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28/4/2022 / Issue #042 / Text: Vilma Strandvik

The right to be naked

Thomas Lundy is the creator of the petition “Sta naakt toe in het openbaar zonder beperking”, where he asks the Dutch parliament to delete article 430a of the criminal code. The article in question is the part of the Dutch law that states that any public nudity outside of areas where nudity is explicitly allowed will be punished with a fine. Lundy believes that this law limits the freedom of choice necessary for individualistic and humanistic ideals, and therefore argues that the freedom to choose to dress or not in public situations should be individual, not governed by the Dutch government.

Lundy highlights the Netherlands as a country known worldwide for being progressive. He calls his project the “Fifth Element”, arguing that public nudity could join the four other social elements that the Netherlands is famous for: the legalisation of prostitution, same-sex marriage and euthanasia, along with the policy of tolerance for soft drugs. There is no obvious reason for why public nudity is still prohibited, and Lundy argues that the prohibition stems from when the government’s laws were made for its own good, which does not align with the Netherland’s more contemporary, progressive thinking. He quotes the NFN, the Dutch Federation for Naturism, for proof that only a dozen people are fined under this law per year, which is extremely little for a population of around 16 million inhabitants. It is such small proportion that Lundy believes the law to have completely lost its purpose, which is why he wants it to be fully removed.

Opposers to Lundy’s petition argue that allowing nudity will have several negative side-effects, often claiming that nudity is inherently sexual. Lundy on the other hand, argues that sexual nudity and public nudity are completely different, that they are “like chalk and cheese”. He defines sexual nudity as sexual intercourse or a man ejaculating semen. When asked about flashers, Lundy means that although people often insist that flashing is related to public nudity, they are inherently different. Flashers pick a specific spot, hide, shock and then run, while public nudity is a way of being. The relation between public nudity and exhibitionism is also something Lundy sees as misleading. When it comes down to it, “We are all born naked”, there is nothing inherently exhibitionist about the naked human body. Lundy states that people who believe this are “body-phobic people with a shame mentality”. Being clothed can be as exhibitionist as being naked according to Lundy, as it is about the desire to be seen, not in what form you are seen.

Critics also tend to think that legalising public nudity would mean that everyone would suddenly go naked everywhere, something that could easily create “awkward” or “embarrassing” situations. Lundy believes this can be avoided with “house rules within buildings where nudity is not convenient, such as restaurants or shops”, but maintains that this does not mean that it is necessary to keep it in the criminal code. Furthermore, just because you have the freedom to do something, doesn’t mean that you will, something he accentuates with the example: “One can walk past a coffee shop every day but don’t have to buy or smoke marijuana.” Changing the law for public nudity will thus not bring a drastic change in practice but will symbolically make a difference for humanistic ideals.

Lundy even states that forbidding public nudity could be seen as a form of body-discrimination. He draws parallels to how people can claim to be offended by for example skin-color or religious practices, and how this is seen as racism and therefore not accepted in Dutch society. In a similar way, claiming to be offended by nudity should not be acceptable. To exemplify this further, he brings in the religion of Digambara Jain, that is mostly practiced in India. This religion requires its practitioners to be naked at all times. In this case, Lundy explains that public nudity as a practice of Digambara Jain would be allowed in the Netherlands as it goes against the Dutch constitution to discriminate against religions. Therefore, he doesn’t see why non-religious public nudity is still prohibited.

Lundy emphasises the fact that he is more interested in the process of the petition and the cause itself than the final result. Whether the law is in fact successfully removed or not, does not matter as much as whether the petition successfully creates a conversation about this topic and about social norms. Being what he calls “a follower of the humanist movement”, he sees the outcome as less important than the process itself. He calls this the “is water wet” question, as the Netherlands is already one of the most nudity-friendly countries on Earth. Lundy states that the Netherlands has over 70 nudist beaches and over a thousand public saunas where nudity is allowed. He also cites many other examples of public nudity, in both art, TV, and protests.

One example of this is the World Naked Bike Ride. The WNBR is an international movement where participants meet and together bike through cities naked, to protest oil dependency while celebrating both the human body and cycling. Another example is Spencer Tunick, an American artist who organises big art installations of naked people whose bodies are painted. A third example is the NTR TV show Gewoon Bloot, where clothed children are exposed to nude adults in an educational way, so that they can objectively comment on human nudity. Lundy cites these and other examples as not only proof that nudity is not inherently sexual, but also that Dutch society is already progressive enough to not see nudity as a topic of taboo. Therefore public nudity does not deserve the legislation it currently has.

Lundy believes that public nudity is still subject to a fine because of previous social norms. However, social norms are always changing, “otherwise women would not be allowed to wear long pants nor vote”. He believes that the Netherlands today is progressive enough to accept public nudity, and encourages you to think about “Why is the peaceful naked body punishable?”

To learn more about Thomas Lundy and his petition, please visit his petition.