Nudity at the cottage: Yes or heck no?

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“During the summer, my neighbour at the lake is always naked. I mean outside, during the day, not just to go skinny-dipping. I know this because I can see his whole property from my dock. Am I the only one who is uncomfortable with this level of nakedness at the cottage?”

As a tweenager, I was fortunate to spend all summer at the family cottage. I had my own boat, but I couldn’t roam as far afield as my older brothers, who once came back from a fishing venture far up the Georgian Bay coast where they had seen—pause for effect—a young woman sunbathing nude on the deck of a boat as it slowly cruised around the shoals. This news made my mind reel, as if someone had told me Godzilla was tear-assing around Manitoulin Island or Led Zeppelin was playing a free concert at the French River Trading Post. Simply not possible. Word on the street said our sun goddess must be European. Or possibly an American from California. Because who else would sunbathe on a boat, buck naked, for all the world to see?

I use this anecdote to illustrate that when I was growing up, public nudity was just not done, a philosophy shared by friends, family, neighbours, and everyone I had ever met. Liberal thinkers might point out that our minds had been corrupted by conservative societal norms, making us stuffy and repressed and ashamed of our own bodies. Which is probably true. Guilty as charged. So, as a short answer to your question, there is a very high likelihood that many people share your discomfort over nakedness at the cottage, and by nakedness I mean full-bore nudity. As in swanning about the joint all day without a stitch of clothing, except for a baseball cap, which seems to be the one raiment that nudies find acceptable.

That said, I think it is very true that most cottagers, myself included, enjoy small intervals of controlled nudity at the lake, as evidenced by the enduring popularity of the good old skinny dip. Au naturel is a good way to be when you’re taking a sauna or a dip in the hot tub. And who could argue with the pleasant effects of being able to naturally air-dry after a swim? I would even go so far as to say that a bit of naked sunbathing is acceptable to many—lethal skin damage aside—provided this personal broiling is practised out of plain sight, discreetly shielded from the direct observation of every neighbour and passerby. It’s the privacy aspect that I think determines what we define as an acceptable level of cottage nakedness. If your cottage is very private, like on a remote island, and you want to perform vigorous calisthenics or weed the herb garden wearing your birthday suit, go for it. But in the rest of cottage country, where there are neighbours on all points of the compass, running around starkers is just plain selfish, and it shows a lack of consideration for other people on the lake.

Here’s the thing about cottage nudists: they think it’s all about them. Their rights, their beliefs, and their ideas about body image. The real issue is that the rest of us have to enjoy the pleasures of their flesh whether we want to or not. A nude beach or a nudist camp is just fine, because participation is voluntary. But just because you are enlightened and at ease with the naked form doesn’t mean the family on the dock next door should suffer for it. And there is nothing you can say to a naked neighbour that won’t make you look like a jackass. “Please stop playing nude croquet, it makes me feel bad about myself.” “Please stop it with the nudity; your unclothed form disgusts me.” There’s really no artful way to do it. I choose to avoid unrestrained cottage nudity out of consideration for my neighbours and the guys in the Hydro One work boat. Picture a bug-bitten, plus-sized ginger, fish-belly white, glistening in the sun from a thick coating of SPF 100, and wearing only Birkenstocks and a MexiCasa! ball cap. Now picture me on an extension ladder removing pine needles from a section of eavestrough. Frightening, isn’t it? The sort of image that cries out for a voice-over by David Attenborough. But I wouldn’t do that to you or to anyone else. Because I have consideration for my fellow humans.

Whether you are old and saggy or toned and in the bloom of youth, the strongest argument against rampant nudity at a cottage is that of personal safety. I don’t know about you, but when I pack for a trip to the cottage, things at the top of my list include sunscreen, bug dope, at least one long-sleeved shirt, chainsaw pants, and a Williams-Sonoma kitchen apron. Because the cottage is full of dangers, especially when you are a relatively weak, furless animal with access to a liquor cabinet and a shed full of power tools. A sunburnt neck is uncomfortable; a sunburnt crotch is an embarrassing trip to emerg. And when the bugs are so bad you have to wrap the wrists and ankles of your clothing with duct tape, nudies must either stay inside, submerge themselves in water like a moose, or suffer agonizing death. Some perils are obvious no-nos for the bare-assed. Cut some firewood with a chainsaw? Bad idea. Shingle the roof? Only if you want another skin graft. Nudity represents constraint, not freedom. Fishing tackle and wedding tackle? Pray they never meet. Welding, glass-blowing, falconry, pole-climbing. None of these things should be attempted when mother naked. Nor should any activity involving splinters, steel cable, mousetraps, glass shards, or pommel horses, which pretty much rules out a lot of fun cottage stuff. Which do you think is more dangerous, driving while talking on the phone or deep-frying a turkey wearing nothing but a wrist watch? That’s right: stay safe out there, cottage brothers and sisters. Keep your pants on.

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