By now, you have probably heard of the commotion caused by some Latinas in New York City posing as “Desnudas,” a practice that has been increasingly profitable and apparently popular since 2013: women who parade the Times Square pedestrian plaza topless and covered in body paint to model for photos in exchange for tips.
Living in the New Jersey/New York region for now over 25 years, I would have not paid attention to the matter if it was not because Latinas were involved. Little that happens in the Big Apple neither gets your attention nor surprises you anymore. However, somehow it bothered me that the story in the New York Times mentioned specifically Latinas, and given the name of the act, I assume they must have started it.
As a disclosure, I need to say that I’m a girl of the sixties, not afraid of the sexual revolution, and a moderate feminist. Moreover, for about 10 years, I practiced nudism way back when I was not that well-known in the business environment. I even briefly lived in a nudist community in Florida –it was not as hot as you imagine.
I have told publicly the story that, when I starting doing online research to start LatinasinBusiness.us, it was very discouraging to see that the first positions on a Google search for the word “Latinas” would be related to “hot Latinas” or “meet Latinas escorts” and all kinds of similar services offered. I decided it was my challenge to then try to contribute to change that image, knowing how much accomplishment is rampant in our community with Hispanic women making strides in all industries and walks of life. Unfortunately, still very less promoted by mainstream media than, of course, the “Desnudas.”
“The earliest sighting of a desnuda seems to date to the summer of 2013, according to posts on social media. But this summer, on any given day, there are at least a dozen young women, primarily Latinas, of all heights and body shapes, strolling through the pedestrian plazas, trying to capitalize on this suggestive performance art,” says the article on the New York Times.
But is this really performance art?
Body painting is not a new artistic expression; moreover, it was practiced in the majority of tribalist cultures around the world from ancient to recent times. From the arrest of Max Factor, Sr. in 1933 at the World’s Fair in Chicago for painting a nude model to the sixties movement of body art and personal mythologies, body painting has been used as a way to gain public attention in political demonstrations, or to express freedom of speech thus protected by the First Amendment.
“If the nudity is the only way to express a certain concept or idea or viewpoint, yes, most likely it would be considered protected speech under the First Amendment. Or if the person ‘speaking’ by nudity had no other means of expression, yes, most likely it would be considered protected speech under the First Amendment. Factors such as the location where the nudity took place, who witnessed the nudity (those who expected to see such a display or those who would have likely not expected such a display in the given setting) would come into play as well in a court decision, but likely a case could be made for the viewpoint expressed or the necessity of the method used, that is, being nude to make one’s point,” says Prenudism.com, an organization that promotes naturism as a way of life.
So what are these Latinas really expressing with their act?
“Ms. Ovalles, who is from Venezuela, had been living in Miami and working as a waitress at a Colombian restaurant when a cousin, Charly Santos, asked if she would like to work with his wife, Paola Peña, in Times Square. He explained the job. Ms. Ovalles was open to the idea but wondered how much money she could make. After Mr. Santos showed her videos of the desnudas on YouTube, she succumbed to the allure of adventure and moved to New York in April.
“Her daily income varies, she said, but it averages about $300 — around $100 more than she was making in Miami. She said she gets anywhere from $5 to $20 in tips for each photo.
“’I don’t do nothing bad because the people like it,’ Ms. Ovalles said. ‘It’s like any other job in another place.’”
The “performers” accept that the Desnudas act entitles an exchange of money for some sort of service provided, in this case, posing for pictures taken with by-passers. And I believe that is the point that keeps me itching: I don’t know if their activity qualifies as public pornography but in my view it does come very close.
And again, I’m no Christian fundamentalist or easily disturbed by sexual expressions but do not shovel it up my nose. Consenting adults that engage in any kind of private encounter can do as much and go as far as the law allows –in order to protect them to harm each other.
Which brings me to the point of my rumblings here: as it is, our Latina community is perceived as a community that is daring and sexual, a community that is better known for its examples of sex divas than its Nobel prices. This pressure causes a great harm in every aspect of our lives and that of our daughters.
Sexual objectification of the body is a strain in women’s fight for equality. “When women and girls are targets of objectification, they begin seeing themselves through others’ perceptions,” says Deanna Michalopoulos, writer at Bustle. “Self-objectification breeds shame and anxiety, draining mental resources, and even compromising physical abilities… Overcoming ‘wage gaps’ and ‘confidence gaps’ requires a massive surge of mental energy. Throwing in a minimal preoccupation with ‘thigh gaps’ isn’t exactly creating a culture conducive to women ‘leaning in,’” she brilliantly states.
In my view, by throwing paint on their bodies for money Desnudas are tinting a whole community of Latinas that are working hard at changing stereotypes and gaining the reputation of accomplished women we very well deserve. What is your take on the topic?