Choose your beach-wear wisely

January 12, 2010

I was taking a walk on the beach the other day. The weather was warm, the sun was shining, and the view was simply wonderful. A perfect day for a swim or a tan, or whatever. I’d brought my camera along in case I wanted to take a few landscape shots. A bunch of other people also thought it was a great day for the beach. As I approached there were about 50 people of assorted ages, all over the beach and in the water.

One of the things you notice at the beach is who’s wearing what - or sometimes, for your gender(s) of choice, who’s wearing how much. There’s always a few kids, whose parents have dressed them carefully in rash vests and hats, and are watching them carefully to keep them from getting sunburnt (or, you know, drowned). There’s a few taking the opportunity to put their well-conditioned bodies on display, and accepting the risks inherent to staying out in the sun. There’s a few people covered up sensibly, and a few more who seem like they’re dressing to hide something. And there’s always, always, at least one overweight man, probably in his 5th or 6th decade, in his budgie smugglers. Eew. [Looking back on this after 10+ years, I’m not super proud of the body shaming here. – Ed.]

Obviously, if you’re walking around in the sun, you’ve got to be careful. Sunscreen is essential, and if you feel yourself burning, you’d better hope you’ve got a shirt handy. And of course, a hat is often a good idea. You don’t want to stay exposed for too long, or you’ll go quite red.

Anyway, I strolled for a while, and as I made my way along the sand a distant promontory caught my eye. Pretty as a picture, *I thought. *In fact, I reckon I’ll take one. I whipped my camera out of my pocket, and a mental alarm bell went off. There were a couple of kids in the shot. Not only were they spoiling the photo, but what kind of perv would I look like, taking pictures of kids I didn’t know?

The camera went back into my pocket.

It did make me think, though: what was stopping me from taking that photo? The only real answer I could come up with was etiquette. I thought I’d cop hell if I was seen taking a shot of a pair of children I didn’t know.

It also made me think that not everyone is so concerned with such matters. There’s nothing really stopping anybody taking photos of anyone they please. Maybe that’s another reason to cover up.

Why are people so cautious about cameras? The answer: permanence. A camera takes a moment and makes it permanent. If that happens to be a moment in which I’m not wearing very much (say, a pair of budgie smugglers), I might not be happy. And, rightly or wrongly, I expect people to be sensitive to that.

It occurs to me now that that expectation might not be very fair. After all, if I’m happy to be seen without a shirt on, why shouldn’t I be happy to be photographed without a shirt on? Either way, I’m still showing my white programmer’s belly to people I don’t know. You might say I’m consenting to be photographed by appearing in public, and it might be fair enough. Maybe. But what about those kids that were in my shot earlier?

Tricky, huh? Hence the etiquette regarding photography in public.

What if that etiquette couldn’t be relied on? Say there was a rise in hidden camera usage. At that point, anything you do in public becomes (at least potentially) permanently recorded. Suddenly, those of us who care must watch our behaviour much more carefully, because some day it may come back to bite us. And those of us who don’t care, probably should.

Choose your beach-wear wisely.

Choose your beach-wear wisely - January 12, 2010 - Lucas Wilson-Richter