Swimsuits Required – Power, Culture, and Safety

By Peter Wrinch. Posted on May 28, 2018 in Stories + Recipes

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.  

Cultural safety

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.  

Personal safety

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 peter@hollyhock.ca

See you on Cortes this summer!

*You will still be able to “come as you are” to the public beach in front of Hollyhock.

Showing 17 comments
  • Alex

    All you did was took everything that is naturist and twisted it to everything that naturists stand for and against! Body positivity is a really thing and you just said it wasn’t! Nudity is the break down of barriers to better and more understanding. All you seem to be part of is the object of social media in what they think we should be.

    • Peter Wrinch

      I respectfully disagree Alex.

  • Mike

    This is not “progressive” change. This change is the definition of regression.

    “…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.” This happens most often when people adorn their bodies with clothing, makeup, and jewelry in order to make themselves more appealing. Take the clothes away and you can’t tell what class a person comes from or how much presumed “power” they wield.

  • Alex Hornby

    Thanks, Peter, for outlining Hollyhock’s position here. Had your position been merely a dire business judgement, whereby it was deemed by whatever metrics that you could boost enrollment and keep afloat by forsaking a long held alternative value for a more mainstream one, I would have rather sadly shrugged it off knowing that Hollyhock’s success is pivotal to our island’s prosperity and there is still great service to society in hosting the workshops. I have shrugged off many things I’ve loved about Hollyhock over the years as it morphed and struggled to stay open. But hearing this issue couched in hot-button assertions, such as the rather incendiary implied notion that social nudity is unsafe, I’m going to jump back into the fray on a public platform. This despite the invocation (without much back-up argument) of ‘cultural sensitivity’ and ‘white privilege’ and other concepts that no-one wants to be caught on the wrong side of.
    I lived at Hollyhock in the Eighties and continued to work there throughout the Nineties. My take was that the clothing optional stance, like the vegetarian food service, was always presented and defended with a socio-political thrust rather than merely something that hippies do. Hollyhock was founded as an institution designed to progress the culture, to present alternatives and allow guests exposure to potentially healthier approaches. We’ve already heard on this thread from a couple of folks for whom this opportunity to experience social nudity at Hollyhock was life-changing. Likely there are hundreds more who may have discovered for the first time that nudity is not inherently sexual, that their own societally shame-riddled bodies are not inherently ugly or offensive, that all humans, underneath the clothing that can otherwise starkly define their relative social power, cultural background, and status and also reflect the fanciful projected ideas of self and attempts at enhancing attractiveness and desirability, are pretty much the same creature-ly vulnerable beautiful beings that can be met at a place of equality. It is the social ‘safety’ and comfortableness found in this power dynamic equalizing principle (ironic to Hollyhock’s position) that folks cite most often as what attracts them to the practice of social nudity at clubs and events.

    You say that ‘sexualization happens even among the best people with the best of intentions.’ I believe you. But why attach this statement to circumstances of nudity as though it is not also true in bathing suits (and snowsuits for that matter)? I think it is quite dangerous and wrong-headed for Hollyhock to assert that by enforcing bathing suit wearing in the tubs, they are ‘creating safer spaces.’ Is a predator or ‘best of intentions’ faux pas neutralized in a bathing suit? Is safety not rather an issue of disrespect, projection and unhealthy communication rather than place and circumstance? I think so.

    A person who feels that their own nudity in a social setting has the potential to draw unwanted attention, or for religious, cultural reasons, or reasons of squeamishness or shame, or whatever it might be, has never been required to be naked at Hollyhock (and hopefully never will be). It has been clothing optional all along. Your pointing to the individual who is wary of historical power imbalances and sexualization in her decision to not be naked along side white people is compelling and genuine, but rather mute in this context. It is sad that she feels she has to, but she can always be covered as per her choice. Everyone will respect that.
    But for Hollyhock to describe the uncovered bodies of others in a social setting as a potential threat, as a dangerous assault upon the eyes or the space of the hapless guests who just want to use the tub, (as invoking ‘safety’ issues fairly directly insinuates), Hollyhock is promulgating, promoting, teaching and reenforcing our society’s damage and wounds in the area of our basic humanness, sexuality and self acceptance. And to make it worse, it is being done under the guise of being wiser, more PC, more sensitive, getting with the times. As though the body-positive movements or the sex-positive moments (which espouse an approach opposite to that taken by Hollyhock) are not current. It seems that you are saying that our religious fundamentalist forebears, who introduced and subjected most indigenous cultures in the world to notion of body-shame, were right all along. The body is dangerous, nudity is sexual and we want to help keep it sexual.

    • Peter Wrinch

      Hi Alex –
      Nice to meet you and Darshan last night. Thanks for coming to Hollyhock for dinner. Thanks for expressing your views. I understand your concern about “society’s damage and wounds in the area of our basic humaness” and how frustrating that can be. However, I am unwilling to interrogate anyone’s reason for feeling unsafe be it socialization or personal. It is not up to us (me or you or anyone else) to judge someone’s reason for feeling unsafe. I am happy to agree to disagree on this issue.

  • Darcie

    As a survivor of sexual violence and many, many experiences of sexual harassment, I am very clear on boundaries for myself, especially in the workplace.I I have attended Hollyhock in a professional capacity, and determined that to maintain what I experience as safe, professional boundaries, I needed to avoid the hot tubs.

  • Jack

    I’d like to add my voice in support of this policy change.

    Just last week I produced the Activate conference at Hollyhock. We brought together over 80 progressive organizers and campaigners who are working on the frontlines of some of the most important fights of our generation: racial justice, climate justice, workers rights, LGBTQ rights, and voting rights.

    I received nothing but positive feedback on the bathing suit policy from attendees. Some people provided feedback that this change had not come soon enough, and others who were new to Hollyhock were somewhat shocked that bathing suits hadn’t always been required and were glad to hear of the change.

    Look, I am a white man so it’s not for me to speak to the lived experience of people who are marginalized or have suffered trauma in their lives. However, I do think it is my responsibility to do whatever I can to provide a space that is, and feels, safe for women, people who identify as women, non-binary folk, and people who have suffered trauma.

    I am 100% in support of a policy that opens all spaces at Hollyhock to people who may not otherwise feel safe or comfortable.

  • Victoria Cross

    Kudos to Hollyhock to making this change. 

Clothing optional hottubs are just another place that feels like a backroom boys club. The swimsuit policy creates a more welcoming and inclusive environment and gives more people access to the whole life changing HH experience, including places like the hot tubs where meaningful conversations can happen outside of regular programming.

  • Jessica

    Thanks to Hollyhock for this change. I can imagine it was a challenging decision. I support this policy as a young woman who has attended Hollyhock, a person who has experienced sexual assault, and a person who has spent plenty of time at clothing-optional beaches.

    I’ve experienced the positive of clothing-optional spaces, and the relief and feeling of equalization that can come from not being hyper-sexualized in those spaces. I’ve also chosen to avoid clothing-optional spaces because despite their liberatory potential, the reality often doesn’t live up to the ideal. How the clothing-optional hot-tub at Hollyhock felt as a young woman navigating power and social dynamics amongst newly-met people wasn’t reflective of that liberatory ideal for me, and I am not alone.

    My experience of the world as a woman is one of near-constant calculation: How is this person (often a man) interpreting what I say/do/wear/don’t wear? Am I able to extricate myself from an uncomfortable situation without offending this person and imperilling social or professional connections? Is this situation safe? Frankly, it’s exhausting. Clothing-optional spaces do not create these dynamics, but they exist there like anywhere – and are often magnified.

    So that calculation becomes: Do I have the energy for this right now? Is this safe (physically and psychologically) for me right now? If I sit out, I miss out on the connection, conversation, and potential outside Hollyhock’s official programming. And that’s the consequence of building spaces that put aside lived experience: people who experience these negative dynamics sit out, and structures reinforce themselves.

    There are experiences I can’t fully understand because they’re not mine. I’m cisgender so I don’t know what life feels like as a trans person. I’m white so I can’t speak to the experience of a person of colour. But I can know my own experience and I can listen carefully and believe the experiences of others.

    What we may feel is liberatory, others may experience as limiting, anxiety-inducing, or genuinely unsafe. It’s clear to me that’s the case here. Now that’s come to light, the question becomes: What can we do?

    Can we agree that finding ways at Hollyhock to experience the reality that all bodies are good bodies, that bodies are not inherently ugly or offensive, or that nudity is not inherently sexual is a good thing? Can we also agree that the clothing-optional hot-tub has not accomplished that in a way that is inclusive?

    If we can agree on those two things, we can work together on a new question: What would it look like for Hollyhock to foster body positivity and counter the hyper-sexualization of nudity in a way that makes space for everyone?

  • Tada Hozumi

    I’m a genderqueer POC (them/they).

    I lived on Cortes for a year, from 2016-2017.

    I’m also a somatic therapist.

    I just wanted to let you know this, to give some context.

    I’m just finding a lot of dissonance in this policy and especially the reasons for change that are articulated.

    Yes, I agree with Rev Angel Kyodo Williams on the violence that POC bodies experience.

    I know a lot of white folks have a tendency to think that nudity makes all bodies equal, which is of course not true.

    So I think that piece of education is important.

    But I need to make a point that I walk down the street fully clothed every day … that doesn’t equalize my body, like at all.

    Certainly, my body in a bathing suit isn’t equal either.

    It makes me very concerned that a mostly-white organization like Holly Hock is perceiving this swimsuit policy as a change that is about the safety of POC, even QTPOC. It brings to me questions about how Holly Hock as an organization understands matters around intersectionality.

    From where I am standing, it feels like the protection of our bodies is being made a reason for a policy change that doesn’t actually do anything for us and in fact invites animosity towards us.

    What creates inequity of POC bodies isn’t the state of dress or undress they are in – it’s the privileged gaze of whiteness upon us.

    This gaze takes a long time to unlearn and relearn. It isn’t something that Holly Hock can all of a sudden change. HH can only be responsible to spend time and energy working through these matters in the long term.

    In the meantime that white supremacy continues on, what is important for POC bodies is the ability to choose: informed and enthusiastic consent to risk.

    What we need from organizations is a willingness to educate its clientele and the information we need to make choices that are healthy for ourselves.

  • Sean

    A very reasonable (and long overdue) policy change for a professional retreat centre that aims to bring large and diverse groups of people together and ensure that everyone feels safe, supported, and included. Thanks for taking leadership on this, Peter.

  • Peter

    Really support this. I agree that our society has work to do on how we view bodies and nudity. I also think that we need to prioritize creating spaces that are as safe as possible for all people at a place like Hollyhock.

  • Naked Wanderings

    This is the perfect example of how a couple rotten apples can destroy a peaceful lifestyle like nudism. Nudist places around the world are doing their very best to maintain a secure environment not by changing their philosophy but by protecting their guests by keeping the bad ones out.
    What you did is not culturally accepted at all. In many cultures bikinis and bathing suits are also highly sexualised and women bathe in t-shirs and trousers. If you really want to make your place socially acceptable for everyone, we propose that you forbid bathing suits as well and return to the Victorian era where men and women were separated while bathing.

  • Cheri Dawson

    Wearing swimsuits in a hot tub is totally unhealthy for the people. The suits trap bacteria and no matter how many times you rinse a suit after washing it, soap remains and causes a scum to form on the top of the water. We do not allow any clothing in our hot tub and will not ever Travelites Nudist Retreat is as close to nature as possible. When born, we have no body shame until we are taught it. Nudism is the great human equalizer. Accepting all for who you actually are, rather than what you look like, own, or wear. When I became a nudist @ age 19, I no longer suffered yeast infections…the body gets to breathe, water is evaporated from the suit and not stay on the body allowing fungi to grow.

  • David May

    As an old man I certainly get the corporate message that my body is something that should be kept hidden and be ashamed of.
    Hollyhock seemed to me one of the few places where that judgment had not been made but no longer
    Of course,while attending Hollyhock like nearly everywhere else in North America, I will comply with the policy that implies that “ normal bodies
    are bad”
    I’m sure people will also be relieved to hear that I no longer feel that the beach is a “ judgment free zone” and I will be covering up there as well

  • Kim Boivin

    I just booked myself for a much-needed holiday at Hollyhock and I’m very relieved to read about this policy change. Thank you for having the courage to look more deeply, to be more truly inclusive, and to provide a space where now I feel I can truly relax. Years ago, as a young woman, I had an awful experience at a nude hot springs and I remember walking away from it saying “what a bunch of peace, love, and bullshit”.

  • Flori Ens

    I too applaud the courage it took to implement this change. I am also planning to come to Hollyhock in the near future and must say was not sure I would use the hot tub due to an experience (such as the previous comment). Also, many of us have practiced a modicum of privacy and even sacredness around our bodies. Public nudity therefore can be very uncomfortable (and this is not about shaming) but rather an honouring of one’s lived experience. This does make for a more inclusive and respectful climate, and thereby adding to the type of culture i would expect to find at a retreat centre.

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