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Public nudity

07/26/07 5:55AM By Deborah Luskin

(HOST) Commentator Deborah Luskin has been following the controversy about public nudity in Brattleboro and has some thoughts on the subject.


(LUSKIN) As I was driving down Main Street in Brattleboro on a recent Saturday, a man wearing no clothes was strolling up the sidewalk. Frankly, he looked pretty silly with a fanny pack around his waist, carrying his trousers. I mean, one of the great conveniences of pants are their pockets. Evidently, this man flew all the way from Arizona to spend his vacation parading around Brattleboro naked, all because on a hot day last year a half dozen young men stripped down and made headlines. Like most towns in Vermont, Brattleboro did not have an anti-nudity ordinance. A naked man was recently given a citation, but it was for skateboarding on the sidewalk, not because he was wearing no clothes.

The first letters to the editor were all full of shock and horror. One woman wrote, "What do I tell my children?" Well, what does she tell them about the myriad of highly sexualized advertising images her children must be regularly exposed to if the family has television, watches movies, subscribes to magazines with advertising or shops in a mall? I say, this is a teachable moment. Compared to the barrage of air-brushed, half-naked, sexually suggestive photographs on magazines at the supermarket check-out, an ordinary, naked, middle-aged man might be seen as something of a relief.

Another letter writer said of the nudity, "This is all about rights. The right for me to take my grandchildren downtown without the fear of running into a nudist." The town attorney is quoted as saying, "Public nudity is not a Constitutional right." But, as one Brattleboro resident asked, "Do people have a Constitutional right not to be offended?

In a three to two vote, the Brattleboro Selectboard passed a temporary anti-nudity rule. It prohibits, quote, "the showing of genitalia, buttocks or female breasts in any location likely to be observed by members of the public where the public is present or likely to be present . . .." End quote. The ordinance doesn't ban public nudity completely, and those who are inclined may still walk naked on a public street as long as they are not within 250 feet of any school, church or place of worship. There is a provision in the ordinance for nursing mothers to bear their breasts.

More recent letters to the newspaper have expressed pro-nudity opinions. In one, a writer cites Isaiah's naked ministry as Biblical precedence for public nudity. Another cites a Thomas Mann short story, to make his point that "a trivial and fearful preoccupation with the naked human body is characteristic of repressive societies," and a precursor to limited civil rights.

In the spectrum of social ills that need to be fixed, public nudity falls near the bottom of my list. It's one problem time is sure to solve. People will certainly pull up their pants as the temperature drops.

Deborah Luskin teaches writing and literature to non-traditional students in hospitals, libraries and prisons throughout Vermont.
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