarrassment is a construct.
Prior to leaving, I found myself throwing all my possessions into my pack. It seemed the thought of going au naturale made me cling to every item I owned that might hide my body. Sarongs, scarves and an emergency bikini found their way into my bag. Just in case, I told myself.
In the end, the most liberating part of the escape was exposing the parts of my body I usually try to hide- be it a bloated belly or less-than-perfect thigh cellulite. After a nervous giggle and glance around to see who was looking at me, I realised embarrassment was all in my mind.
5. There are some things the eyes can’t unsee.
On Day One I was confronted with a full-frontal spread leg view of my lovely naked neighbour. There are some angles the human body should never be seen from. Let’s leave it at that.
6. The only person who cares about your stretch marks is you.
The beauty of spending time at a nudist beach is that you learn that no body cares about your tiny imperfections, but you. And when you stop stressing about those stretch marks, it’s as if they cease to exist.
I’ll admit it: Even in spite of my "Eat, Pray, Love" moment, I only lasted two days at the nudist colony. Maybe I’m not the body confident free spirit I’d hoped; maybe nudity isn’t for everyone.
But the way I feel about my body has changed. You might not find me topless and free at the beach this summer, but one thing’s for sure: I definitely won’t be hiding.
Would you brave a nudist colony?