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Is it just us, or is everyone getting naked?

February 07, 2013|By Mick Swasko, @mickswasko | RedEye

Bare down, Chicago.

For a city used to bundling up, there's been a quite a bit of stripping down recently.

Droves of CTA riders shed their pants Jan. 13 for the annual no-pants subway ride, that now-international event that got its start about a decade ago in New York City. Hundreds of riders participated in last summer's World Naked Bike Ride Chicago, another international event. And in the West Loop, women are reading classic works of literature in the buff as part of Naked Girls Reading, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Is it just us, or is everyone getting naked?

Witness the latest in Hollywood nude news flashes: Channing Tatum took center stage in June's "Magic Mike," bringing every bachelorette's fantasy to the big screen. In July, Lady Gaga posted a photo to her official website that gave fans a glimpse of the outfit she wore the day she was born. And to spite on-again, off-again lover Chris Brown, Rihanna tweeted several pantsless pics to the public in December.

You're also more likely to see someone taking it off when turning on the TV. The Parent Television Council watchdog group found a 407 percent increase in nudity in the 2011-12 TV season over the previous year. Way to earn your nickname, boob tube.

Meanwhile, protesters in San Francisco were so miffed by a ban on public nudity in December that they showed up at City Hall in nothing at all.

Once again, skin is in.

"A lot of people will say the reason for the nakedness is the Lady Godiva principle," says Andrew Bedno, a coordinator for Chicago's World Naked Bike Ride, referring to the legend of a woman on horseback who attracted attention by wearing nothing but her long hair. "You can have any level of education and make your message, but take your clothes off and people will pay attention."

Bedno says nudity plays a three-fold role in the World Naked Bike Ride in Chicago, now in its 10th year. With a tagline of "Less gas, more ass," participants who strip down and mount a bike represent the vulnerability of cyclists who share the road with motorists. The lack of clothing, he says, also calls attention to climate change: Due to all the gasoline it takes to power vehicles, "the future is going to be hotter" with all the oil burning, he says. At the end of the day, the nudity draws attention to the group's cause a lot more than something like, say, a research paper would.

Other Chicago events, such as December's Santa Speedo Run and the Chicago Undie Dash in July, don't require nudity, but the freewheeling spirit is the same.

"Trust me, there's no reason I should be running around in a Speedo, but I just don't give a damn," said Tom Letter, 31, of Lakeview, co-chairman of the Santa Speedo Run. He said running a race in a Speedo is "about as close to naked as you can get," and while many are shy the first time, the event has grown from about 80 runners four years ago to more than 250.

"There's all sorts of reactions, most people are cheering and high-fiving us as we go by," he said. "I've seen people shy away from a high-five as you run up to them, but they're still laughing at the same time."

Organizers say nudity is becoming more accepted culturally. Just ask Michelle L'amour, creator of Chicago's Naked Girls Reading series in the West Loop.

"I'm not out to abolish the bashfulness, it's kind of charming and cute," L'amour, 32, of River West, said. "I love the moment when [audience members] realize it's OK."

L'amour said Naked Girls Reading is as simple as it sounds. As a way to celebrate literature, she and other burlesque performers strip down completely and read passages from works that move them. The monthly event has spawned other performances all over the world since it began four years ago, and she's been surprised by the popularity. Singles, couples and even a few well-read bachelor parties have attended the event.

"It's about exposing people to literature and getting people excited about reading again," she said, adding that the nudity almost becomes secondary to reading aloud on stage. "Not reading on a Kindle, reading an actual book, making it a sensual experience."

L'amour she said she has seen nude acts like burlesque gain popularity since she began performing 10 years ago. But she said audience members sometimes have misconceptions about Naked Girls Reading. Some think they will just be watching the girls read silently to themselves, others don't expect nudity at all. Despite that, she's found nudity as the perfect vehicle to spread the love of literature.

"Why not be naked, really, when it comes down to it?" she said.

Bare necessities

Looking to get in with some skin? Check out these nudie events, past and present.

Chicago Santa Speedo Run

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