- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 29, 2006

This is for the woman at the beach in South Florida swimming roughly 10 yards from my 11-year-old son: For heaven’s sake, put on some clothes.

I’m not advocating something out of the ordinary, such as a full-length diver’s suit. Heck, I would be happy with the same standard of modesty exhibited by Eve after the incident with the apple and the serpent. Even a fig leaf would have spared Jimmy the embarrassment of swimming near a bona fide exhibitionist.

Is it unreasonable to expect my fellow beach-goers to cover their most personal body parts, especially in the presence of families with young children, like mine?

Am I a prude?

There we were, eking out the last hours of our vacation before heading to the airport, soaking in what little sun was peeking through the billowing rain clouds.

Never mind that the wind was picking up. We were running out of time. I wrapped myself in a stray T-shirt belonging to one of my children and pretended the sun’s ultraviolet rays really were penetrating my skin.

My husband and I sat close together on a beach towel and watched our children bob in the surf. They didn’t mind the iffy weather, as it created some chop in the water, resulting in waves they could ride to shore.

Despite the threatening skies, it was an idyllic “last day of vacation.” We had stockpiled a week’s worth of memories, and Jim and I talked quietly, savoring bits and pieces of the trip.

That’s when the naked lady decided to go for a swim.

To be fair, it’s not accurate to say she was naked because nudity is defined as a complete lack of clothing. This woman had a small piece of fabric tied with strings where a bikini bottom should have been, but that was it.

Nevertheless, the water beckoned her, not lazily but urgently. This gal needed a swim something fierce — either that or she’s just one of those people who “dives right in” to any situation — so she didn’t saunter to the surf and put a toe in the water.

She bounded and bounced her way over the waves, right next to my four unsuspecting children. Talk about making a splash.

Maybe in South Florida beach communities, people are more cosmopolitan than we suburban types, but I confess I was shocked to see more than a few women sporting the European swimsuit (bottom; no top). It’s not something you findat the local community swimming pool, or at least not where I live.

Thankfully, because the water was warmer than the air, the topless (and essentially bottomless) swimmer stayed mostly underwater.

Jim and I sat in disbelief. I suspect we were awed for different reasons, but I’m giving my husband the benefit of the doubt. He’s a good and faithful spouse, after all, so I assume his jaw dropped for the same morally upright reasons mine did.

We decided not to call attention to her on the off chance the children hadn’t noticed the fleshy figure hopping the waves next to them. But let’s face it, nude strangers are hard to miss.

To be clear, this wasn’t an area of the beach designated for nude sunbathing. And ours wasn’t the only family out for a Sunday afternoon swim; there were children everywhere.

If we were in a locale where this was the custom, I at least would have had the chance to prepare my children for what they might see. I even tried to listen for broken English or a foreign language in the hope that the woman’s partial nudity reflected some other cultural tradition, albeit an immodest one.

No go. This woman was as American as apple pie.

To their credit, my son and daughters pretended not to notice her. After a while, the strength of the current transported the woman farther down the shore, while I insisted that my children swim safely in front of my husband and me.

When they got out of the water, however, they had questions.

“Did you see that woman?” one daughter asked.

“Is that legal?” another daughter wondered.

I figured my son would be curious, too, and sure enough, he had a question: “Can we get ice cream?”

You have to love an 11-year-old.

Obviously, Jimmy knows it’s inappropriate for a woman to be unclothed in public. He lives in a house full of girls who slam doors when he walks past, and he took the introduction to health class. He gets it.

It’s not that he failed to notice; he simply chose to reduce the embarrassment of the whole situation by ignoring it.

Turns out Jimmy made a point, even if he didn’t mean to do so. If we all withheld our attention from exhibitionists such as the lady on the beach (“lady” being a word I’m using liberally), there might be less incentive to parade around in the altogether. It’s the attention that makes it so appealing to act outside the norms of social convention, and these days, you won’t get much attention on a beach simply wearing a bikini.

Then again, there’s another reason to look the other way: By pretending he didn’t see her, my young son afforded that woman the modesty she would not afford herself.

By undressing in public, she chose to dishonor her dignity, but my son didn’t.

Sadly, the fact that he was more concerned about it than she was is even more embarrassing than swimming in the buff.

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 19 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.mary bethhicks.com) or send e-mail to marybeth.hicks@comcast.net.



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