This woman went topless in the city

Moira Johnston hits the streets of New York topless. Photo by Atisha Paulson http://atisha.tumblr.com/

Moira Johnston hits the streets of New York topless. Photo by Atisha Paulson http://atisha.tumblr.com/

If you’ve ever been to New York in the summer, you’ll know the meaning of “hot and bothered”. As the temperatures climb towards 40, the pavement radiates great whorls of heat haze, and car and air-con exhausts clog the air, it’s unbearable. As your bra becomes a puddle and your outfit affects all the fashionable insouciance of a used Wettex, you may find yourself longing to tear your top off - as many men do in such weather - and feel the breeze.

 

Which is precisely what one woman has been doing during the current east coast heat wave, because it’s perfectly legal to do so. "I'm going topless today,” she told racked (NB: assume most of these links feature bare bosoms if you’re at work). “It's to raise awareness that's it's legal for woman to be topless anywhere a guy can be without a shirt since 1992 here in New York State."

 

Jamie Peck from TheGloss gave it a whirl and spent a day in Central Park, sans top. At the end of her day out, it seemed the “somebody think of the children!” brigade were the only objectors: “Personally, I think that viewing a bare breast as inherently sexual and hence corrupting of innocence is silly; I’d much rather my hypothetical kid see women of all shapes enjoying the outdoors and being comfortable with their bodies than, say, two fully clothed people dry humping on a bench.”

 

There are loads of other examples, ranging from the “Topfreedom” movement - which pursues, rightly, the gender equality inherent in women and girls being able to go topless where men and boys can be bare-chested - to other cities and towns where it’s legal for women to go topless in public (even if fellow citizens don’t realise it).

 

And, predictably, any time the idea of women being topless in a mundane context is raised, the message comes through loud and clear: cover up, love, that’s a bit offensive.

 

(The ‘breastfeeding in public’ debate intersects with the toplessness issue, since both are arguably natural activities that have somehow become scandalised and offensive, though that’s another whole article in itself.)

 

We live in an enlightened age (or so we’re told): why do we still treat bare breasts as such objects of scandal?

 

I must admit it’s always puzzled me. Growing up, as I did, in the ‘80s, my template for adult womanhood was that it was perfectly natural - nay, expected - to whip ‘em out in summer. We’d turn up to the beach, three or four families or so, stake out a spot, and then the mums and aunts and friends would roll their one-pieces down and pour on the Reef. Consequently my approach to beachgoing is similarly au naturel.

 

Now, I understand that the beach is an imperfect example - after all, there are plenty of topless beaches (if not totally “clothing optional”; Victoria has four, officially) around. But think about all the times your bikini top has turned into an intricate Japanese rope knot when you emerge from beneath a wave: the shame, the embarrassment, the dip below the water to shove everything back into place... Wouldn’t it be easier if, like dudes, we didn’t have to worry?

 

Think also of the time you realised - probably around seven or eight - that your days of frolicking “topless” on the beach with your friends were drawing to a close. (I expect that these days, with stores stocked with “baby bras” and bikinis for toddlers, that moment comes a lot faster.) The message, even if we didn’t comprehend it at that age, is that breasts are something that must be covered.

 

And for what reason? Because men will go crazy with lust? Because breasts are offensive? Because children will be traumatised? They’re the three excuses usually trotted out, and I’ve copped variations on all of them when I take my top off at the beach. I usually just respond with a raised eyebrow and a withering sneer, as I refuse to accept that my naked rack is any different to the chest of the bloke two towels across.

 

Decriers of ‘equal toplessness rights’ usually whine things like “Well, I guess I’ll walk around with no pants on, then” or, hysterically (and this is a quote, from the comments on Peck’s Gloss piece), “I’m going to go show my dick to a bunch of kids at the park (get your minds out of the gutter, there is nothing inherently sexual about a man’s naked penis!). When i get back, everybody tell me how brave and progressive I am.”

 

Depressingly, it all comes back to the fact that women’s bodies are inherently sexualised, whether we like it or not. Amanda Hess put it well in a piece she wrote about “acceptable” amounts of cleavage: “[B]ecause my breasts are smaller, less visible, less imposing than other women's breasts—because there's less boob there—I can feel free to wear the more revealing top without attracting claims of public obscenity. It seems that some women's bodies are just naturally sluttier than other women's bodies—and all women's bodies are naturally sluttier than men's bodies.”

 

Once again it falls to the younger generation to give me hope that this ridiculousness might one day fall by the wayside. On blog platform Tumblr, a bunch of slut-shaming posts circulated that instructed “girls” that “your boobs go inside your top” (as a response, presumably, to young women who choose to take topless or nude photos, or wear revealing clothing).

 

In response, one young woman made her ownhey girlspost, that reads, “Hey girls, did you know that your boobs are just masses of fatty tissue and muscle that happen to be able to sustain another human’s life, be stimulated for orgasm, are squishy, and not covering them has no effect on your level of self-respect or how you deserve to be treated?”

 

I’m going to think of that next time I get the urge to tear off my t-shirt in the sweltering New York summer.

50 comments

  • All the breast to you Moira.

    Commenter
    tibstar
    Location
    Hooterville
    Date and time
    July 17, 2012, 8:44AM
    • Every point mass attracts every single other point mass by a force pointing along the line intersecting both points. The force is proportional to the product of the two masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them...or gravity as it is known. Just kidding

      I have long wondered why men could and women couldn't. Though be careful not to criticise those women that choose not to. After all choice is the key here.

      Oh and just because you can doesn't mean you should, this applies to men and women. I personally am uncomfortable when men take their shirts off, cos I don't have a six pack (or whatever). Sure this is my insecurity, but showing respect/concern for others shouldn't be ignored.

      Commenter
      Prof. Frink
      Date and time
      July 17, 2012, 8:53AM
      • Hey Prof, I'm not hiding my fully hectic abs just because of your insecurity. Think about the ladies for once!

        Commenter
        Billy Buff
        Location
        Ab Central
        Date and time
        July 17, 2012, 12:10PM
    • Nudity, whether it be male or female toplessness to no clothes, done with no sexual connotations (you mentioned dry humping) is perfectly natural.

      Going nude, and learning that every body is different, that every body has "imperfections" helps enhance self-esteem, and reduces the prevalence of body image problems.

      People who object to nudity are just prudes who would rather shame people for being different than except difference.

      Commenter
      ST
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 17, 2012, 9:01AM
      • 'Going nude, and learning that every body is different, that every body has "imperfections" helps enhance self-esteem, and reduces the prevalence of body image problems.'

        I wholeheartedly agree. Apart from at the beach or in public changerooms, most of us rarely see the naked or nearly naked forms of 'every day' un-photoshopped Average Joes and Janes. I'm not a beach goer, so the only place I see other women's bodies sans clothes is in the change rooms at the gym (and by 'see' I mean 'glance at before averting my eyes', not ogle!).

        My gym isn't full of gym bunnies - its members are all ages, all shapes and sizes and from many nationalities, with varying degrees of muscle tone and fitness. It really has given me an appreciation for the infinite variety of 'real' bodies and how normal 'imperfection' is. In fact, I think this variety is fascinating, in a way that the perfect bodies we see in magazines, movies, advertising etc aren't. Perfection is nice its own way, but it's also kind of boring.

        Commenter
        JEM
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        July 17, 2012, 11:32AM
    • OK, first of all I am a 43 year old man. There, we got that out of the way. OH yeah, I'm also a Boob man. So ladies, if you want it to all hang out, by all means GO FOR IT!! And I mean all of you. The young women, the older ladies and even the elderly! Why not? For awhile men (ans some women too) will have to resist staring, I know, but eventually it will become a natural thing for us all and we will get over it.
      A personal story.I have been married to the same woman for over 18 years. We married young and of course enjoyed a healthy and heart warming 'Honeymoon' period for well over two years. When my wife/life partner/spouse became pregnant with our first child we were naturally excited. I watched in wonder as her body changed shape due to pregnancy and in my mind her beauty never disappeared. The most beautiful thing was to watch her breast feed for the first time to our brand new baby girl and I shed a tear at that image. To this day I remember the image of the growing bond between mother and babe and it fills me with wonder. I think we need to look at ourselves if we find a perfectly natural act and perfectly natural body parts as 'dirty' or needing to be concealed. Let it go People. Let it BE!

      Commenter
      Hugo a GoGo
      Date and time
      July 17, 2012, 9:07AM
      • As a man I am in complete solidarity with my sisters! if they want to go topless, I'll give them my full support. I'll even start a support group. Chaps for baps!

        Commenter
        Stephen
        Date and time
        July 17, 2012, 9:07AM
        • Me thinks you are a boob man like myself. But in all seriousness, Yes the ladies should be allowed to go topless IF THAT'S WHAT THEY WANT. I'm all for equality and fairness. I hope that both men and women of all ages, races, cultures and biases can put aside their opinions and acknowledge that people should have equal rights despite gender differences. I respect this lady in New York and her guts (and conviction) to be comfortable and confident to be herself.

          Commenter
          Hugo a GoGo
          Date and time
          July 17, 2012, 3:38PM
      • Freedom should be afford to all equally. I'm pro-freedom. I don't care if females walk around topless, or even naked. To be honest I'd look twice because it's so uncommon, but that's just about getting used to something.

        Commenter
        Mishoni
        Date and time
        July 17, 2012, 9:19AM
        • In all seriousness, if the theme of this piece is to promote the equality of the desire or action of being topless for comfort and freedom, then why is it deemed necessary to black the nipples?
          I am yet to see a male picture treated like that so, therefore the in-equality remains...................
          I am a father of two daughters........I would rather they have total freedom of their desires or ations and feel comfortable to be themselves whether in taking a stand such as this or not. Regretfully society's narrow field of equality will never be balanced to accept all as they are....male or female. Too many rogue influences in the real world..

          Commenter
          Andrew
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          July 17, 2012, 9:28AM

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