|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.
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.