Recession Prompts Businesses to Shed Taboos


As the economic recovery slogs from the worst recession since the Great Depression, businesses struggle to innovate, or else risk bankruptcy. Case in point: The Fawlty Towers Motel in Cocoa Beach, Fla. is allowing guests to take it all as of May 1.

After years of declining revenues, owner Paul Hodge was in a “make-or-break situation,” he told Florida Today. Rather than lose his motel, he was able to convince his wife that going nude was the best option.

Hodge hired a lawyer and consulted the American Association of Nude Recreation. He found nothing prohibitive in his state’s laws. In Texas, however, a nudist maid service had to reclassify the business as “sexually oriented,” which requires a permit.

“Nudity offers a potentially lucrative edge for several types of businesses trying to tough out the anemic market,” says historian Mike Foster, co-author with his wife, Barbara, of the biography, A Dangerous Woman: The Life, Loves, and Scandals of Adah Isaacs Menken ( “Recession has people rethinking some of their long-held prejudices.”

Nudity is not the only issue being reconsidered, he says. To ease government spending and increase tax revenue, some conservative pundits, including broadcaster Pat Robinson, are reconsidering their stance on marijuana’s illegality.

Whether in recent or not-so-recent history, nudity can make people rich. Foster gives the following examples:

• Hugh Hefner: The founder and chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises was worth $43 million in 2009, according to divorce papers filed that year.

• Lindsay Lohan: She earned $1 million for a nude spread in Playboy.

• Janet Jackson: Now synonymous with terms like “wardrobe malfunction” and “nipplegate,” Jackson’s flashed breast earned her an incalculable amount of free press.

• Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus: Although often valued as priceless, some estimate the most iconographic nude portrait to be worth half a billion dollars.

• Adah Menken: dubbed “The Great Bare” by writer/admirer Mark Twain, Foster says Menken single-handedly created the first celebrity bombshell in the Civil War era, earning her fame and money.

Menken was a singer and actress who became famous as “The Naked Lady” for her starring role in “Mazeppa.” In this drama she rode a stallion up a four-story stage mountain, apparently in the buff. She actually wore a flesh-colored body stocking, but audiences were shocked, horrified and intrigued by this blend of danger and sex appeal, Foster says.

“If you were a young woman and didn’t have a father or a husband to take care of your cost of living, then times were always rough back then,” Foster says. “She used her body for independence, ambition and money.”

To this day, part of the appeal of nudity is the fact that it’s still a salient taboo in our society – a relic from the Victorian era, Foster says.

“For the business owner struggling to keep his or her business afloat, going nude can be among the most cost-effective rebranding that comes to mind,” he says. “Besides a possible need for permitting, a nudist business simply needs some patrons to go semi-nude or nude, which is after all our most natural state.”   

About Michael & Barbara Foster

Michael Foster is a historian, novelist and biographer who graduated from Cornell University with honors in philosophy. He earned his master of fine arts from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. “A Dangerous Woman” is his fifth book. Barbara Foster, an associate professor of women’s studies at City University of New York, has published poetry and travel articles extensively, and is the co-author of three books.

If you would like to run the above article, please feel free to do so. I am able to provide images if you would like some to accompany it. If you’re interested in interviewing The Fosters or having them write an exclusive article for you, let me know and I’ll gladly work out details. Lastly, please let me know if you’d be interested in receiving a copy of their book, A Dangerous Woman, for possible review.