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2 June 2017

Outrage over Lush’s nude stunt says more about our prissiness than feminism

In Vienna on a summer day, it’s possible to stumble across nudists sitting peacefully in the woods surrounding the city (and impossible to avoid the bronzed naked pensioners).

By Julia Rampen

Usually, the most controversial thing about Lush Cosmetics, a high-street chain specialising in handmade “gourmet soap”, is whether or not the perfumed air billowing out from its open door is temptingly luxurious (me) or sickeningly sweet (all the men in my family). 

But now Lush is courting controversy on an international scale – by protesting excess packaging. For doing this, it has been called “an absolute disgrace” and using “the same excuses for prostitution”. Because the way Lush decided to protest excess packaging was by encouraging employees to turn up naked.

“Naked women sell – how progressive,” complained one Twitter user. “Sexual objectification is wrong and paid consent is not consent,” said another.

First, as a Lush spokesman pointed out, there were naked men as well and staff chose to take part (a similar event took place in the UK in 2007). A quick look at the photos reveals that wobbly bits were demurely hidden behind aprons and some even wore underwear. Forget exposure – if it was a film, it would be rated PG.

But second, we in the Anglosphere need to get over ourselves. The idea that people are only naked for sexual reasons is bizarre to many different cultures – and not just my friend who once worked for Lush and enjoys a naked bike ride. 

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In Vienna on a summer day, it’s possible to stumble across nudists sitting peacefully in the woods surrounding the city (and impossible to avoid the bronzed naked pensioners camping out for miles along the river). Some Germans and Austrians consider swimsuits a germ-ridden and unnecessary accessory compared to the clean delights of Freikörperkultur, or Free Body Culture. That’s not to mention my Canadian relatives who discovered opening the door naked was the perfect way to  dissuade Jehovah’s Witnesses from trying to convert them.

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Even in countries that are gender-segregated, spaces that you could still consider public are resolutely nude. When I went to a traditional Turkish baths in Bursa, I was the prudish British weirdo in the swimming costume surrounded by every kind of female body shape you could imagine.

As this suggests, I’m no nudist – the biting winds of Scotland in the winter convinced me of the benefits of clothes early on. If I worked at Lush, I probably wouldn’t join in. But I can’t help thinking outrage at Lush’s stunt says more about our prissiness than feminism.