Madrid – While some European countries are debating whether to allow Muslim women to cover themselves from head to toe, Spaniards are asking whether it is okay for people to walk the streets in very scanty clothing.
Showing a lot of bare skin is becoming increasingly popular in the summer, not only on beach promenades, but even in the centre of Barcelona or other cities.
Men of all ages can be seen wearing nothing but shorts. Women sport bikini tops with shorts or very short skirts.
They are usually tourists, but revealing clothing is also popular among some local people, such as immigrants from Latin American countries which have high temperatures throughout the year.
Scantily clad tourists tarnish the image of Barcelona, complains local hoteliers’ representative Jordi Clos. He has started a national debate on immodest dress by suggesting a ban on such attire.
Most other tourism professionals, however, advocate persuasive rather than prohibitive tactics to cope with the phenomenon.
People in beachwear have become an increasingly common sight over the past five years. Spaniards differ over whether that is acceptable.
‘I find it great to keep seeing girls in bikinis,’ a young Barcelona man said.
Others, however, point out that many people decidedly look better with their clothes on, while some see sweating shirtless people as violating public hygiene.
On the other hand, many older Spaniards say the idea of bans evokes the repressive times of Francisco Franco’s 1939-75 dictatorship. His police would hand out fines to people wearing bikinis on the beach.
Bans would not be ‘repression, but establishing order, because (such dress) is not seen in London or Paris,’ Clos replied.
Still others see the phenomenon as an expression of a commercial Western cult of the body – the opposite pole of the burqa, worn by some Muslim women, which cloaks the entire body.
‘While France debates whether to ban the burqa from the streets, Spain discusses a bikini ban,’ the newspaper La Gaceta quipped.
While scanty clothing could be seen as an expression of individual freedom, it also ‘violates the social norms accepted by the majority,’ Basque conservative politician Jose Luis Arrue argued.
No law in Spain prohibits revealing clothes in public, or even completely nudity, as long as such behaviour is not linked with sexual exhibitionism.
Many holiday resorts facing the phenomenon fear that bans would affect their tourism business, and say it can be regulated amicably with advisories issued by hotels, restaurants, tour companies or consulates.
The Malaga city council, for instance, issues dress recommendations before the annual August fair, local officials said.
Many restaurants put up signs advising clients not to enter without shirts on. And churches have even stricter rules on clothing.