Gijon has several beaches, a few of which are a hike outside of the main city. Our Profesorra de espanol, Marta, knows we enjoy walking and going to the beach. She informed us that if you walk to the end of the paseo maritimo (beachfront walkway), we would come to “the most beautiful beach.” So we decided to go for a long walk towards that beach yesterday. We were well equipped with towels, snacks, sunscreen, water, comfortable shoes, swimming suits under clothes…the whole shebang.
We walked for about an hour, past where the paseo maritimo becomes a stone path and winds through lush, green hills. We saw an inviting beach in the distance and decided the end of the paseo would have to wait for another day because we were done walking and ready for beaching. The beach we saw, Playa de Penarrubia, is at the bottom of a steep hill. Luckily, the stone path and steps leading down to it are in great shape and feel extremely safe for such a steep incline.
As we neared the final descending staircase, we peaked over the edge to look at the water and saw a very tan, very naked, older fellow soaking up some sun in the sand. I had read that there are several nude beaches outside of town. However it is common on nice, sunny days to see women sunbathing topless, from twenty-somethings to seventy-somethings, at the most popular beaches in town. I should mention men are sunbathing topless right along with them. Folks do not look twice at either. It is not illicit or salacious. I say this as a woman from the United States where a woman sunbathing topless on a public beach would not only be viewed as lewd behavior in most places, it would also very likely be illegal.
A friend of ours recently told Phil that his young daughter feels it is unfair that he can walk around with this shirt off but girls and women cannot. It is unfair. Welcome to ladyhood, little sister. The sight of a woman’s breasts are so distracting to men that is is illegal to bare them. Breastfeeding a child in the U.S. in public can still be mistaken for an obscene act. All of that being said, the U.S. also has another layer beyond the puritanical. There is also the body shaming.
Even if topless sunbathing were common place in the U.S., many women would not for the same reason many women do not wear sleeveless shirts or shorts or bikinis (I bought the first bikini I have worn since age four this past year at Phil’s urging because, why not?) because they have been taught to feel ashamed of their bodies. If you have lumps, bumps, stretchmarks, birthmarks, hair, no hair, etc, we should want to cover it up. We don’t feel like it’s normal or good or acceptable. From what I have read and in my limited interactions with Spaniards, something like being fat is used as a descriptor here, not as a judgement or insult. Just like you might describe someone as short or tall or blonde or brunette, one might described as fat (gordo/gorda) as a matter of fact.
As an introvert who loathes being the center of attention and someone who was obese in high school, I have struggled with self esteem and body image issues all of my life. It has gotten much better with age but being a foreigner in a new country with new customs, insecurity has been rearing it’s ugly head a bit more than I would like. When it does, I just have to remind myself that: 1. if someone judges me based on my physical appearance, they are an asshole, and I don’t care what they think, and 2. if someone assumes the worst of me in any interaction, they are an asshole and I don’t care what they think. Anyway, I digress. Back to the beach.
As we arrived at the beach, it became very obvious that it was one of the nude beaches I had read about. About seven or so older men were in the immediate, visible area and some other folks further on down the beach. As with most places we have been in Gijon, everyone was doing their own thing, in their own space, and not really paying attention to anyone else. I always find something comforting about being around people with a “live and let live” attitude. Be cool, don’t cause trouble, and no one will care what you do.
Phil and I rolled out our towels and settled in. I elected to pop off my bikini top (Phil voted in this election and the results were unanimous). Why not let the little ladies see the sun? When in Rome, right? We stayed at the beach for a few hours, laying on our towels, half asleep, half awake, listing to the waves crash. A few people came and went but the peaceful, easygoing vibe remained.
There is something about the beach that is good for the soul. I think I understand why the nudists nude or at least why folks want to get naked on the beach. It is not about sex or voyeurism, or at least not for most people. Being in nature, next to the immensity of the ocean, under the warm embrace of the sun, laying in the sand, you can’t help but feel at one with it all. There is a desire to remove all barriers, to roll around in it, grab onto it, to soak it in. To dive, tits first if you will, into the divine expanse.