Mayor to Crack Down on Aggressive Topless Panhandlers in Times Square

Desnudas in Times Square. Photo: Sarah Cascone.

Those painted ladies in Times Square, also known as desnudas, are the latest subject of mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts to protect tourists from the overly-aggressive pitches of the neighborhood’s unique brand of panhandlers, which include the aforementioned topless desnudas, the famed Naked Cowboy, and other costumed performers known for hustling in the area.

In a press conference held August 18, the mayor was blunt, saying “I don’t like the situation in Times Square.” He puts the painted ladies on the same level as the faux Spider-Man and other characters who have been known to get into physical altercations with visitors.

Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, told the New York Times that the Alliance receives complaints of desnudas physically accosting men walking by, rubbing against them while asking them to take photos. “If I spend 10 minutes in Times Square, I will witness someone being deeply upset,” Tompkins said of tourists’ interactions with costumed characters.

Desnudas in Times Square.  Photo: Sarah Cascone.

Desnudas in Times Square.
Photo: Sarah Cascone.

The desnudas appear to have burst onto the scene with their feathered headdresses in 2013, breasts bared, and bodies painted in basic, patriotic red, white, and blue designs—body painting can be an art, but this is stretching that concept a bit far.

“Let’s face it. The women in Times Square, or the furry creatures in Times Square, are engaged in a business,” de Blasio insisted. “We believe that that opens the door for us to enforce the way we would any other business. And we will do so.”

While it is legal for women to be topless in the city, body painting has run into trouble with the law in the past, when women have tried to pass off paint as underpants.

Governor Andrew Cuomo backs the mayor’s anti-desnuda agenda, telling NY1 that “this activity is illegal,” and “I was around for the bad old Times Square, and this is starting to remind me of the bad old Times Square.”

Desnudas in Times Square.  Photo: Sarah Cascone.

Desnudas in Times Square.
Photo: Sarah Cascone.

“The whole situation is a disaster, I think, for tourists and New Yorkers and the family friendly image,” Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer told the Daily News.

“People come to Times Square from all over the world because it is a little quirky and slightly chaotic and because there’s some allure to that,” added City Council member Corey Johnson, whose district includes the crowded Midtown neighborhood, speaking to the Times. “But if it becomes unsafe and creepy, that becomes a problem that we have to address.”

He is working on a bill with fellow councilman Daniel R. Garodnick that would regulate the activities of desnudas, knock-off Elmos, and other colorful characters working in the area. The restrictions could be similar to those places on street vendors working in crowded areas of Union Square, Central Park, and other popular parks.

Civil rights lawyer Ron Kuby, however, (who recently represented the artists’ whose Edward Snowden statue was seized by the NYPD and has defended several cases involving public nudity and body painting) is quick to take a stand for topless panhandling.

“You take two bare breasts, add the request for money which is legal, and you end up with legal behavior,” he told DNAinfo. “Two boobs, one beg, equals lawful.”

Meanwhile, the Naked Cowboy, 44-year-old Robert Burck, has come out against Times Square toplessness. “I just put a bra on, what’s the big deal?” he told DNAinfo on Wednesday, when he added an American Flag bra to his traditionally skimpy attire.


Body Art Reaches New Heights in Emma Hacks’s Stunning Human Murals

Art-Themed Bodypainting Show “Skin Wars: Fresh Paint” To Feature RuPaul and Mat Gleason

Empire State Building Group Drops $1.1 Million Lawsuit Against Topless Photo Shoot

The Out-of-this-World Art of New York Comic Con

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics