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A Traveling Mom’s Thoughts On The Naked Ladies In Times Square

By September 2, 2015November 6th, 20158 Comments

Desnuda in Times Square, New York CityIf you’ve been to Times Square lately, you probably couldn’t help but notice all of the costumed performers dressed as a wide array of characters from Mickey Mouse and Buzz Lightyear to the Naked Cowboy (who is actually wearing something on the bottom, by the way). If they happened to stop to snap a photo with you, they expect a tip. Many, many street performers make their living this way, but these days, there’s more controversy on the streets of New York than the basic hustle. The appearance of Desnudas are on the rise here and lots of people aren’t happy about it.

What’s a Desnuda you ask? The word means naked in Spanish and has become a popular term for the women “dressed up” in body paint and working in Times Square alongside Elmo and Spiderman. Parents aren’t the only ones outraged by this new trend in one of NYC’s hottest tourist spots—local law enforcement and city officials are unimpressed as well. The problem for those angered by the presence of the Desnudas, however, is that going topless is completely legal in New York City, so there’s absolutely nothing that can be done to prevent them from being there.

I can see why parents are outraged by this. Proponents of the experience are arguing that the body paint is an expression of art, but I call bull. While body painting can be used as artistic expression, there’s nothing artistic about a painted on bikini top or nipple pasties. Many of us try to teach our children modesty and that private parts are supposed to be private; this task can be much more difficult when you pass semi-nude women on the street while on a family vacation.

Or is it? In all reality, the Desnudas aren’t going anywhere, so maybe it’s a good opportunity to bring this topic to the attention of your children and start a real conversation. I know simply seeing moms breastfeeding in public has triggered some awkward stares from my young son, and we’ve had to talk about privacy, body parts, what those body parts are supposed to be used for and physical safety. I can only imagine what that conversation would look like if he spotted nearly naked women walking around on the street.

(Side note: I’ve breastfed my babies and done so in public, so this isn’t a shot at nursing mommas or a comparison between feeding your baby and going topless for tips. My point is that bodies are natural, they’re out there and we, as parents, need to be having these tough conversations with our kids.)

#FreeTheNipple has become a strong movement in countries around the world with women going topless in many big cities to protest the sexualization of breasts in modern society—especially when it comes to breastfeeding. The way we view the human body is constantly changing, and maybe a family vacation in the Big Apple is as good a time as any to impart to our children, that hey, breasts are just another body part. No need for all the fuss.

In the case of Times Square Desnudas, some are hailing them not only as a “non-problem”, but as a welcome addition to the atmosphere that makes NYC the vibrant, diverse place that it is.

Not all parents will agree with my sentiment here, and that’s ok. One of the beautiful things about living in the Unites States is that we have the right to our own opinions and that (mostly) extends into our child rearing practices. The freedoms that allow us to raise our little ones the way we choose are also the freedoms that allow these ladies to hang out in Times Square with nothing but paint to shield their breasts from the public eye. The Desnudas aren’t leaving New York any time soon, so it’s up to each parent to decide if Times Square is an appropriate place to visit with their kids on a family vacation.

Would you take the kids?

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Shauna Armitage

Author Shauna Armitage

Shauna Armitage is an editor by day and a social media addict by night. She's also the co-founder of Pure Wander, a passionate traveler and mother of two little nuggets. She loves hiking with the family, staying in hotels that deliver cheeseburgers to your room at midnight, and all the red wine. Pinot Noir please. Connect with her on Twitter @CarpeCalamus

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Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • Good grief. A naked woman parading around in Times Square? I have to pause for a moment until speech returns.

    We encountered the Naked Cowboy with our two kids in tow on a visit to NYC. The youngest a boy, pointed and giggled that he was showing his underpants and the older girl thought he was ‘stupid’ because it was COLD and he must have been freezing. Still having kids see a man’s backside in underpants isn’t as scandalous as seeing a naked woman’s breasts. Still I would not avoid Times Square because of it. Why? Because when you travel you see things…weird things…odd things…crazy things…and it gives you a chance to talk. Just like when we hear inappropriate words in a movie, we say, “You choose YOUR own words and just because you see something or hear something doesn’t make it right. You can see something and choose NOT to go along with it.” A generic phrase that one day will pop into their minds when they encounter something more dangerous than a painted naked woman in a busy square.

    Curious to hear from others!
    Great post,
    Natalie, The Educational Tourist

    • Shauna Armitage says:

      Thanks Natalie! I love the responses your kids had to the Naked Cowboy…. it’s amazing how differently children see the world. I think your point about using the experience as an opportunity to talk about decisions your kids should be making is spot on. That’s what I would do too!

  • Tami says:

    I couldn’t bring myself to re-pin your pin because of the photo, but I definitely wanted to comment here. I was just in Times Square two weeks ago when I first encountered these desnudas, as you put it. I was with my adult son and daughter and my son-in-law. I was extremely offended. I believe that modesty is a virtue, and that private parts of our bodies should not be paraded in public. There were so many of these women standing around that there was literally nowhere to turn without seeing one. So we left Times Square and did not return while we were in NYC. I tried to stop and complain to a cop, but my son beat me to it. He was more upset than I. In his words, “I am a man, and I am still offended by this nudity!” I know many, if not most, people will say we need to change our attitudes about the human body and sexualizing women’s breasts. But the fact is (and cannot be changed) that men are biologically wired to react sexually. And it’s not right for women to do that to them or anyone else. There! My two bits.

    • Shauna Armitage says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Tami! Last time I was in NYC the worst we encountered was a very pushy Buzz LightYear. The problem for people who are truly offended by these women is that it is LEGAL. I’m sure that the cops receive plenty of complaints each day, but there is absolutely nothing they can do to stop it. As long as it’s legal and as long as these women are making tips, they aren’t going anywhere.

      • Tami says:

        Yes, the cops made that clear. Because of the body paint, it was considered a disguise, and there was nothing he could do. There was a line of people behind me waiting to talk to him as well, so we weren’t the only ones offended. And you know where most of these women were? In front of the Toys R Us store!

    • Antonio says:


      Regretfully I have to break to you that you are part of the reason we have such a dispropotionate number of serial killers in America.

      Your teachings, to your son that the body of a woman is something dirty, not to be painted, photographed or admired for its beauty but prosecuted, oppressed and perhaps cut up in sadistic rituals, makes me shake with rage to my very core.

      I am so glad you were not around during the sculpting of the Venus of Milo but you have already damaged your son appreciation’s of female beauty into an obsession to be erased at all cost with any means. Not by just looking away. If your children were still young you should be checked by social services to evaluate whether you children are safe with you and not turned into sick monsters.

      My two bits.

  • Brian Wilson says:

    To Tami, they could be topless without paint and it is still legal. And if ever challenged elsewhere, is probably legal everywhere in the USA. If it is legal for a man to be topless, it would follow that women have the same right. As for denudas, if you are offended by it, that isn’t really their issue, it is yours.
    I walk through everyday and you barely notice they are topless unless you look very hard. I’m frankly more offended by the drunken Elmos and the tourists who walk slowly four across with no regard for others…

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