Venice Beach Council Votes to Let Women Sunbathe Topless
By Vince Calucci
Forty years ago, a cadre of Venice Beach sunbathers routinely basked in the altogether.
Now the Venice Neighborhood Council thinks the moment is ripe to take a half-step back to that time of physical freedom.
In a 12-2 vote, the council moved recently to endorse “women being afforded the same rights as men to sunbathe topless.”
The city and county of Los Angeles prohibit nude or topless sunbathing. But Melissa Diner, the Venice council officer who sponsored the resolution, said the group would draft letters to the Los Angeles mayor and council members calling for Venice to be exempted.
“I think this is a serious equality issue, and I’m not going to shy away from it,” she said.
The wave of publicity that instantly followed the decision had done exactly what Diner had hoped -- “It started a conversation about not only wanting to show our perky nipples on Venice Beach but about what other perky things people want to see.”
“Venice Beach was founded and designed around the European culture of Venice, Italy,” the neighborhood council said in its resolution, “and … topless [sun]bathing is commonplace throughout Europe, among primitive cultures throughout the world, and many places in the U.S.”
“I'm all for it,” said Diner, whose view is shared by a number of boardwalk denizens.
Topher Squires, a heavily tattooed surf instructor who lives in a van in a Venice Beach parking lot, said of the proposal. “It’s time that America grew up. This is the 20th Century, man.”
Roger Chaffle, 46, sporting a droopy C-cupped rack of his own and holding a sign that read “All Nipples Matter!” asked, “Why should a man’s nipples be allowed to see the light of day, yet a woman’s be hidden away like ill-mannered foster children?”
Nude Sunbathing in Venice History
Venice’s earlier flirtation with laissez-faire sunbathing ended soon after the non-nudist public took notice. News crews swarmed. Helicopters hovered. Lifeguards found themselves rescuing people with nothing material to grasp. Lascivious men in leisure suits showed up carrying cameras with telephoto lenses.
“It became a freak show,” Jeffrey Stanton wrote in his book, "Venice California: Coney Island of the Pacific."
In 1974, the city outlawed displays of genitalia and female areolas in parks and at beaches, and the Venice nude beach ceased to be.
Other Local Reactions
Mike Weisner, a Venice resident strolling the beach with his 2½-year-old son, Owen, criticized the idea of letting women sunbathe topless. “It would be great if they were all 10s,” he said, “but a lot of them look kind of rough -- like they did hard time or something. Who wants to look at that lineup while you’re sharing a pizza with your kid?”
Esme Greenfield, who frequents the beach, described herself as a supporter. “Personally, I think that women have the right to their own bodies,” she said.
“Here’s the problem with that — sexual harassment stems from a bigger issue than women’s bodies being on display, because personally coming down to Venice, I’m harassed on an almost daily basis.”
At his vendor station on Ocean Front Walk not far from Rose Avenue, Micah Denton, a homeless artist who looks like the victim of a catastrophic shipwreck, said the new vote for topless bathing was “almost like they were trying to get a strip club on the beach instead of focusing on providing shelter, hot showers, meals, baby wipes, and iPads” for people in need.
“Those nudies should be ashamed of themselves,” commented Sal Mangiacavallo, 87, surveying the crowd. “They’re too old. Half of them look like they’re playing bocce ball with cantaloupes.”
Bonin, the LA councilman who represents Venice, sought to douse any suggestion that he would carry water for the topless-sunbathing advocates.
“While I appreciate the idea,” he said, “right now my priorities for Venice are increasing public safety, housing the homeless and protecting affordable housing, reining in overdevelopment, enhancing mobility and improving the delivery of core city services.”
The Venice council's action is in line with a large and growing clothing-optional trend. San Francisco has had an active Naked Rights movement for many years, with practitioners demonstrating outside its city hall. Naked bike rides attract thousands of riders every spring in cities worldwide.
And, too, there have been annual "Go Topless Day" parades every summer in many American cities. Below is a picture of the 2009 parade on the Venice boardwalk.