Nudity — U. S. vs. Europe

Interesting opinion piece from USA Today:

Prudishness is one thing; censorship quite another [URL still valid!]

Europe’s light and easygoing approach to sex and nudity can provide some shocking moments for U.S. travelers:

• On a recent trip, my wife and I had to take the TV out of our children’s hotel room, as the porn stations were free and available, going at it right there between Euro-sports and MTV.

• In Munich, workers take a summer lunch break in their Central Park. They lay out a blanket, fold their power suits neatly, and sunbathe fully nude, oblivious to wide-eyed American tourists passing by.

• Mediterranean beaches are topless — and would be much more so if not for a current concern for skin cancer.

• Germany’s steamy mineral spas are co-ed.

• On billboards everywhere, lathered-up breasts promote the latest soap product.

From Norway to Naples, it seems Europeans have a relaxed attitude about public displays of nudity and sex. Even prim, churchgoing German hausfraus seem to accept that the human body and sexuality are facts of life, and displaying or talking about it in public is no big deal.

Sounds reasonably good, despite the negative spin that the writer uses here and there.

So how does the U. S. stack up? We need only think “Janet Jackson” and we sort of know the answer to that. But here are a few more recent data points:

Woman wants kids clothed on beaches

Helen Hoffman wants the board to address the problem of nudity on town beaches. It’s not what you think – the nude people in question are small children.

Hoffman sent a letter to the selectmen asking them to put a new rule in the town’s beach ordinances banning nudity. She sent the letter after witnessing a few incidents where parents were letting toddlers run around naked at the beach.

Virginia Library Relocates Nude Painting

After receiving complaints from two patrons in mid-July, Chesapeake (Va.) Public Library has moved a painting of a nude from an area near the building’s main entrance to a wall on the opposite side of the facility, behind a row of stacks. Local artist Karen Kinser’s Morning Dreamer depicts a woman, one of whose breasts is visible, reclining in bed; it had been on display for two weeks before the complainants—a mother and a tutor who works with students at the library—objected to its placement in an area where children could see it as they entered the building.

Nude art upsets Ankeny residents

While a spray-painted figure of a nude angel on the side of a Des Moines building gave residents a rise in early August, artist Martin Davis was adding nude figures to his sculpture “Water Bearing Figure” at the entrance to a subdivision in southwest Ankeny.

Neighbors of the sculpture in the White Birch development called it “pornographic” and approached the Ankeny City Council.

“My 8-year-old daughter has seen it, which is unacceptable,” said Brian Strait at a Monday meeting. “We feel that the object can diminish the value of our property, and we’ve invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in our homes.”

Women’s nude awakening

Topless women on skates, bikes, and foot drew a surging crowd of grateful gawkers in Columbus Circle yesterday when they doffed their shirts to affirm the right to bare a lot more than arms.

The 10 or so women gathered and showed nearly all to protest the arrest of Jill (Phoenix) Feeley, who said she was taken into custody this month after going half-naked on the lower East Side.

But Feeley and friends soon found out that taking such a revealing stance in New York can be risky.

“It got hot, then it got rainy,” said Feeley, 25.

Then at least a dozen drooling men rushed through barricades and surrounded the women shortly before 4:30 p.m.

Just selected examples, of course, but these details pretty much sum up the U. S. vs. Europe as far as intelligence and common sense regarding nudity is concerned. And the U. S. comes out looking pretty dumb.

Does this really matter, given that a large majority in the U. S. (as well as Europe) don’t care to go nude in public all that much?

Maybe it does, for the overall psychological health of the society. The USA Today article puts it like this:

Mingling with Europeans as I do for a third of my year, I listen to them when they give their perspective on America. “Here in Italy,” brags my friend Francesca, “we see racy ads for phone sex on TV all the time, but we still have less teen pregnancy and fewer abortions than you Americans. Less rape and domestic violence, too. Why is that?”

Originally posted August 2, 2005