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Public Nudity: How Nude is Too Nude?

Hannah Dane

Copy Editor




Photo credits: Maria Eklind, Malmö Pride 2016


Walking down St-Mathieu Street in a pleated black skirt, long socks to keep the cold from hitting my calves, wrapped in my coat and scarf, I wouldn’t call my few exposed inches of thigh particularly saucy, yet, according to a gentleman that passed by, it seems I should have “covered up more, slut.” As a publicly indecent person (apparently), I am left to wonder when my outfit passed the threshold of too much exposure. Though people sport the ever-trendy mini-skirts, cropped tanks, and short shorts year-round, we always keep a certain amount of skin covered so as not to be completely naked. However, weather aside, how do we know whether we are too exposed? Is a little thigh a little too much?

First, let’s talk about the law. According to the Canadian Criminal Code, under section 174, “a person is nude who is so clad as to offend against public decency or order.” Following this definition, “Everyone who, without lawful excuse,

(a) is nude in a public place, or

(b) is nude and exposed to public view while on private property, whether or not the property is his own,

is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.”

So, Canadian law has defined public nudity as a criminal offense only if deemed indecent and offensive. When it comes down to it, it is thus up to the public to ultimately decide what is or is not appropriate. Habit and social norms, what we are used to, and the unwritten rules established by society dictate what we accept; to see somebody entirely naked would be abnormal and shocking, so we reject it. To see partial nudity, however, could pass unnoticed.

In more professional situations, like work or school, these restrictions narrow. “At work, I prefer to be mostly covered up and usually see my coworkers – whatever gender – covered from below the neck to below the knees,” Janique Laflamme, HR Director at Accenture, a global IT corporation, says. Whether it is a higher position at an institution like Accenture or a part-time job in retail, these general conditions tend to apply. “I can’t have any ripped jeans or shorts. I’m not allowed to have my shoulders, chest, thighs, or stomach exposed,” says Léanne Montplaisir, an 18-year-old student and part-time worker at an athletic clothing and equipment company. For Laflamme and Montplaisir, coverage at work is mandatory and regulated. Employees must keep the amount of skin exposed to a minimum, avoiding any region that could be deemed “inappropriate,” like the ever so risqué thighs or knees. It all comes down to what adheres to a company’s public image. Coverage is respectable, while skin is apparently not.

At school, the Dawson Code of Conduct limits the skin coverage regulations to specific cases such as “athletic facilities, laboratories, and workshops, … for reasons of safety and/or hygiene.” Therefore, students like Montplaisir might opt for the comfort of sweatpants and a sweatshirt offering full-body coverage, whereas others might prefer shorter bottoms or a low-rise top at no risk of getting reprimanded.

However, what happens when we step outside the safety of indoor spaces can change the unspoken rules of necessary coverage. “At school, it’d be fine if I wore a crop top or shorts, but as soon as I step outside, I’m aware people might look at me and whatever skin is out. Even if I like a certain top or skirt, I’ll often just change into something that covers me up more to avoid situations where I could get sexualized or feel unsafe,” says Montplaisir. Unlike school, where it’s all up to you, or work, where the rules decide, the limits for public nudity in outdoor spaces fall into the hands of others. What we choose to wear might not come down to what clothing items are comfortable but how comfortable they will make us feel around others.

As for “how nude is too nude?" respecting the laws and your boundaries is the best way to go. Everything comes down to context. “Honestly, I think places like where I work need to evolve. I used to have to be covered up to my neck about a decade ago. If crop tops are fine with these new generations, then they should be fine at work too. The old masters were fine with nudity. Why are we so strict?” Laflamme concluded, laughing. And maybe she is right. What is so wrong about a little thigh, after all? We must, however, remember that not everyone will view “public nudity” the same way. For some, less coverage might seem trivial, but for others, it can pose a real risk. Catcalling and sexual harassment are things that need to be taken seriously, and though one should not solely dress in fear of how others might choose to act, it is a factor to take into consideration when getting dressed.

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