It was on a sun-kissed stretch of beach in Catalonia that Segimon Rovira began to feel self-conscious. For as long as the 56-year-old could remember, the area’s turquoise waters had primarily been frequented by nudists. Now, he was painfully aware of being surrounded by sunbathers – in their swimsuits.
“Before, people would arrive at a nude beach and either leave or strip down,” said Rovira. “Now they stay and keep their swimsuit on. But what they don’t realise is that if there are a lot of them, they end up making us uncomfortable. It’s a lack of respect.”
Now Rovira and other naturists in Catalonia are fighting back, with a campaign aimed at protecting the decades-long tradition associated with 50 or so of the region’s beaches.
“Nudism is not banned in Spain, you can do it on any beach,” said Rovira, who leads the Naturist-Nudist Federation of Catalonia. “But so as not to bother people, we prefer to go to beaches that have traditionally been nudist and where most people are naked. We want people to respect this.”
Recently the association sent a letter to the Catalan government asking for a meeting to address what it described as “the discrimination that nudists face on the beaches of Catalonia”. The collective has already started mulling potential requests, from beefed-up signage for nude beaches to a public awareness campaign that could help foster respect for naturism. They have yet to receive a response.
At the heart of what the local media call the “textile invasion” is the boom in tourism and explosion of social media. As an ever-growing trove of blogs and travel guides vie to lead sun-seekers off the beaten path, they’ve highlighted the region’s most pristine and hidden beaches, often leaving out their longstanding ties to nudism.
Other times beachgoers themselves have chosen to overlook these ties, traipsing past the signs that read “nudist beach” in order to secure a spot on the golden sands. “We’ve lost a bit of civility,” said Rovira.
The result threatens to steadily erode naturism. “There are nudists who have stopped going to some beaches because they are too crowded and there are too many people wearing swimsuits and they feel uncomfortable,” he said.
Others have chosen to remain clothed, dissuaded by the throngs of smartphone-wielding visitors eager to share the beautiful backdrop with their online followers, said Rovira. “People that are naked don’t want to end up with their photos on social media.”
Some nudists have persevered, only to find themselves the focus of giggles, prolonged stares and, at times, disparaging remarks. “Unfortunately the women are usually more stared at or harassed,” said Rovira. “So they are discriminated against twice over; for being nudists and for being women.”
The hope is that the campaign will help ensure that certain beaches remain safe spaces for naturists and help to keep the tradition going. “Starting to practise naturism when you’re surrounded by people in clothing is very complicated,” said Rovira. “That’s why we think it’s important to have nudist spaces where the majority of people are nude so that people are encouraged to try it.”
The message is at the crux of a video, recently published by his association, that depicts two tourists who stumble across a nudist beach and soon go from gawking to stripping down.
The video seeks to capture the pair’s journey as they come to embrace all that enthusiasts say nudism offers. “We do it for the feeling of freedom,” said Rovira. “There’s no comparison between swimming in the nude and in swimwear. You’re more free, more calm and relaxed.”