Paris, that well-known city of freedom. Vive la révolution! L’Arc de Triomphe! Anyone who knows the ‘city of love’ or has seen Les Miserables will know that Paris is an epicentre for social change, empowerment, and freedom. The city comes to represent those classic French ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity it holds so dear.
Recently, it has been proposed that a nudist zone will open in the city, in either the Bois du Boulogne or the Bois du Vincennes. Of course! Freedom to wear (or not wear) whatever you like is a cornerstone of the capital boasting the Moulin Rouge and Museum of Eroticism. Indeed, one can picture the worldwide response to the headline of “Paris Opens Naturist Zone”: ‘Don’t they have one already?’
However, in light of the summer just past, there is something that does not sit quite right with this. Indeed, Paris has proved itself to be freethinking and liberal over public nudity. However, what seems to truly unnerve the French is the absence of nudity. Is it really appropriate at current time to celebrate the wonders of the naked body in the same country that banned burkinis?
It has been impossible to ignore the disturbing images this summer of Muslim women being forced to remove items of clothing on beaches by armed officers. What is it about covered skin that will not be tolerated?
Reports of women being stopped for simply wearing headscarves and loose clothing whilst on a beach takes the debate to a ludicrous new level. French beaches are practically nudist areas already – enforcedly so. It seems only natural this should spread to the capital city.
The thing most unsettling about the burkini ban, burkha ban, or even niqab ban, is how hypocritical it is. It begs the question of what a truly ‘civilised’ society we are, when we allow ourselves to feel that we are empowering women by forcing them to undress at gunpoint.
I was reminded of an uncomfortable dinner with my family, and a strongly opinionated uncle. He proclaimed loudly that burkinis were a symbol of oppression, and every single woman around the table should be opposed to them too. I was unconvinced. Surely, rather, men telling women what to wear and what not to wear was the problem here?
I for one, as a Scot, am relieved we have no such ban in this country. Anyone who has been to a Scottish beach will know why. I run a high risk of covering up, and under a thick warm jacket, scarf and hood, my dress code might not be tolerated. In fact, burkinis may find themselves soaring in popularity in the UK – not from a surge in the Muslim population, but in a surge of the freezing-cold-swimmer population.
For now, the opening of Paris’s nudist zone will be a great success. It is a sincere tribute to the freedom of expression, freedom of dress and freedom of belief of which France is so proud. I only hope they will introduce a zone on beaches in which women are free to cover themselves up as well.
Image: Oliver Lemarchand