Editor’s Note: Cathedral City Mayor Gregory S. Pettis has proposed a World Naked Bike Ride in Cathedral City in spring 2020. Uken Report invited the co-founder of the Naked Bike Ride in Bellingham, Wash., to shed some light on their event.
BELLINGHAM — “No one would want to see that,” is how 90 percent of the people over 45 respond when I invite them to ride naked through the streets of Bellingham, Wash., which we do the first Friday of every June.
“It seems you might be missing the point of what we are doing,” I counter. So begins our conversation.
This year, 2019 will be our 11th year riding in our small town on the northwest corner of the contiguous US. We are joined by the nearby localities of Vancouver, BC, Seattle, and Portland (which has over 10,000 riders) along with 70 cities in 20 countries around the world. Even with our decade precedence, our 350 yearly riders, and the fact its become a global phenomenon, we still get a surprised twinkle in most peoples eyes, reddening cheeks, wry grins, and an opportunity for conversation about body image in our culture.
For me, its all about the conversations. Often accompanied by my patient 5-year-old, I spend about 50 hours, each May, having conversations with strangers about how they feel about their bodies, and what cultural factors they think have contributed to those. Its enough to just pose a question and listen. “How does age affect how you feel about your body?” “How does your gender affect how safe you feel in society?” “Have you been cat-called in this town, and how did that feel?”
“What would you like to say to our society, and the media, about your body, and bodies in general?” “How are you being judged, by whom, and why?” How often does a stranger come up to you and ask these questions? How often does he have a reason to? Thanks to the Naked Bike Ride I get to every May.
Three years ago, I about died from joy. We had just had our ride and I was looking online for news coverage to compile for next year’s promotions. I ran across a shaky phone video on YouTube. Filmed from an intersection along the ride, you can clearly hear the background voices of two mature women. In their casual conversation, they laid out, word for word, the reasons we were riding:
- Environment: To protest our “indecent exposure” to fossil fuels,
- Safety: To highlight bicyclist vulnerability (a clothed cyclist is no more safe than a nude one when it comes to run-ins with cars). And…
- To redefine our body image in society.
Through the ride, our message had gotten out there, and was being heard loud and clear.
Footage like that is harder and harder to come by. Participants have always voiced concern about how awkward it feels to have the crowds of onlookers photographing them as they ride. What were they doing with those photos afterword? We have since communicated that concern through social media, and now its hard to find any footage for use in promotion year to year, which is a very good thing.
The fact seems to be that people have been coming, not to get their rocks off by indulging in an old, media propagated, paradigm of “bodies are to be sexualized whenever possible,” but in the understanding that “bodies are to be respected in the context wished by their owners.”
When we started to see the effect we were having in the norms of our community we set ourselves up to go further. We formed Bellingham Body Rights (BodyRights.info) and began promoting other ideas. We studied the letter of the law and consulted both lawyers and politicians as well as members of our community regarding the right of all genders to bare their chests. Funded by selling homemade free-the-nipple shirts, we have been printing and disseminating literature with our findings.
After interviewing local recipients of catcalling we have made literature that politely describes why such actions do not help most women feel safe in public spaces. These and other flier-like articles are perfect for leaving on men’s room mirrors, or handing out with a conversation, along with a handbill invitation to ride through the streets naked on the first Friday of each June.