When you think about it, it’s kind of weird that the federal government dictates that we wear clothes. I get the need for such a law, I really do. But it seems counterintuitive that, while a member of the Ku Klux Klan can go out in his full white regalia and yell hateful words in complete accordance with the First Amendment, I’m not allowed to get my naked on in public.
The first time I went to a topless beach, I was, to put it lightly, shocked. I had seen a pretty limited amount of nudity back in the day, so the idea that someone was naked, let alone parading around in public, was enough to send me into the throes of an existential crisis. But sleep soundly, friends – my middle-school self rebounded quite quickly from this upset.
Oddly enough, I happened to frequent quite a few nude areas this past break. I went to a nude hot springs in Northern California and basked in the sun on quite a few clothing-optional beaches in Maui – even though I’m pretty sure that’s not legal.
With age, maturity and experience comes a new appreciation for the human body, and while I was still initially taken aback by the lack of timidity, it became sort of normal.
Upon arriving in Los Angeles to summer-like weather and practically living at the beach over the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day three-day weekend, it seemed weird that people were actually wearing bathing suits. I mean, what really is the difference between a piece of cloth roughly the size of my hand and, well, nothing?
The city of San Francisco, home to the Summer of Love and other historically progressive movements, recently passed a law limiting public nudity, according to the Jan. 29 Mercury News article “San Francisco nudity ban upheld in federal court.” Some citizens, however, responded with some serious backlash, according to the Jan. 29 SF Gate article “Sorry nudists, judge upholds SF’s ban,” claiming that this type of restricted expression was in direct violation of the First Amendment. While the U.S. District Court chose to deny this request put forth by the disrobed dwellers of San Francisco, previous cases have turned out quite differently.
It was established by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Erie v. Pap’s A.M. that nudity is not intrinsically meaningful or demonstrative, but there are times when nudity is allowed. Michael Hammond of Portland, Ore. was exonerated of his crime of indecency after riding his bicycle in the buff in 2008. Don’t go grab your ten-speed just yet, though. He was excused of this action on the principle of exercising symbolic speech as he rode to protest environmental and foreign policy issues, according to the Nov. 2008 Citizen Media Law Project article, “Nude Bike Riding Protected by the First Amendment.”
So, it seems that this whole “no nudity” bit has a few loopholes. I’m not about to go ride around in the nude, mostly because that sounds like a recipe for disaster. But I think that the fear of nudity exhibited in our application of the First Amendment is sending the wrong message.
I don’t think that widespread pornography is the way to go, but there is a huge difference between indecency and obscenity: being naked to feel naked versus being naked to shock and appall. And I think that many people in the U.S. are just a little too sensitive. The youth are not going to be forever tainted by a little nakedness, but conditioning our children to fear or, even worse, feel bad about seeing nudity or being naked is wrong. I was a naked kid, and I was proud of it.
The media and Internet bombard kids with violent, hateful and otherwise inappropriate content at strikingly early ages these days. I think that’s something to be concerned about far more than the indigenous, topless women on the Discovery Channel (yes, that was another middle school shock).
As I sat on the beach in Hawaii surrounded by countless naked people, I couldn’t bring myself to take off my bikini. I wasn’t with anyone I knew – not my family or friends. I honestly had nothing to lose, but I felt as though it was wrong. I probably won’t be as shy next time I happen upon a nude beach, but I also can’t help but feel embarrassed due to the values of our society.
I think that the government needs to relax their ultimate ban on nudity, but I think that, as a community, we need to stop instilling fear of the human body in children. In a world already filled with negativity, the last thing we need to be crystallizing is body shame. So who is wrong? We’re all wrong. Nudity is normal, and being naked is fun.
This is the opinion of Allie Heck, a freshman business major from Dallas, Texas. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.