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Latin America’s great cover up: why is topless sunbathing still not allowed?

With few exceptions, it is banned throughout the region, with little sign of change on the horizon

Whether topless is taboo or should be allowed is a debate that continues throughout Latin America. The three Argentinean women expelled last month by some 20 police from a beach in Buenos Aires for sunbathing topless would, in theory, have faced similar treatment from the authorities in most of the Americas. Below is a summary of attitudes in some of the region’s countries on attitudes toward public female nudity.

Women taking part in the 'tetazo' topless protest in Buenos Aires on February 7.
Women taking part in the 'tetazo' topless protest in Buenos Aires on February 7. EFE

Brazil

In Brazil, a country seemingly obsessed with the cult of the body, topless sunbathing is banned. A law from 1940 describes it as an “obscene act” and punishes wrongdoers with between three months and a year in prison, along with a fine. Efforts to change the law over recent decades have failed, despite a number of high-profile protests such as one that took place in 2013, after Brazilian actress Cristina Flores was told by police to cover herself up when she posed topless on Rio’s Ipanema beach.

Tania Bastos, the president of the Commission for the Defense of Women in Rio de Janeiro’s legislative assembly famously said at the time that “there are already nudist beaches.”

Officially, going naked is banned in Cuba, but is allowed on many beaches if done discreetly

Colombia

Stripping off in the streets or on the beaches of Colombia can result in a fine of up to $150 on the basis that it is considered exhibitionism. That said, foreign tourists can be seen sunbathing topless on the country’s Caribbean beaches, writes Sally Palomino.

United States

Despite most states permitting topless bathing, local legislation tends to forbid it. According to GoTopless, it is allowed in Montana, Oregon, Colorado, Texas and New York, and banned in Utah, Indiana, Tennessee.

US cities where it is not advised include Ashville, North Carolina, Austin, Texas, Boulder, Colorado, Columbus, Ohio, and Portland, Oregon.

Canada

Topless sunbathing is not described as an “indecent act” in Canada, and is generally decided on at local level. It is permitted in Ontario, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

Mexico

Going naked on the beach is generally tolerated in Mexico and the federal criminal code does not prohibit it. That said, the laws of some regions regard nudism and topless bathing as exhibitionism and a threat to public order. Courts tend to deal with each case on their merits.

Despite most US states permitting topless bathing, local legislation tends to forbid it

The Mexican Nudist Federation (FDN), held its annual festival on February 5 at a beach at Zipolite, in Oaxaca, writes Sonia Corona.

Juan Marcos Castañeda, the FDN’s spokesman, says: “There is no serious discussion in Mexican society about topless sunbathing.”

Peru

Peru has three naturist-nudist associations: in Lima, Arequipa, in the south, and Cañete, a province in Lima region. But according to the Arequipa Nudism Association, “topless bathing and much less nudism is not permitted on public beaches and those doing say face charges of contravening public morals,” writes Jacqueline Fowks.

Playa Bonita, in Lima province, was until December the only nudist beach in the country. But it has since been bought by a property developer and the Lima Naturist Nudist Association prevented from accessing it.

Chile

There is only one nudist beach on Chile’s 6,000 kilometers of coastline, and the country’s laws are ambiguous regarding nudism, with the Penal Code outlining fines and prison terms. In practice, the worst that offenders would likely face is a small fine.

Women in Buenos Aires demand the right to topless bathing last week.
Women in Buenos Aires demand the right to topless bathing last week.

Uruguay

Uruguay allows topless bathing, although its laws are not clear. There are specific regulations that allow nudism in areas of Punta del Este, the country’s main tourist center, approved in 2012 after complaints from residents about nude sunbathing on the Chihuahua beach, 115 kilometers from the capital of Montevideo.

Cuba

Officially, nudism is banned in Cuba, but is allowed on beaches such as Cayo Largo, Cayo Santa María, and Cayo Ensenachos if practiced discreetly. Topless sunbathing is widespread and allowed on all beaches.

Argentina

Legislation in Buenos Aires province from 1973 still prohibits “acts against morality” and the police say this includes topless sunbathing. But following the widely reported case on the Necochea beach, a judge threw out charges against three women and said the law was anti-constitutional.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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