Should beachgoers be allowed to wear skimpy thongs? That’s under debate in NC town

Beaches in the Carolinas have different standards for swim attire. Carolina Beach wants to update its ordinance.
Beaches in the Carolinas have different standards for swim attire. Carolina Beach wants to update its ordinance. HiltonHead

One of North Carolina’s popular beach destinations has just released an unusual study -- called “Local Buttocks Comparisons” -- as part of a debate on whether to loosen its public nudity policies.

Carolina Beach officials took a vote on the issue at a town council meeting Tuesday, with the end result being a more liberal approach to bathing suits, including skimpy thongs.

The amendment passed, according to TV station WECT.

The “Local Buttocks Comparisons” study compared N.C. beach town ordinances specifically regulating the exposure of the butt, and it found only a half dozen towns had such policies, including one that specifically banned thongs.

Amending the town’s public nudity ordinance called for switching the broad term “buttocks” for the specific word “anus” in its ordinance.

The new policy reads: “It shall be unlawful for any person to appear on any public beach, any public street or in any public park in a state of dress or undress so as to expose to the view of others the human male or female pubic area, pubic hair, anus, or vulva with less than a fully opaque covering.”

In doing so, the town -- 13 miles south of Wilmington, N.C.-- would legalized smaller swimsuits.

Questions about the existing ordinance arose in June, when the police chief reported getting a complaint from someone who pointed out females, including life guards, are violating the law by wearing “thongs or similar swimsuits that show exposed buttocks,” reported the Island Gazette.

Carolina Beach Mayor Joe Benson suggested it was “a non-issue,” telling the Gazette: “Enforcing some draconian standards would require, what, code enforcement pulling out a ruler?”

Town officials say the Tuesday meeting will also give them a chance to see how the community feels about changing the policy to “something that is 21st-century and relevant to the times” reported the Port City Daily.

“Our society is not static, it evolves,” Benson told the Port City Daily. “I am not advocating for distasteful but staff needs to put together some recommendations, bring it to us on council, and we get public input.”

The “Local Buttocks Comparisons” report commissioned by the council found only six towns along the N.C. coast have local ordinances that prohibit display of the buttocks and more than as dozen had no public policy.

“Many municipalities’ ordinances do not explicitly address public nudity,” the report noted. “After contacting several for clarification, the assumption has been made that most default to the State regulations if they do not have a stricter policy.”

The state’s regulations aren’t specific about individual body parts at beaches, saying only that it’s a Class 2 misdemeanor to “willfully expose the private parts of his or her person in any public place and in the presence of any other person or persons.”

Among the towns that do have policies are Sunset Beach, Kure Beach, Oak Island, Ocean isle and Holden Beach, according to the report. Kure Beach, which is just south of Carolina Beach, has a specific “no thongs” policy, while the others regulate “less than fully opaque” covering of the buttocks, the report said.

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering beats including schools, crime, immigration, the LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.