Naked (but not Afraid)

After seeing the new show on Discovery Channel, Naked and Afraid, I knew I had to chime in and soon. After all, it’s about a man and a woman trying to survive in the wilderness, without a stitch of clothing! Sounds too much like my novel, and heroes, Xandr and Thelana, for me to pass up commenting. Just add a few monsters and you’ve got a chapter from Ages of Aenya.

If the show proves anything, it’s how much more enlightened our society has become when it comes to body acceptance. Imagine a studio green-lighting something like this during the age of The Dick Vandyke Show, when Rob and Laura, a married couple, had to sleep in separate beds lest the viewers get the wrong idea; or I Dream of Jeannie, a sitcom featuring a genie who grants wishes but can never show her belly button. While Naked and Afraid warns of offending buttocks at the start of the show (and really, if you are offended by a buttocks, you need to go back to the 17th century or Amish country or wherever it is you come from), it is still encouraging, because what once seemed unimaginable is starting to appear inevitable. Nudity is going mainstream. In a few decades, an Ages of Aenya film or mini-series may become a reality, with the main actors playing their parts in the buff. After all, if it can air on TV as a reality show, why not a big budget film with well toned actors? A remarkable thing about the show is just how relaxed the participants are, entirely naked, in front their survival partner which is also a stranger, the camera crew, and the whole Discovery Channel viewership. Both the men and the women seem very ordinary, far from supermodels or crazy, but do not look overly concerned that millions of viewers will likely be seeing their “privates” after picking up the non-blurred DVD or Blu-Ray versions of the show. Minutes into the wild and embarrassment becomes the least of their worries. It’s almost as if naked shame is dead and gone already. Or perhaps the contestants are sensing the change in our society; they know they will not be socially ostracized for appearing naked on TV.

My only criticism is with the title. I am sure some marketing gurus thought that up. The word “naked” has been used to promote everything from novels to bottled juice, and more often than not, it has nothing to do with the product. Thankfully, the show is true to its name, but while the great outdoors can be a harsh place, and dangerous with stinging insects and alligators and, worst of all, flesh eating bacteria . . . we humans are not so sensitive to the elements that we need clothing to survive. A better title might have been No Water and Afraid or No Tools and Afraid. Honestly, give me a choice between a water bottle and underwear, and I am going with the bottle every time. I had my first experience with nudity in the great outdoors when I was twelve years old. There is a forest behind the restaurant where I grew up that I used to visit with my friends, complete with lake and alligators and homeless peoples’ tents. More than once, while exploring the forest on my own, I slipped off my clothes and acted out my own survival adventure. It was only for an hour or so, but lack of clothing was never a hindrance. I had no problem with thorns or insects. Quite the contrary, nakedness gave me a heightened sense of surrounding, which helped me navigate some of the rougher spots. Stepping through a spider web in bare skin alerted me to the danger of spiders (that might otherwise slip through my clothes). A patch of wet earth underfoot clued me in on mud holes. When I was older, I went hiking across the island of Mykonos. My nephew and I missed the last boat leaving from the remote beach we were at, so we decided to walk to our camp, over hills, keeping the sea to one side. The greatest danger was lack of water and sunburn. I didn’t wear anything until reaching our campsite. Last year, I had the fortune to visit a nature trail close to home in Land O’ Lakes, Florida. The biggest problem was where to put my keys. Carrying them around ruined the sense of going primitive, so I ditched them under a bush and went exploring, naked and unafraid. OK, it was only for a few hours, but I was alone without a camera crew, and alligators and snakes are known to the area. Point is, I never once felt the need to protect my tender bits from mother nature. Depending on the terrain, you might need shoes or maybe even a shirt, but give me modern day survival gear and I am good to go.


Of course, I am no survivalist, and would not last more than a few days on that show. But there have been reported cases of toddlers lost in the woods in France who survived to adulthood. If you were raised in the forest, having learned to live in nothing but your own skin, if you were Tarzan or Mowgli or Xandr or Thelana, the situation in Naked and Afraid would be 24/7 routine, another day in an ordinary life. At the beginning and end of each episode, the couple is given a survival rating from one to ten. Considering how, in Ages of AenyaThelana (pictured above) thrives as a fourteen year old girl in a jungle full of cannibalistic gorilla men or halfmen; and Xandr lives ten years in a swamp with giant snails and killer mosquitoes and other horrors, I would have to give the Ilmar a survival rating of eleven.

The Missing Surah: Nudity in Islam

This is truly offensive.

I vacationed in Greece and in Morocco this summer. While not my first time in a Muslim country, it was a real eye opener, especially since I was there during the holy month of Ramadan. Morocco is the most liberal of Muslim nations, but while you may see girls in shorts walking the streets, they are greatly outnumbered by women in the hijab, a kind of head scarf for covering the hair. Even more alarming was the number of women I saw in the burqa (more specifically a niqab) a loose garment which covers everything but the eyes. It was not a very common sight, but common enough so that my daughter and I played a game of burqa bingo. The worst display of sexism was in the northern city of Tangier, which is so close to Europe you can see Spain across the water. Dozens of boys in American-style bathing suits frequented the beaches and the park, kicking soccer balls around and jumping from piers, without a single girl among them. Having grown up around nude beaches, where the women are free to go topless and sometimes even bottomless, the sight of so many featureless, fully covered human beings was disturbing and offensive to me. If a woman honestly chooses to wear the burqa, it is not my place to criticize her choice or religious devotion, but when 99% of the female population is missing from places where you would otherwise find them, that isn’t choice, it is oppression. Much of this oppression is not religious, however, but cultural in nature. Morocco does not criminalize a woman for exposing her hair, as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan does. But as it stands, the Koran is pretty clear that people must dress modestly, and any exposure of the genitals is right out. Even a man seeing another man in a shower room is forbidden. Women especially must guard their “beauty” lest they go around tempting men into sin. While these rules might have seemed sensible in a nomadic desert culture hundreds of years ago, in our modern world, they simply do not apply. I often found my eye wandering toward women with head scarfs specifically because they were covered and would stand out in America. We now know that men capable of sexual violence will commit sexual violence; just look at Dubai, where a Norwegian tourist was recently arrested after she was raped (you read that correctly, not for raping, but being raped). Rape is common in all cultures, but only in Islamic countries do the women take the blame for it; this is what results from treating the female body as an object of temptation. In Christianity, the nudity taboo is vague if not nonexistent. In fact, there are numerous naturist Christians in the world, due to the many pro-naturist passages which can be found in the Bible, including the story of Adam and Eve, who only realize their nakedness after their sin, and who dress themselves out of shame (not God’s idea). Many Catholic cathedrals feature nudity, including the Sistine Chapel. As Pope John Paul II said, “The human body can remain nude and uncovered and preserve intact its splendor and its beauty … Nakedness as such is not to be equated with physical shamelessness … Immodesty is present only when nakedness plays a negative role with regard to the value of the person … The human body is not in itself shameful … Shamelessness (just like shame and modesty) is a function of the interior of a person.” So I got to thinking, if only there was a surah (the Koranic version of a Bible verse) dealing with burqas and hijabs, Muslim women throughout the world might enjoy greater freedom. While I do not presume to add to or alter the Koran in any way (being a writer myself, I have no right to edit another’s work), I think something along these lines would be helpful to Muslim women and the feminist movement in Arab countries.

The Missing Surah

Listen up, people of faith!
Allah made you, your soul and your body,
in His own image
He made your skin to feel his great works:
the Earth and Wind and Sun,
every wonder which He hath made.
Allah made woman also,
so every part of her is good.
He made woman’s hair to be pleasing to the eye,
and woman’s nipples for the infant to sup milk
and woman’s loins to give pleasure to the man and to bear him sons and daughters.
 Allah commands man and woman be fruitful and multiply.
Remember, clothing is of the Devil,
from when Eve was tempted in the Garden to eat of the forbidden fruit.
In the Garden, Allah asked Adam, “Who told you that you are naked?”
And Adam sayeth unto Him, “It was the Serpent,” who was the Devil.
So do not hide your daughters or your wives or your sons neither;
you shame them and make them as things, to be lusted after; 
for that which is hidden is desired.
To be ashamed of what Allah hath wrought is blasphemy.
Be modest, rather, in your actions,
and in your words.
Be kind and compassionate and tolerant of others.
Be Merciful as Allah is Merciful.
For the greater sin is not to tempt but to act upon temptation.

UPDATE: As a naturist, it is my belief that the human body is made, whether by God or through evolution, as the greatest vessel through which we can experience life. No one can design, for instance, a better bathing suit than the one we are born into. But as irritating and pointless as bathing suits are, most swimmers don’t have to put up with this:

Naturism in Modern Greek Culture

The dying Spartan, as made famous by the poet Tyrtaeus

What’s happened to Greek culture? In terms of nudity, it’s becoming increasingly American. I remember being on the island of Skiathos and seeing nothing but a sea of bare breasts. At the time, it was disconcerting. I was seven and didn’t care to see naked girls. I also remember the little corner street shops common in Greece, known as pyreptita, lined with erotic magazines. Even billboards featured nudity. My best friend’s father, who went to Mykonos in the 70s, told me he was like an alien in his bathing suit when he was there. Today, you’ll see none of that. I was on a Greek beach in the island of Elafonisos this summer and out of the hundreds of sunbathers, not one was so much as topless. I had to find a secluded spot to go as god intended, and though none of the people walking by seemed to notice my apparent lack of trunks, it’s still depressing to see how far things have gotten. Instead of bare bodies, you find tattooed bodies. One guy had Spider-Man crawling all over his entire back. For the life of me, I will never understand the preference for painfully injecting needles into your skin to leave a permanent stain on your body, over the fleeting ecstasy of sun and wind and water. I will never understand the benefits to sand in your crotch and an elastic band print on your waist and the all-day muggy sensation of a sopping wet bathing suit. Hitting the cool waves in nothing but skin was euphoric in ways I cannot hope to describe. Pure heaven. I normally prefer not to wear clothes, but I hate bathing suits with a passion. I am sure lots of people thought I was crazy. I thought they were.



A fairly common sight for me, growing up on the Greek isles


There are 3 new naturist resorts in Greece, which sounds promising, but from the looks of one video from Crete, most attendees are over 60. I don’t begrudge seniors from going au natural, but it makes me wonder what will happen when they kick the bucket. Will there be a new generation of nudists? It’s sad for me, being of Greek descent, because social nudity is so much a part of our heritage. The Ancient Greeks played sports and exercised without a stitch. Both the words gymnasium and gymnastics share the same root word, “gymno”—meaning naked. In the new Akropolis Museum, you can see, on friezes and on painted vases, depictions of everyday life from two to ten thousand years ago. You see naked fishermen, naked farmers, and even naked soldiers. Sure, that was ages ago, but body shame seems to have developed in Greece sometime during the 80s. What happened to change attitudes? I know the Orthodox Church played a part, but American TV and movies seems to have done more harm. Increasingly, Greeks want to be modern. I joked with my relatives how nobody in our family (aside from yours truly) has ever even seen the Parthenon, much less care to. Modern Greeks don’t want to celebrate the past by worshiping the sun in their birthday suits; they want to show off wearing the latest Parisian fashions. France, oddly enough, founded the modern Naturist Movement in the 1930s and headquarters the INF (International Naturist Foundation).

At least in the center of Sparta, we still have a nude statue of a dying soldier, made famous by the poet Tyrtaeus … that is until some American tourist complains and they cover it up.