Gonzo novelist Tom Robbins notes in his book Villa Incognito that "just because you're naked, doesn't mean you're sexy."

He also writes in Skinny Legs and All, another philosophical opus cloaked as fiction, that the difference between “naked” and “nekkid” is that the former means that you just don’t have any clothes on, while the latter implies “you don’t have any clothes on but you’re fixing to get into trouble.”

Both adages seem rather relevant to a certain online petition that’s had Savannahians tittering like a bunch of church ladies at a Chippendales conference.

Like anything that challenges our notions about sexuality, Isle of Hope resident Shawn William’s request to designate a quarter-mile stretch of beach on Tybee Island as “clothing-optional” has been met with mostly adolescent guffaws and jokes about sand in unreachable places. The Change.org petition has been a hot topic in every media outlet all weekend, because let’s face it, nudity is simply shocking!

Well, maybe anywhere but your own bathroom. We’re also fairly desensitized to the airbrushed sensuality of magazine ads, not to mention the sexual violence in practically every movie that doesn’t star characters made out of animated Legos.

And, um, there’s all that porn that people are apparently watching all day long on their computers and iPads (a third of total internet traffic, according to ExtremeTech magazine.)

I get it. We don’t mind nakedness (or nekkidness, you naughty thing) contrived for marketing and entertainment. Yet we gasp like asthmatic Calvinists at the mere thought of real bare boobs and butts and bushes and weenies.

This righteous outrage and huffy “this is a family beach for Chrissakes” hyperbole strikes as painfully hilarious—especially when it’s the same folks shouting themselves hoarse about the government limiting their rights. You want to bring your guns to Target but lose your marbles at just the thought of someone else’s uncovered hiney? Please.

Mostly, the main complaint is not moral but aesthetic, usually expressed as a pursed-lipped “ain’t no one want to see that.”

Believe me, I’ve done enough rubbernecking at Tybee’s shoreline parade to admit that perhaps certain bodies in bathing suits are eye-searing enough.

But to believe that the nudie patootie petition is about our own judgments relative to other people’s parts is to miss the point.

Williams is quite earnest in his attempt to educate how nudism might be the antidote for our wacked prude/pervy paradox, a way to resolve negative body image issues and a disconnection with the natural world. It’s not about being on display for others, he writes on The Nudement Tybee Chapter Facebook page, but accepting “our own beauty and realizing that our bodies have more value than simply sexual objects.”

In a messaged conversation—Williams is ironically shy about in-person interviews since WTOC’s Don Logana broke the story—he also discussed that appreciating life with all skin in is not only delightful, it’s the epitome of personal liberty.

“We don’t need government telling us what we can do with our bodies,” he writes. “This has been a growing issue as more and more state and local governments enact laws restricting our freedom.”

Williams believes that nudity is a basic human right, and points to the longtime laissez-faire towards bare beach bums in Europe and South America. He also cites the success of Miami's Haulover Beach, a city-managed, clothing-optional half-mile that's the jewel of the local recreation department. (It's even got its own concession stand!)

He also reiterates that nudism—also known as naturism—is purposefully not sexual. Rather. it’s a reclamation of the innocence lost since Adam and Eve panicked after eating that sinful apple and started dressing themselves in leaves. (Good thing the Garden of Eden didn’t have any of Tybee’s poison ivy.)

In other words, it’s about being naked, not nekkid.

Williams envisions a family-friendly refuge that’s a tourist attraction with a clear etiquette as defined by the Beach Education Advocates for Culture, Health, Environment & Safety (BEACHES) Foundation Institute. He’s already drawn up a concept plan for the peninsula at the end of North Beach to show Mayor Jason Buelterman once the petition has reached 1000 signatures, which will likely happen faster than you can unzip your pants.

It kicked off the weekend at around 300; it hit 715 as we went to press on Monday.

You can bet I signed it, and not just because I would like to fill in the unfortunate tan lines created by the bondage-strap tankini top from the Victoria’s Secret catalogue.

My first week in California way back in the ‘90s, a group of new friends trucked me out to the “other side” of Muir Beach north of San Francisco. While they flung aside their shorts and whooped their way into the ocean for a swim, I sat on the pebbled sand, still dressed. A lifetime of self-consciousness about my physical imperfections surfaced, and I pinched my knee in frustration.

Then I took a look around at the saggy bellies and hairy backs, gloriously and happily uninhibited, and I realized this was an opportunity to indeed claim my body as my own, not in comparison to others, not sexual in the eyes of society, just a simple celebration of the skin with which I was graced.

So I shrugged, took off my tank top and ran towards the freezing water. I regret nothing, though it was slightly uncomfortable to walk around with a pair of red headlights for the next several days.

I know this isn’t Miami or San Francisco or Rio. It’s Tybee, where it’s against the local law to flaunt a cheeky Brazilian-cut bikini, let alone a full moon.

And in spite of years of petitioning, you still can’t bring your dog down to the beach, no matter how well it’s dressed.

Yet if Savannah wants to market itself as a cosmopolitan city that attracts international visitors, it ought to try and unbutton the uptight ideals and immature attitudes.

Personally, I’ve been sunburnt enough in this lifetime not to risk melanoma on my netherbits anymore.

But refusing to consider Williams’ nude beach proposal seriously reveals we might be as pasty and unexposed on the inside as we are on the outside.


Jessica Leigh Lebos

Community Editor Jessica Leigh Lebos has been writing about interesting people, vexing issues and anything involving free food for more than 20 years. She introduces herself at cocktail parties as southern by marriage.
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