The topless ladies of Times Square

Bizarre, NakedLaw, Rights

In what has been a boon for nudist visibility (at least in terms of media coverage), New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill DeBlasio have denounced a group of scantily clad women in Times Square.

Terming themselves the “desnudas,” which means “naked” in Spanish, the topless women typically paint themselves with the colors of the American flag, and pose with passersby for money. According to Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, the scantily clad women compete with approximately 60 to 70 other costumed characters in the Times Square area.

Cuomo criticized the women for soliciting tips, stating that the practice “had to be stopped.” In comments reported by the Observer, he further stated, “I believe this activity is illegal.” DeBlasio, evidently more familiar with basic constitutional rights, commented to the Observer that “Our current laws do make it harder to enforce in the way we might like to. There is a First Amendment protection for begging . . . There is a First Amendment protection for painting yourself and displaying yourself in a certain fashion. It makes no sense, but I understand that is a First Amendment protection.”

But are they doing a public wrong? Saira Nicole, 29, doesn’t think so. Recently seen dressed only in red, white and blue body paint and underwear, with the word “freedom” on her back, she views the issue through a wider societal lens: “I feel like it’s not a problem when big companies profit off of women’s bodies,” she said. “But when a woman as an individual wants to have fun, wants to celebrate New York City, it’s a problem.”

It’s been legal for women to go topless in New York City since 1992, a fact the New York City Police Department appears to recognize: Even Police Commissioner William Bratton, who is certainly no fan of the practice and is looking for ways to address the issue (presumably under some amount of political pressure), told reporters in a radio interview in mid-August that the women were “nuisances,” noticeably avoiding the word “criminals.”

Meanwhile, compare the desnudas to Robert John Burck, aka the Naked Cowboy, a Times Square performer who wears only boots, a hat, and underwear and arranges his guitar so he appears completely nude. Burck even ran for mayor against Michael Bloomberg in 2009. No one is challenging Burck’s right to perform in the square, thereby respecting his First Amendment rights of free association and expression.

So why attack the women? About two dozen bare-chested women, supporters, photographers, and even some policemen would like to know the answer. Last Sunday, they marched from Columbus Circle to Bryant Park while holding signs declaring “women’s breasts are family friendly” and demanding that society “desexualize boobies.” In the meantime, an undeterred DeBlasio promised to deal with the issue “very aggressively” and told a radio show that the conduct “will stop.”

We admire DeBlasio’s confidence, but the Supreme Court may prove to be a formidable obstacle.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Avvo.

Photo courtesy of Reuters

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