I was ten years old. It was summer in the Algarve and it was my first time overseas.
I have three distinct memories from that trip to Portugal: Eating terribly bland pizza in Lisbon, experiencing an uneventful bullfight, (luckily, because neither the bull nor the men were injured badly), and most vividly, my introduction to the female nude.
I stepped onto the white sands of a small beach, similar to Clifton 4th in Cape Town.
I was alone. I surveyed the sea of dark brown bodies, their skin salty and sticky from the heat. I weaved through the carefree European crowd, and started to count…
One, two, three… twenty-one, twenty-two… ninety-nine, one hundred, one hundred and one… one hundred and ninety-nine…
When I got to the other side of the small beach, I made my way back, crossed the street and ran up the stairs to our hotel room. I entered the living area where my dad sat watching European TV show, called Tutti-Fruity.
With a great big smile on my face I called out, “Dad, you should come see! I counted two hundred and forty-five topless women!”
That was my introduction to the female body.
I sat down next to my dad in front of the TV. I probably appeared to be star struck, because topless women paraded the stage in the live TV Show. It was the first time I saw a nude woman on the TV.
I think it was great that my folks allowed me to watch with him. But unfortunately we never had a conversation about what I saw and I never watched anything like it with him again.
That evening when I sat in the bath, my mom asked with a wry smile what’s happening ‘down there?’ I looked down and noticed my first erection in memory. “I think it’s because of what I saw on the TV, mom.”
She smiled and we never spoke about nudity or sex ever again.
Our Boeing departed from Lisbon a week later. It soared high above the dark African lands below. We arrived at Jan Smuts Airport (O.R. Tambo) in Johannesburg and I returned to my Afrikaans, Dutch-reformed and segregated world where every expression of nudity outside the bedroom of a married couple was considered vulgar and sinful.
Did the church elders and teachers of my youth truly believe that adolescent boys would shun the call of their teenage hormones?
The only people who answered the call of our insatiable desires were Hugh Hefner and his nefarious friends.
It would take me twenty more years to recognize that Hugh and the media were not the only ones to blame for man’s injurious attitude to women. I believe most religious teachers are equally guilty, if not for proclaiming man’s dominion over women, then for abdicating their responsibilities of teaching morality to the media.
Over the past decade I have extricated myself from many perfidious beliefs and narratives that shaped my identity. The more dirt I dig up, the more dirt I discover. It is a never ending journey that requires oceans of self-compassion.
I consciously seek out new stories to tell myself. And more specifically, stories that can help precipitate a more propitious response to the beguiling lines of the female body.