Friday, August 14, 2015
Hampton Beach, n.h. — On Sunday, Aug. 23, women are planning to go topless at Hampton Beach in an effort that aims to both normalize and desexualize the female nipple.
“Men have been allowed since the 1930s to go topless,” said one of the event organizers, Heidi Lilley, 54, of Gilford, N.H. “Here we are in 2015 and we still are not equal; women are still not equal to men.”
The Hampton topless event was spurred by a nationwide movement called “Free the Nipple,” which aims to empower women and end female censorship. The campaign has gained momentum as celebrities have shown public support, and a film by the same name was released in 2014.
But ever since the campaign took hold in New Hampshire three weeks ago when Lilley and a small group of women went topless at Hampton Beach, local and state officials have been trying to figure out how cities and towns can regulate public nudity.
Hampton doesn’t have any ordinances governing toplessness, said Town Manager Fred Welch, and since the beach is state property, it’s not under the town’s jurisdiction.
Under New Hampshire statute, toplessness doesn’t qualify as indecent exposure or lewdness.
So nothing in state law can stop the women from removing their tops at Hampton Beach, said state Sen. Nancy Stiles, who said she has concerns about the event.
“Hampton is a family beach,” said Stiles, a Hampton Republican. “This is offensive to many people.”
After hearing from constituents, Stiles is considering filing legislation that would give towns and cities the authority to come up with their own rules on nudity.
“I’m looking at what are the options out there to carefully balance individual rights and the public,” she said.
It’s not clear how many towns and cities across the state have instituted local rules on toplessness or if state law gives them power to come up with their own policies. Not many experts were willing to talk about the subject on the record.
The city of Laconia, N.H., adopted an indecency ordinance in 1998 that, among other things, prohibits women from showing their breasts or nipples in public.
A first offense carries a fine of $250. That dollar amount doubles for a second offense, and it increases to a $1,000 fine for the third violation.
The city’s ordinance was prompted by Bike Week and is more restrictive than state statute, but no one has contested a fine in recent years, Laconia police Chief Chris Adams said.
But it’s exactly those types of policies that the Free the Nipple movement is working against, said Kia Sinclair, a Danbury, N.H., resident behind the New Hampshire campaign.
Sinclair said members may set their sights on Laconia next.
She and other group members have been talking to lawyers about going topless at a beach or pool in the city.
“It just doesn’t seem fair a man can be walking around completely topless, and a woman for the same reason, would be arrested or fined,” Sinclair said. “It’s just not right.”
Sinclair became interested in the Free the Nipple movement after she gave birth to her first son in 2014.
She felt ostracized for her decision to breast-feed. Even though New Hampshire has a law on the books that says breast-feeding doesn’t constitute indecent exposure, Sinclair said she got dirty looks from strangers, friends and family. Then, she heard about the movement and watched the Free the Nipple film.
“I realized the female nipple is very sexualized and criminalized,” she said. She hopes the topless event in Hampton starts a conversation about why men and women are treated differently.
Each woman’s motivations for participating in the movement are different, said Lilley, who got involved to prevent victim- and body-shaming.
As of Thursday evening, the Facebook page advertising the Hampton event showed that more than 1,000 people plan to participate. The date, Aug. 23, is significant: it’s worldwide “go topless day.”
“We’re not asking to go topless in restaurants, in grocery stores,” Lilley said. “We’re asking for the same rights that men have, to go topless at the beach.”