A Body at Work: Thoughts on the Painted Women of NYC

If you’ve been anywhere close to Times Square, you may have heard the recent controversy over the nearly naked women posing for photos. These woman wear headdresses, thongs and nothing else. The rest of their body, including their breasts are painted with body paint.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has actively spoken out against them. Some people are horrified and believe children and other people should not be exposed to the naked female body. Other tourists and city residents are encouraging, saying that it’s their right and their choice. After reading New York Post reporter, Amber Jamieson’s day undercover as a topless performer, I have to wonder whether this a step forward for feminism or not. Some of the women are upfront about their work, saying that they just do it for the money, while others, like Saira Nicole, say that they are street artists, and are there to empower women. Jamieson’s article calls these women “desnudas” or “naked ladies” in Spanish, even after Nicole explains they prefer “painted street performers,” which leads me to believe that Jamieson only enjoyed the sensationalism of the experience, rather than the “girl power” factor.

Anyone with breasts should have the right to be topless in public. It’s legal. And lest we forget, there have been Naked Cowboys performing in the city for years without fear of being shut down. However, are these women being praised for their courage or rather for their looks? Jamieson begins her story with a quote related to a young girl commenting on her beauty. She never stops to consider if she is being celebrated only because she is beautiful.

Despite the noise, these women are still receiving encouragement for putting themselves out there. What if these painted ladies were not able-bodied or were not society’s idea of conventional beauty? Would they be so accepted or would they be criticized more harshly? If you’re going to create a sensation, why not make a statement- an impact that will leave people thinking?

What if there were all types of women out there, not only white and conventionally beautiful ones? What if there were breast cancer survivors? What if some were breastfeeding? Now that would be empowering. Show the world that breasts are not all perfect and aren’t just there for other people to enjoy, they are connected to a person. Sometimes, they feed children, sometimes they help a woman feel sexy and sometimes they are just another body part. These woman should be applauded for their willingness to be bold. But I hope that as street artists, they do more to speak up for their art, rather than just become a sensational photo.

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India Rose Kushner

A writer, journalist, poet and feminist.

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