The Weekly Nudesletter
Vol. 1, No. 16
November 19, 1998


Article: Top-Freedom and Clothes Freedom

Nudity in the News

Nudity in the Media

Top-Freedom and Clothes Freedom

News about "top-freedom" for women has appeared frequently in the stories we have covered the past few months - especially in this issue, the last one (Vol. 1, No. 15), and Vol. 1, No. 13. In some places, such as Maine, there are encouraging signs. Regarding the Maine case, top-free rights have been decisively supported by the community. And not only that, the story has received a lot of respectful, favorable coverage in the media.

Nevertheless, one may reasonably ask why top-freedom for women is a naturist or (as we prefer to say) a clothes freedom issue. In some respects, it's a more general issue, since it involves gender equality. On the surface, the unequal treatment of women and men with respect to being able to mow a lawn, enjoy an outdoor concert on a warm day, or - especially - relax at the beach bare from the waist up certainly looks like societal discrimination against women. Many women resent this discrimination in principle, even if they are not ready, in practice, to go bare breasted in public. And even if they would, if society were more approving, many of those women would not be prepared to enjoy complete clothes freedom, at least outside the privacy of their own home.

The equality issue is unquestionably valid. But there is another point of view from which top-freedom becomes a clothes freedom issue as well. For one thing, clothes freedom is about nudity, and in North America, at least, a woman whose breasts are bare is considered by society to be (partially) nude, in a way that a man is not. This is true not only in general public opinion, but often in law as well. There are many parts of the U. S. in which a top-free woman can be arrested for "disorderly conduct" or "lewd behavior" or even "indecent exposure". In other words, for a woman there is little practical difference between being naked from the waist up and being entirely naked.

The key thing here is societal attitudes. People who oppose top-freedom for women, including prosecutors, generally claim that, in fact, our society regards a woman's breast very differently from a man's, in spite of the basic physiological similarity. Specifically, women's breasts are regarded by society as sexual features, while men's are not. Thererore, bare breasts can "cause" men to behave inappropriately. Never mind that such reasoning amounts to blaming the victim, just as was frequently done in rape cases. This de facto distinction is still claimed to justify unequal treatment under he law. Instead, perhaps men should be expected to control themselves - or to be the ones that law deals with if they can't.

The 1992 People vs. Santorelli case was an important court decision in New York that effectively made top-freedom "legal" in New York. Although the majority decision rested on narrow legal grounds, a concurring opinion went significantly further. In this opinion, Judge Titone wrote that the perception of women's breasts as a sexual feature

cannot serve as a justification for differential treatment because it is itself a suspect cultural artifact rooted in centuries of prejudice and bias toward women. Indeed, there are many societies in other parts of the world--and even many locales within the United States--where the exposure of female breasts on beaches and in other recreational area is commonplace and is generally regarded as unremarkable.

In other words, the mere existence of widespread societal prejudices does not automatically justify discriminatory laws or infringement of basic rights. Most people would certainly agree with that now as regards old racial prejudices, and the principle applies more widely. Indeed - and this is the real point - societal prejudices should not apply to harmless simple nudity at all, when there is no satisfactory evidence of harm caused by the nudity, regardless of whether the nudity is full or only "partial". Because, in the absence of harm, where is the compelling government interest in interfering with how people dress - or don't dress? As Judge Titone further wrote,

One of the most important purposes to be served by the Equal Protection Clause is to ensure that "public sensibilities" grounded in prejudice and unexamined stereotypes do not become enshrined as part of the official policy of government.

Here, the Equal Protection Clause refers to the key part of the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. We may hope that, someday, this same reasoning will be recognized to ensure that people who wish to exercise clothes freedom may do so without fear of unwarranted government interference.

Where do we go from here? It's worth noting that in spite of the many court decisions which have affirmed top-free rights in various states of the U. S. and Canadian provinces, there are very few beaches and parks where women actually feel free to be bare from the waist up - except at places which are entirely clothing optional. The reason for this is again social attitudes. Although such attitudes are not sufficient grounds for legal discrimination, they still certainly affect behavior. Ultimately the attitudes need to change.

How to do that in general is a large topic. But we may just note that there are even now a number of women who are prepared to assert and defend their top-free rights. Evangeline Godron in Saskatchewan is one example on whom we have reported. She is pursuing a court challenge to the legal difficulties she has encountered. For more information on this case, and specifically for details on how you can actually help, just check here.

And if you want to investigate the top-free issue a little further, the best place to start is our list of links. In case you really like to get into legal details, you can find copies of some of the important court decisions here.

Nudity in the News

Topfree Maine lawn mower continues to intrigue the world
In our last issue we reported on the young woman in Newport, Maine who ignited a neighborhood feud and attracted the world's attention simply by mowing her mother's lawn while bare from the waist up. (This was in August, mind you.) In the last episode, we left the story with the issue being put to town voters as to whether this sort of activity should be made illegal. Election day has now come and gone, and the votes are in. Topfree won by a landslide: 775 to 283.

That's quite a refreshing victory for common sense and body freedom, of course. But perhaps the most interesting thing about this story is how much media attention it has drawn. Even our report in this newsletter made the papers. An article that appeared November 14 in the Bangor Daily News noted that "In The Weekly Nudesletter, an online publication, Davis' crusade to stop a proposed ban on bare-breasted women was top news." As the article also notes, a number of TV interviews and talk shows have also featured Shirley Davis and her lawn-mowing daughter. In another self-referential move, a Boston Globe article on November 15 also takes note of the heavy media attention in a recap of the whole story. It observes that "Residents are generally amused by the notoriety, laughing about Newport being the topless capital of the world." Neighbor Mary Thompson, who may be most responsible for the furor by initially calling the police and then petitioning for an anti-topfree law, is quoted as insisting, in her own defense, "I'm looking out for the children." Sound familiar?

There are hopeful signs here. Newport town officials made every effort not to raise a legal issue over the incident. Newport voters overwhelmingly agreed that laws against women enjoying topfreedom were unnecessary. And the national media have had a great time with the issue, without trivializing it or being disrespectful towards Shirley Davis or her daughter.

Here are additional new stories from the Bangor Daily News:

Nude beaches make modest progress Down Under
The arrival of summer should be greeted by more naked people in Australia this year. In the state of Victoria on the southern side of the country, controversy is heating up over Sunnyside Beach near Melbourne, which has an established tradition of nude use, and has been an "official" nude beach since 1986. (It's one of four legal nude beaches in Victoria.) But an article that ran on November 5 in Melbourne's The Age reported that the Shire Council has again requested the state to declare an end ot nude use of the beach. On the other hand, interestingly enough, Vistoria's Premier, Jeff Kennett, has supported nudity at the beach. He said in an interview which appeared November 10 that he'd skinny-dipped there and thought it was ideally suited for nudists. He further advised, rather bluntly, some members of the local Shire Council who objected to nude use of the beach that they ought to stop wasting their breath "and get on with something important."

Up the coast, in the northern corner of New South Wales, it appears that Belongil Beach on Byron Bay will finally get official clothing optional status. On October 30 the Shire Council Mayor announced that nude bathing would be allowed on three kilometers of the local beach. This is a compromise in that activists have been requesting more. (In April, there was an announcement that nine kilometers of beach would be open to nude bathing - see Vol. 1, No. 12.) But it does represent a concession to the persistent requests expressed through the regular "Nude Ain't Rude" rallys (see Vol. 1, No. 9). At least in this case, mass nude protests seem to have accomplished something. The compromise didn't please everyone, though. A naked male on roller blades led police on a chase through the streets of Byron Bay to demonstrate his displeasure that more accessible beach areas were not also designated for clothing optional use.

A little farther north, just over the line in the conservative northern state of Queensland, the issue of a clothing optional beach for the town of Gold Coast remains in dispute. Les Hotchkin, publisher of Australia's Sun and Health nudist magazine, was quoted by the Associated Press as pointing out that the area was missing out on valuable domestic and overseas tourism revenue by not having a nudist beach. Hotchkin reported that he receives many enquiries about nude beach opportunities in the Gold Coast area. Unfortunately, local officials remain as uncooperative as ever. One Councillor called the idea "an offensive scheme to the community and to the normal family person." Evidently, "normal" families are different in Queensland from those in the rest of Australia.

But nude beachers lose ground on Kauai
Back in the USA, however, the slide into more repressive attitudes towards clothing optional beach use continues on the island of Kauai. An article in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin from September 11 is titled "Kauai cracking down on nudity at its beaches." The beach most directly under siege is Donkey Beach, which has a long tradition of nude use. Local officials and visitors bureau spokespeople claim that "Kauai is becoming more of a family-oriented destination and that there are 'more children viewing this, which can be offensive.'" But this is just typical exploitation of concern for familiies and children in order to conceal the true motives. The truth is that the land next to Donkey Beach used to be a sugar cane field, but has been sold to a developer - for whom any nudity in the vicinity would be a definite economic inconvenience. So officials are simply aiding and abetting the greed of wealthy development interests.

Donkey Beach has been an attraction for naturist vistors from all over the world, so it's especially ironic that the Kauai Visitors Bureau is supporting the interests of local developers instead of the desires of visitors and tourists for a diversity of beach options. Real estate development benefits only a few, while the tourist business sustains the entire island economy, including the many on Kauai who subsist on very modest incomes.

Another one of the deceptive rationalizations used by the forces that want to eliminate options and choice is that nudity is invading other beaches on the island: it's "not just on the remote beaches anymore. Yes, it's been tolerated, but it sounds like it's starting to get a little out of control. We're starting to get an image that it's OK anywhere." If that were really the problem, the obvious solution would be to clearly enforce anti-nudity rules elsewhere, while leaving the established clothing optional beaches alone so that those who prefer them need not look elsewhere.

Naturists should contact the Visitors Bureau to let them know how important it is to preserve historic options which cater to the widest diversity of potential tourists - and how, if these are lost, a lot of potential visitors will take their travel spending elsewhere.

The Naturist Action Committee is planning to contest the local "crackdowns" and has issued an alert regarding the Kauai situation and a similar one on Oahu.

Courts reverse anti-nudity laws
A certain kind of anti-nudity law that is now very popular with conservative legislators is ostensibly intended to prevent the establishment of strip clubs in a community by outlawing all public nudity. The 1991 Supreme Court Barnes vs. Glen Theatre decision seemed to give a green light to such laws, in spite of their extreme breadth and chilling effect on First Amendment rights in general. However, this is a very confused area of jurisprudence, largely due to the illogical and tortuous reasoning required to circumvent Constitutional limits on free speech and other rights. Many lower courts have still found good reasons to invalidate this sort of "legal" infringement of rights.

For instance, on November 5, a Federal judge in Wisconsin declared that the ban in Cumberland, WI on nude dancing is unconstitutional because it is broad enough to outlaw other depictions of nudity, including scenes from movies like "Titanic" and "The Godfather." The Wisconsin Supreme Court in June invalidated a similar ban on nude dancing in Trenton, WI. The court ruled that this ordinance was unconstitutional because it forbids all nudity as a form of free speech. (Look here for more information.)

On November 2 the Supreme Court of Georgia declared that a ban on nude dance club billboards violated freedom of speech. The unanimous decision agreed that protecting motorists was an appropriate government concern, but held that the statute went further than necessary to achieve that objective.

Finally, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidated a 1994 Erie, PA ordinance designed to prevent exotic dancers from being nude. The court held that the ban improperly infringed on dancers' constitutional right to free expression. The court stated that the Erie City Council lacked a compelling reason for the ban, which was worded as a general ban on public nudity.

Although nudism and naturism have nothing in common with erotic nude dancing except for the nudity, these are encouraging decisions, because they declare that a very high standard of scrutiny should be applied to laws that affect speech and behavior simply because it includes nudity. Such laws, if they are valid at all, must show a compelling government interest, must show that the requirements of the law actually further the interest, and must prove that the requirements are the least restrictive way to do so.

Old tourist attraction may become new nudist resort
And why not? It's recycling in action. Sunken Gardens, near St. Petersburg, FL, has been an attraction for about 100 years. But it has been on the market for 10 years, and the property owners are getting anxious to sell. Evidently there isn't much of a market for used tourist attractions, so they have floated the idea of selling to an entrepreneur who would create a small nudist resort. Interestingly, there seems to be little official opposition to the plan. You can follow the whole story in these articles from the St. Petersburg Times:

The last of these articles is particularly interesting, as it shows a relaxed attitude towards nudism in the area going back to the early 1930's.

But another Florida county attempts to zone out nudist resorts
Unfortunately, not all areas in Florida are as relaxed about having a nudist resort in their back yard. Zoning, which is a vaild instrument of local government for separating different types of land usage, has also been frequently abused to simply suppress altogether whatever is unpopular in a given community - without having to take the extreme, and often unconstitutional step, of actually outlawing it. Nudist parks and resorts have frequently been the target of this technique. It's happening right now in southwest Florida's Collier County, near the city of Naples and practically on the border of the Everglades. County commissioners are trying to require "special permits" to operate nudist facilities anywhere in the county, even in rural areas. This is affecting a club known as Southern Exposure which is already in existence, as well as a new resort which nudist Louis Stirns is trying to establish. Nudists have sued the county, and testimony taken in that suit has shown that the commissioners actually know little about nudism. Their attitude is they don't need to, with one commissioner quoted as saying, "I don't think you have to work at an asphalt plant to know you don't want one by your house."

An article from the Naples Daily News about this appeared on October 21.

Nude PETA protests branch out
The nude protest demonstrations staged by activists in PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) no longer deal only with the issue of fur. A new cause has been found in the manufacture of a menopausal drug called Premarin, made from the urine of pregnant mares. Activists allege this causes much pain and suffering to the horses, so what could be more appropriate than to protest "dressed" as Lady Godiva? Tanjah Karvonen did just that in mid-September in Toronto. Even though it wasn't total nudity - Ms. Karvonen apparently wore underpants and a long blonde wig to cover her breasts - an enraged male waving a Bible pushed the demonstrator off the artificial horse she was riding, giving her a broken wrist and a bruised back. The pious assailant yelled that "God was going to kill her," and evidently felt he could assist in that holy work. His wife was with him and explained that Ms. Karvonen was guilty of adultery, because she was "inciting [married] men to commit adultery." To say nothing of assault and battery.

A somewhat more routine anti-fur protest was staged by three naked animal rights activists in Moscow a little more than a week later. And a news release on November 19 promised that the following day protesters with nude bodies painted like leopards would take to the ice at New York's Central Park ice rink. It almost seems as though these protesters are enjoing their work too much. See Vol. 1, No. 8 and Vol. 1, No. 10 for reports on earlier PETA protests. For a sample of a PETA anti-fur ad, involving Nadja Auermann, look here.

Mexican poet stages naked protest of the memory of Columbus
This Columbus Day (October 12) saw a wave of protests througout Latin America against the memory of the Italian explorer who "discovered" Watling Island in the Bahamas (among others). Many descendants of the indigenous population do not seem to appreciate the explorer's earnest efforts. On the main boulevard in Mexico City, poet Jose Chavez stripped naked in protest at a monument to the man whose moniker is now immortalized in the name of the capital city of a midwestern state. "We've been colonised for 500 years. Today is a time for poets," Chavez remarked from atop the monument, wearing only a hat and socks. If nothing else, it was one of the more noteworthy non sequiturs of the day. Since even naked poets are evidently not considered dangerous, Chavez was not arrested.

Nudity in the Media

Alanis Morissette talks about getting nude
Popular singer Alanis Morissette has a new video called Thank U in which she is (apparently, at least) nude most of the time, in streets, subways, and supermarkets. (Unfortunately, long hair and pixellation for the puritanical U. S. audience compromise the integrity of the work.) You can get a clip from the video here.

Morissette alludes very briefly to the background of this video in an MTV story on October 22. "I think [I've reached] a turning point over the last couple of years, and I've been seeing my body so much more as an instrument, rather than the ornament it is encouraged to be seen as by society and people in general. I had objectified myself a lot, especially through my teen years, and I just reached a point that [I became] very comfortable with my body and take care of it."

In another interview which was held November 5, she explained a little more. One morning, naked in the shower, "I just thought it was appropriate to be naked in [the video] and to be 'powerful' and 'vulnerable' at the same time." When asked if she'd ever spent time in a "nudist colony" during her time off from performing, she admitted that, "I've spent time on retreats with people where we're all naked, yeah." And when asked how that felt, she just said, "It's so ... it's beautiful!"

Morissette is also nude on the cover of her new CD, "Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie" which contains the song "Thank U". A review of that album notes that she "appears at ease without her clothes".

And why not?

Confessing Sila performs nude
Nudity among pop musicians isn't exactly unheard of. But it may be becoming more prominent, if Alanis Morissette is any indication. Lesser names are getting in on the fun, and garnering some of the publicity as well. Here's a story carried by USA Today about the band "Confessing Sila". The ostensibly newsworthy fact is that they recently performed at a "nudist colony". Frontman Steve Train seems to have enjoyed the experience. "The whole band was practically naked," he said. "Then we brought a bunch of naked people on stage and they were all dancing around."

Well, what did he expect at a "nudist colony"?

Nudestock '98
So, why not an entire music festival in the nude? It's been done. In fact, it's done every year, at several nudist resorts around the country. One of the most popular is Nudestock held at Cedar Creek Nudist Resort near Columbia, SC. It's not exactly a secret. However, some reporters seem to think it is, as evidenced by this item from ABC News.

Charged e-zine goes swimmin' naked
Here's a little piece from an online e-zine called Charged. The core of it is a very brief account of the writer's first visit to a nude beach (More Mesa in Santa Barbara). The story is a bit light-weight and, to be honest, doesn't provide much of any information you probably don't already know. But we can't be too hard on them - they did include our site in their short list of Web places to visit for more information. You can find it all here, or if the layout seems too hard to follow, try the text version.

Open nude beacher decries New York zoning restrictions
Wendy Kaminer is a lawyer, social critic, and Public Policy Fellow at Radcliffe College. In a recent essay entitled Sexual Hypocrisy at its Finest she also openly mentions that she frequents a beach where "nudity is even more common than bikinis," and she points out that it "is quite an innocent place, populated by gay people and straight people, the middle aged, elderly and young." Kaminer's essay is intended to disparage recent NYC zoning regulations designed to eliminate sexually-oriented businesses. Although the logical connection between nude beaches and sex businesses is somewhat remote, it's still of note that the author chose to portray nude beaches as basically harmless, wholesome places. Kaminer gave essentially the same essay as an editorial broadcast on National Public Radio's Morning Edition

Nude modeling in art classes is controversial in Texas
A November 8th article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram provides a rather appalling glimpse of attitudes in the Bible Belt of North Texas toward "the nude" in art - something that's been an artistic staple for centuries. Although art classes in colleges and universities continue to feature figure drawing and painting as always, it appears that some religiously inclined people, even art majors, regard it as pornography. "There are some universities in our country which do not promote this type of pornography among their students," sniffed one critic, identified as the first vice president of membership for the Denton Republican Women's Club. But some students seem to acquire saner attitudes through their art education. "You get so used to [nudity] that you do not think about it. There is nothing wrong with the human nude body," in the words of one female photography major.

Back to The Weekly Nudesletter Front Page

Copyright © 1998, All Rights Reserved