On a glorious sunny Brighton day I ticked another thing off my bucket list by joining in with the 800-strong World Naked Bike Ride. Protesting oil dependency and celebrating body freedom, the World Naked Bike Ride is exactly as it sounds – lots of naked, partly naked and painted cyclists making plenty of noise in cities all over the world.
I could write this article about so many aspects of the bike ride – body empowerment, the gender balance of the ride, the gender gap in cycling generally…the fact that I grew out my armpit hair especially for the day (but it was still rather pitiful). Here is a general review of a (mostly) wonderful day.
There were two things I was nervous about before the bike ride started: having my body on show, and seeing people I knew. It turns out those were the best parts! It took about two minutes for the bikini top to come off – in a sea of skin, you feel more exposed with it on than off. After about three minutes of nervous giggling I completely forgot that I was topless and was busy enjoying the atmosphere and throwing glitter everywhere.
As for seeing people I knew – after the initial shock, we both dissolved into fits of laughter. Whether it was a work colleague, an old flame, or even a lecturer, the feeling was the same. Besides which, there is not much you can do when you are hurtling down a hill, baps flying in the wind. One of my favorite parts of the day was sitting with a group of fellow students chatting about our summer plans, semi-forgetting that we were all in the nud.
But it certainly wasn’t some sort of nude utopia. In the crowd, as we were going along, I felt perfectly safe and was happy to be in any photos. We stopped twice, and suddenly it was a different story and there were swarms of clothed men with long lens cameras. I appreciate that it was a public event and some photographers will have got some beautiful shots.There were times though, when the lens was aimed directly at a nipple and the photographer had a leering grin. When I noticed this happening I turned away and they would normally move on, but one particular fellow was determined and followed me for a solid five minutes. It became a strange example of the importance of consent. As soon as I had withdrawn it – because the photographer was making me uncomfortable – their presence became really disturbing.
What was important for me here though was that this was by far the exception – mostly I felt extremely comfortable and it put paid to my idea that we can’t all hang around naked for fear of being overcome. I also felt empowered to confront him and tell him firmly to stop, at which he looked a bit shocked, stopped giggling and moved on. I don’t know that I would have felt as confident if I was in a normal, clothed scenario.
Sadly, the day was marred by worse events. As we came round a corner we saw our friend get off her bike and confront a man about twice her size who had sexually assaulted her as she went past. This sense of entitlement was a stark reminder of the way women’s bodies are perceived by those bombarded with hypersexualised images of naked bodies. If anyone was on the bike ride and saw the incident outside The Mesmerist at 3.05ish please get in touch – you can find more details on the events page.
So, highs and lows. I’m not sure it was a groundbreaking feminist moment but it certainly felt like a personal triumph, and an important way to gain a sense of ownership over my own body. It was also a clear reminder that almost everything we see is photoshopped beyond measure. Hopefully we inspired a few people to get on their bikes, or, at least, to get their baps out.