‘Bikini debate’ opens up on public exposure

Recently, several women have taken social media by storm for riding scooters and motorcycles while wearing bikinis in central Seoul, who were then immediately reported to police for “causing discomfort”.

Park Jun-hee

Park Jun-hee

The Korea Herald



August 23, 2023

SEOUL – Relaxing by the poolside or a the beach in a bikini may not be banned by pool rules, nor is it deemed inappropriate, but walking around town in the skimpily stretched fabric could land one with a fine in Korea.

Recently, several women have taken social media by storm for riding scooters and motorcycles while wearing bikinis in central Seoul. They were immediately reported to police for “causing discomfort,” and the issue has since sparked debate as to what is appropriate to wear in public.

The women — who are reportedly models under a company that produces adult-oriented content — have said they are garnering attention to promote their magazines. Police are reviewing whether to book them on charges of overexposure. Debate has been intensifying online about whether bikinis should be subject to overexposure charges, as Korean law does not describe precisely what type of clothing is considered too revealing when worn in public.

Under the country’s Punishment of Minor Offenses Act, any person who embarrasses or offends other people by “excessively exposing” their naked body or exposing any part of their body “which ought to be hidden,” or within the view of public places, is subject to charges of obscene exposure. When determined as overexposure, one can face a penalty of up to 100,000 won ($75) or detention, or be subject to a fine for negligence. Also, under the Criminal Code, promoting an obscene performance can lead to prison of up to one year or a fine of up to 5 million won.

Legal professionals pointed out that the absence of dress code policies is the root cause of the debate.

“Since there’s no clear line between what is skimpy and fashion, people are reporting (those wearing bikinis in public places) based on how they feel about it,” Jeong Woong-seok, a law professor at Seokyeong University and chairman of the Korean Society of Criminal Procedure Law, told The Korea Herald.

Jeong noted that the definition of “clothes and fashion” is too broad in Korea, referring to that as the reason people continue straddling the line between personal style and overly revealing outfits.

“Overexposure is not viewed as a legal issue in Korea. It’s considered more of a misdemeanor, so those who rode the motorcycle wearing bikinis would most likely pay fines, not get prison terms,” he said.

“Unlike Western countries, Korean society is more conservative regarding how you dress, so if we keep seeing people wearing improper outfits on the streets, they will continue to be subject to excessive exposure,” Jeong added.

South Korea is not the only country that prohibits walking around in swimwear. Spain, for example, fines people clad in bikinis if they are spotted walking around away from the beach, including adjacent streets. Italy, another well-known sun-soaked country, has also banned wearing bikinis, thongs and other swimsuits in the town center. In 2020, a woman in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, was detained by police for wearing a thong bikini on a public beach in violation of a city ordinance.

In April last year, a 43-year-old woman in Busan was sentenced to pay a fine of 150,000 won for breaching the Minor Offenses Act. She was charged for exposing body parts by only wearing underwear and tight shorts.

In another case, however, the court cleared a man in his 40s of charges for entering a grocery store wearing only underwear, explaining that location cannot be categorized as a multiuse facility frequented by an unspecified number of people.

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