Berlin Goes Topless

Woman relaxing by the edge of a pool. She is wearing a hat.
Jamey Heron-Waterhouse

City authorities in Berlin have allowed topless swimming for everyone at public pools, “because it establishes equal rights for all Berliners”. The decision comes after a woman, whose identity has not been revealed, complained after being ejected from a public pool for sunbathing topless in December 2022. Another woman had also been told to cover up at an indoor pool. Jamey Heron-Waterhouse reports.

The decision doesn’t seem to be uncharacteristic following Germany’s Freikörperkultur (Free Body Culture), in which Germans feel capable of and comfortable being naked in the sun. According to CNN, this is a culture that originates from the late 19th-century health drives, where ‘stripping off was seen as part of a route to fitness and sunbathing a possible cure for TB and rheumatism.’

But if Germany is so prolific in its Free Body Culture, then why was nudity ever banned?

nudity was banned in a ‘moral clampdown’ by the Nazis 

This is another thing the Nazis are to blame for, as nudity was banned in a ‘moral clampdown’ by the Nazis. The nudity movement, however, did continue to grow in popularity, especially after WWII, as a form of escapism that many needed having faced years of uniform and conformity.

It is worth asking, however, whether this change does much in the name of equality. Sure, in the hot weather, I would also like to be free of any clothing on my top half, but is going topless actually a big step towards true gender equality? It seems that equality was the reason for the change in the policy, but it seems there are more pressing sectors where women need more equality.

women being paid 18% less on average than men 

In truth, Germany still has a long way to go in terms of equality, with women being paid 18% less on average than men in 2022. So, whilst toplessness is a step in the right direction for true equality for men and women, it seems a rather trivial change to be made when women are still being paid almost one fifth less than men.

That said, UNICEF states that ‘when women and girls are repeatedly objectified and their bodies hypersexualized, the media contributes to harmful gender stereotypes that often trivialize violence against girls.’ So, allowing women to share their bodies in the same, relaxed, casual way that men can may actually desexualise them, leading to less violence against women.

is it the most important step that Berlin should be taking?

Violence against women is indeed an issue in Berlin. In May 2022 there was a ‘take back the night’ protest in which women protested for their own personal safety.

So, whilst being allowed the same freedoms as men in terms of censorship of the body is a step towards the desexualisation of women’s bodies, is it the most important step that Berlin should be taking in the name of gender equality?

Jamey Heron-Waterhouse

Featured image courtesy of Armin Rimoldi on Pexels. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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