In Milton’s Paradise Lost, Adam and Eve walk around naked due to the fact that there was “not guilty shame of nature’s works”. In other words, until the biblical fall occurs, their nudity was not an offence and it was therefore shameless and innocent. I do believe that if there ever was a time when nudity could be pure and free of sexual connotations, that time has long since passed.
As of 19th November, it is an offence to be publicly nude in San Francisco, the city once renowned for its liberal attitudes towards public nudity. The ban, passed by six votes to five by the board of supervisors, has marked the end of social nudity’s reign across the city.
Following the announcement, two women stripped off at a city hall where the result was broadcasted. Yes, it has been highlighted many times before that we live in an overtly sexualised society.
Why ban this innocent form of nudity, a supposed public weapon against the sexualisation of the human form? Who can look at the monochromatic images of bare breasted festival goers of the early seventies and not feel a touch of reminiscence? I believe that to assume the naked body maintains purity, at such a point in our social history, is a form of denial.
The legal system should reflect the particular social mood of the society it serves. This idea is reflected by the numerous pop quizzes and board games which mock obscure laws that are no longer observed. The law stating that camel hunting is legal in Arizona, is obscure at first; yet when it is observed that, between 1856 and 1857, camels were imported to that region in order to haul supplies across the desert for the army, it makes contextual sense. Likewise, in this case, we have entered an era where nudity is so sexualised, that it can no longer be detached from sexual connotations. Bare breasts are no longer an artistic celebration of the human form. Such nudity, for our generation, is found within illicit magazines, sexually charged music videos, and pornography.
We must accept, nudity is now offensive to the majority and that it should not be practised in public, often imposed on those who do not request to be exposed to it.
Since the late sixties, San Francisco has been seen as America’s focal point for social nudity. Three clothing optional beaches lie within the city’s borders and nudity within the context of the late sixties and early seventies is arguably fitting for the spirit of the times. What jarred with its decade was the gathering of nudists in a Plaza in the Castro district, shortly after its opening in 2010, when those who walked nude in the Plaza were accused of having no standards. The times when nudity could be explained away with the three-word cliché of ‘freedom of expression’ were left in the sixties.
The nudists received their first blow from the California Alcohol Beverage Commission (ABC) in 1972. Only five years after the Summer of Love, ABC issued a ruling which banned nudity in establishments which sold alcohol, in response to venues such as the Condor Club, which featured topless go-go dancers who soon progressed to full nudity.
The ABC put two and two together and concluded that any establishment serving alcohol to nude clients was no different from a brothel. If this wasn’t alright in the early seventies, the whole concept of social nudity in the street is embarrassingly out of date now.
But not all is lost for the naturists of San Francisco. The ban will not restrict nudity during parades, meaning that several clothing optional events, such as the Gay Pride weekend, will be unaffected by the recent changes. Yet we have not entered the social era in which costume merchants can expect to see an improvement in sales at this time of the year.