Swimsuits Required – Power, Culture, and Safety
This season Hollyhock implemented a new swimsuit policy in the hot tubs. Hollyhock CEO, Peter Wrinch, reflects on the change.
The hot-tubs at Hollyhock hold a special place in the hearts of many people who have visited over the last three decades. The current tubs overlooking the beach and the Salish Sea are over 20 years old and the previous ones were right on the lodge deck. They have been clothing optional for all this time, and for many people sharing a naked soak seemed liberating, body-positive, and precious.
This idea is long standing and grew out of the counterculture of the 1960s and 70s. The theory goes that nudity is natural and to embrace it is embracing our truest humanity. Nudity is not sexual and the sexualization of naked bodies is result of people (mostly men) becoming estranged from the idea of nudity. In places like Hollyhock, the theory goes, we should embrace nudity as a true expression of our humanity.
Over the last two decades the world has changed significantly and our understanding of the nuances of human interactions has changed with it. It is time for Hollyhock to lean into these changes and to move beyond its own history and embrace a more nuanced approach to nudity, power, culture, and safety.
Central to our decision to change our hot-tub policy is the concept of power. Creating “public” naked spaces assumes that all naked bodies get to exist on a level playing field. This assumption ignores the social constraints of different cultures, and power dynamics related to colonialism, gender, race, and patriarchy. By asking people to wear swimsuits in the hot-tub, we are attempting to mitigate some of these very real power imbalances and create a space where more people can feel more ease and comfort.
The discussion of power moves quickly into a discussion of cultural safety. I was recently at the Centre’s Gathering, a networking conference for worldwide Holistic centres. The issue of nudity in hot-tubs was discussed widely. Reverend Angel Kyodo Williams led a discussion on the topic of diversity and inclusion, and had this to say about the topic:
“Black women’s bodies have been sexualized for centuries by white men. So it’s nice that you want to go into a hot-tub naked so you can ‘remove your masks’ but that is not something I would do as a black woman.”
If we want to make Hollyhock a welcoming place for as many people as possible (and let me be clear, that is exactly what we are trying to do), it is paramount that we provide cultural safety for people outside of the dominant white culture.
The final reason we were compelled to change our hot-tub policy is one of safety. Whether it is true or not that sexualization of naked bodies is a result of North America’s estrangement from nudity more generally – the truth is that sexualization happens even among the best people with the best of intentions. In asking people to wear swimsuits in our hot-tubs, we are acknowledging that the hyper-sexualization of some naked bodies is real in its effect, whether or not it is culturally constructed. Our hope here is to provide a much more comfortable and safe environment for people who have experienced the negative impacts of objectification and sexualization in their lives, even if those experiences did not take place at Hollyhock. In the end, someone’s desire to be naked in a hot-tub does not trump a person’s desire to feel safe and find equal enjoyment of the hot-tubs at Hollyhock.
I know that this new policy represents a change, and change is hard. This is definitely the end of an era and the start of something new. I know there are a number of people who have been coming to Hollyhock for years, who will strongly disagree with this change. We welcome you (and your swimsuits) in our hot-tubs.* I am also happy to hear directly from you about this change. Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org
See you on Cortes this summer!
*You will still be able to “come as you are” to the public beach in front of Hollyhock.