In a year when some regions of France are defying a recent Paris court ruling and enforcing a ban on the burkini, councillors in Paris are planning a public space where people can let it all hang out in the capital
Last Monday, the regional council in Paris validated the notion of creating a naturist zone in the French capital. Given the recent political/social tensions in a country that is still in a State of Emergency (though most visitors would hardly notice), is it the right time for such naked ambition?
Following a proposal from the ecologist bloc, the Conseil de Paris voted last Monday (26th of September) in favour of experimenting with a zone open to naturists in Paris. It won’t be a case of a nudist free-for-all in Paris, of course, but a designated public space – probably a park – which will become a naturist zone. It won’t be the only city in Europe to do so but it will be a first for a European capital.
What exactly is naturism?
According to the French naturist organisation, “naturism is a way of living in harmony with nature, characterised by the practice of collective nudity with the intention of encouraging respect of self, of others and of the environment.” According to the PRO of the Fédération française du naturisme Yves Leclerc, naturism also eliminates all social barriers: “Clothing is a social marker. A banker doesn’t buy clothing in the same shop as a worker. When you get rid of it, we all become the same – two arms, two legs, a trunk and a head.”
Where else is it practised in France and who does it?
There are approximately two million practising French naturists, plus another two million tourists who come to France every year to disrobe in one of the some 460 naturist zones throughout the country. Theses zones are made up of 155 commercial camp sites, 155 naturist association sites with a camp site or other leisure area and 73 beaches (by the sea or by the lake) where the practice of naturism is legal. “You can be a naturist almost anywhere in France,” says Leclerc, wearing nothing but a smile and pointing out that even the very northerly Cotentin Peninsula (where ferries from Ireland pull in at Cherbourg) has three nudist beaches. “France is the number one naturist tourist destination in the world!”
With long coasts on both the Atlantic and Mediterranean, naturism had its first roots in camp sites. Then about 40-45 years ago, the French tourist authorities took note of the fact that many tourists were heading to Spain and that they had to be given new alternatives in France. The “Racine” mission of developing the Languedoc-Roussillon coastline began (now known as Nouvelle Aquitaine) and with it was integrated a plan to make room for a naturist niche. It was at this time that the large-scale naturist developments at Cap d’Agde and Port Leucate began.
As for what kind of people engage in naturism, it is difficult to establish when, as Yves Leclerc points out, everyone looks the same without their clothes on: “Bankers and workers are often sharing an aperitif, each without knowing what the other does for a living!”
Is it really that weird to be naked in the city?
You hardly need to go back in time as far as Adam and Eve to realise that the desire to conceal our bodies at all costs is something that is well anchored in our collective psyche – in Europe as in elsewhere in the world. Human beings – unlike animals – have chosen to dress themselves. Perhaps is to simply be less cold but perhaps it’s also to avoid being in a state of constant temptation. In France, the relevant law states that “sexual exhibition imposed on the view of another person in a place accessible to the view of the general public is punishable by up to one year imprisonment and a fine of €15,000.”
Are there any other cities where naturism is practised?
In Paris, this already exists to a certain extent: During certain designated hours on the timetable, you can swim naked at the Roger Le Gall public swimming pool in the 18th arrondissment, once you get the OK from the Paris Naturists Association. In other cities across Europe – especially in Germany – the practise of naturism is more common. Both in Munich and Berlin, there are naturist and clothing-optional outdoor zones in certain public parks. In Berlin, it is legal to take off your clothes once the mercury goes above 25 degrees Celsius. In Barcelona – a seaside city – a section of Mar Bella beach is dedicated to nudist bathing; you can even get there on the metro.