Following the recent pearl-clutching by New York mayor Bill de Blasio and governor Andrew Cuomo over topless performers in Times Square, Amber Jamieson, a reporter for the New York Post, donned nothing but a thong, patriotic headdress, and some body paint to get an undercover look at the practice. Her takeaway? Performing topless at the Crossroads of the World is perfectly harmless and kind of liberating, and the other topless performers and their manager seemed like decent, hardworking people. Save having to endure some creepy gawkers and sore legs after spending seven hours standing around, she came away from the experience $210 richer and left with the conclusion that anti-topless campaigning by police and politicians is more sexist than sensible, particularly in a place where the Naked Cowboy has been a much-beloved institution for years. Writes Jamieson, who admits she had a lot of fun during her stint as a painted lady:
The costumed characters mob clueless tourists demanding tips in a way I never witness the other painted ladies — at least six of us — do. If the mayor wants to worry about activity in Times Square, how about the short bald man walking around wearing only black duct tape over his privates? A girl near me, probably on drugs, spends hours singing Mariah Carey and Beyoncé songs, rolling around on the ground with her legs in the air. Painted ladies are the least crazy thing on the block.
She also reports on the setup, which is managed by a pair of men she says seemed more like personal bodyguards than pimps:
[Painted lady manager] Chris told me how it works: first the girls (Saira and Chris’ girlfriend, Amanda, 23) go into Sephora to use the free samples to do their makeup. Then, in the middle of Times Square, they throw on a robe and strip underneath it. Chris would paint our bodies using brushes, nipples first so they’re not exposed too long. His cousin, David, would mind my bag, take photos and be ready to pounce if anyone tried to touch me inappropriately. In exchange, Chris would receive 30 percent of my earnings.
Those earnings came from tips of course, though none of the women are allowed, by law, to request a specific amount, only mention that they accept tips in exchange for the photographs. The biggest tip Jamieson got was $20, ultimately making almost $300 in total, and she received a lot of compliments as well as statements of support for her and the other painted ladies in light of the recent political controversy. She was also surprised to see how popular she was with families and kids, and how the vast majority of onlookers seemed genuinely entertained. The worst part was apparently just the endless hustle. “Continually trying to engage with strangers is draining,” she notes.
Here’s Jamieson in her outfit (pixel-censored, of course):