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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Nation Where Clothes Are Optional

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FIRE ISLAND, New York — You can leave your hat on. You can take it off, too. That, I figured, was the message behind a worn-out sign on a Fire Island beach announcing the next few acres of sand a "Clothes Optional Area."

To better understand the politically correct term "clothes optional," take the Californian all-men rock group Red Hot Chili Peppers, who routinely perform in nothing but socks attached to their — how should I put it? — red hot chili peppers. At a recent fund-raising concert in New York City, the band almost canceled their performance because they had left behind a tincture of deer antler they use for virility during live shows. The concert was eventually saved, and the socks were prevented from sliding off the musicians' members when the organizers finally purchased the tincture from a street vendor in Chinatown.

Now, you wouldn't say that the Red Hot Chili Peppers play in concert naked, because if they did, most puritan American parents wouldn't allow their teenagers to see the band live. But if you want to stress that the band's decency depends solely on deer antler tincture without unjustly accusing the men of public nudity, you would say that their performing style is "clothes optional."

Get it?

The beauty of a "Clothes Optional Area" is that you don't actually have to be naked: clothes are optional. You can wear or not wear them at your own discretion. For example, I opted to waddle in the waves on Fire Island in my swimming suit, and my friend opted to wrap herself in a blanket — and the guy who opted to wear just his tight navel-length tank top and a pair of sandals didn't have a problem with that.

But imagine this: You are walking along the shore on Fire Island and suddenly you see a sign that bluntly instructs: "Nude Beach." And, say, you have an ailment of some sort. Or you think your breasts are too saggy to not wear a push-up bra. Or, say, you recently underwent a sex-change operation and you are not yet ready to show your newly modified private parts to the world (or to the nude people on the beach). Or you are simply shy.

What are you supposed to do — run for cover? Or take your clothes off and dash across the beach as if you are being chased by a hungry velociraptor from a Steven Spielberg movie?

"Clothes optional" areas, meanwhile, bring together topless women who absent-mindedly sunbathe at 10 below and people who obviously don't care for a tan as much and who choose to tread in knee-deep snow wrapped in a multitude of scarves head to toe. And nobody is prosecuted for his or her choice of outfit.

Does that ring any bells?

That's right: One of the largest "clothes optional" areas ever known to man is Russia.

Name another place with a population of 140 million people where the level of nudity in saunas is determined by the participants' willingness to undress and not by an instruction of the sauna's management. Name another place where two journalists on assignment can splash in the Caspian Sea buck naked as their driver looks on, wearing a pair of jeans, a leather jacket and two handguns.

After that, who needs tiny Fire Island, New York?

Anna Badkhen is a freelance journalist based in Moscow.