The beach towel made of terry cloth, which has existed in Europe since the late 19th century, makes a connection between private and public spaces, indoors and outdoors. The way people choose a towel (to complement their skin tone, or a funny pattern), but even more the place and position they place it on the beach involves many decisions: how far apart from other beach-goers, how close to friends or family? All of these are revealing about social organisations, cultural differences and also of a certain collective imagination of the body on the beach that movies and photographs help to circulate.
As a platform for the tanned if not toned body, the beach towel raises questions about public space and democratization (Coney Island and the France of the first state-paid holidays in 1936), neo-colonialism and global capitalism. The development of mass tourism around the globe in the 1970s impose a Western model of living and a cult of the body that is adapted, and translated into different cultural contexts: Martin Parr has recorded global beach behaviours for years and dedicated several photobooks to them showing, with humour how, at the beach and on its coloured towels, nature meets body culture.