She is one of the most memorable characters from one of the most beloved books in the world, and it’s time to recognize her for what she is: a nudist. I’m referring to Remedios la Bella from Colombian Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude).
What makes Remedios the Beauty interesting from a naturist or nudist perspective is the fact that she sees nudity as merely practical. When she has to cover herself at all (living near Colombia’s Caribbean coast) she wears a loose shift that “resolved the problem of dress, without taking away the feeling of being naked, which according to her lights was the only decent way to be when at home” (248). She has no use for fashion or convention. She takes long baths and likes to feel the elements on her body. Most of her relatives view her as simple-minded, but this is contradicted by the opinion of her great uncle, Coronel Aureliano Buendía, who thinks she has an extraordinary lucidity that “permitted her to see the reality of things beyond any formalism” (214).
Remedios the Beauty is simply not capable of being a tease, but this is not understood by men from near and far who admire her, even to the point of dying for their misunderstanding. One man removes a loose roof tile to spy on her in the bath. She reacts with fright but not for her person; rather, she is concerned that he will fall. The voyeur sustains a desperate conversation with her as she bathes nonchalantly, and even asks her to marry him. She “answered him sincerely that she would never marry a man who was so simple that he had wasted almost an hour and even went without lunch just to see a woman taking a bath” (251). The intruder removes more tiles and does indeed fall and crack his skull. Another man travels from far away only to glimpse her face at mass. He gives her a rose, and as she accepts it she lifts her shawl and reveals her unworldly beauty to him and to all the witnesses, but she does this “to see his face better, not to show hers” (213).
Remedios is so pure and guileless that she ultimately transcends this world for another. In one of the most cited passages of the novel, Remedios is out hanging sheets with some of the other women in the Buendía family, when she suddenly rises into the afternoon sky with the sheets, never to be heard from again.
The character’s name means “remedies,” and she is one of three characters in the book with that name. But Remedios, the Beauty, is the nude one. Is she nude because she’s beautiful, or is she beautiful because she’s nude? At one point she even shaves her head bald, to avoid having to deal with her hair, but she is still always the Beauty. From her act of lifting her shawl to better perceive the suitor at chapel, we can extrapolate that she preferred to remove her clothes to better perceive the world, not for the world to perceive her.
For many, going nude is most certainly a beautiful “remedy.” It’s a body-confidence building, vitamin D boosting, sensual, free, democratic, and above all natural way to be and to perceive the world. Perhaps Remedios the Beauty’s disappearance on a March afternoon, “waving goodbye in the midst of the flapping sheets that rose up with her, abandoning with her the environment of beetles and dahlias and passing through the air with her as four o’clock in the afternoon came to an end” (255), is a beautiful metaphor for the unmoored, unburdened, unclothed freedom we feel through the nature of nudity.
Escape your clothes!
[Citations from the masterful translation in English by Gregory Rabassa, Harper Perennial Classics, 1998.]