There is a tool used by politicians to gauge the acceptance of ideas and to help judge which causes are politically viable, and which ones to avoid if you want to be re-elected.
The tool is the Overton window, and for those unfamiliar with the term, Wikipedia describes it as:
The Overton window is the range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time. It is also known as the window of discourse. The term is named after American policy analyst Joseph Overton, who stated that an idea's political viability depends mainly on whether it falls within this range, rather than on politicians' individual preferences. According to Overton, the window frames the range of policies that a politician can recommend without appearing too extreme to gain or keep public office given the climate of public opinion at that time.
Primarily the Overton window is a barometer of public opinion and acceptance. There will always be some people who will object and complain no matter where the issue sits, that is the nature of free will and free speech. Generally speaking though, campaign on issues inside the Overton window and you are probably in safe territory but push an agenda outside the Overton window, and brace yourself for a potential backlash.
For the most part, public nudity sits well outside of the Overton window frame but this is not absolute.
Walking down a long and or isolated beach, a person might walk past a couple lying naked and reading in the sun. In the context of where they are and the inoffensiveness of the couple's behaviour, the observer may find it unusual but not alarming. Despite being out of the ordinary, it may sit within the Overton window frame of acceptance.
That same observer may later be shopping at a city mall, where the appearance of the same couple sitting naked at a table reading might be considered inappropriate and well outside the Overton window frame of acceptance.
Interestingly, walking alone on the beach, that person may be reacting with disregard, but in a crowded shopping mall, the reaction might be different, perhaps more how they think they should behave in public rather than on their own beliefs and feelings.
The acceptability of various things may largely depend upon the situation, the environment and the circumstances, what may be considered appropriate in one setting might be considered inappropriate in another.
How many meters from the sea do Speedos (swimming briefs) become underwear?
Consider the reaction of people witnessing an event like the World Naked BikeRide. If a group of cyclists ride by wearing nothing, or perhaps just body paint, the watching crowd will look on in amusement and may even cheer the crowd on. Compare that to the reaction of a lone nude cyclist, where it is likely that authorities will be called, or in a recent case in Scotland, where a couple on a tandem were pushed off their bike by a motorist.
A large group of naked cyclists sits within the Overton window, whereas a naked couple on a tandem seemingly does not.
For those following a naturist philosophy, finding acceptance can be a tricky manoeuvre in an ever-changing arena of public acceptance.
We need to keep challenging the boundaries, otherwise, the world will stagnate and become stale. Society's attitudes change, and often for the better. It wasn’t that long ago that same-sex couples couldn’t marry, and while in some communities, they still can’t, it is becoming increasingly common across the world.
Many people are frustrated by outdated rules applying to public nudity. While a large portion of society is not ready for people to choose not to wear anything as a valid option, I would venture to say that most of the public struggles to understand why male nipples are acceptable in public and female nipples aren’t. I may be living in a self-confirming bubble, and I could be quite wrong, but the increasing awareness that even mainstream media are giving this topic of gender inequality would suggest that there are more people uncomfortable with the anomaly than there are who support censoring the female chest.
The rules are not going to change until public acceptance lets politicians support policies that are in line with public attitudes. It is true that European countries are far more tolerant, dare I say advanced, with their attitudes to females being topless in public. The U.S. seems to be heading backwards at a great pace with regard to matters of gender equality and public decency. Perhaps U.S. politicians are more influenced by the religious teachings of the church than their European cousins, The recent overturning of Roe vs Wade and the public backlash to the decision might suggest that U.S. lawmakers are out of touch with broad public opinion and that the Supreme Court has misread the Overton window on this matter.
My regular readers will be aware that I strongly believe that people should be free to choose to wear what they want and that choosing to wear nothing should be a valid option. This may seem like an over-reach and perhaps pushing the boundaries, but by pushing the boundaries, perhaps sometimes further than we need to, we may end up with attitudes of acceptance that are less than many may want but are better than they are today.
If we aim 3 or 4 steps ahead, and society knocks us back a couple, we will still be further ahead than where we started from.
Thank you for reading, have a comfortable day.
You are right: "public nudity sits well outside of the Overton window frame." With exceptions, as you note.
I don't see the situation improving all that much in an increasingly conservative world, especially in the United States and Canada. The U.K., on the other hand, is way ahead and their Overton window frame is much broader -- for now.
But naturists will always be a minority seen as an odd fringe group by many. Still, I'm with you: we should push the boundaries and raise awareness with the hope that we will make more gains.
It's certainly interesting that when a person complains about seeing someone naked and that they were "offended", that the offence is more than likely due to context rather than being horrified by the appearance of the naked human form. As you say, a person passing me while hiking naked on a forest trail may have no problem with my nakedness - perhaps even stopping for a friendly chat. But that same person could well claim to be offended if they met me shopping naked in a supermarket.
It is definitely important to push the boundaries and gently stretching that sphere of acceptance - the Overton Window.. But it's a fine balance between pushing to reshape and pushing that causes a damaging backlash. It's an ongoing process, as you mentioned toward the end - push forward three to gain one, then push for three again to achieve another, and on we go. Changing attitudes and expanding the window is slow, but certainly achievable if enough are motivated.