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Topfree, The Way you Want to Be


By Peri, 1999 September 7

When I was 16, I spent a summer in Mexico. One of the girls I met there had just returned from Spain. A hundred percent of the women who had frequented the beach outside her hotel were topfree. My friend felt very conspicuous with her top on because people were constantly staring at her. Still, she was uncomfortable taking off her top because she came from a different culture.

But after a few days, she became weary of being the object of so much attention. So she took off her top. She noticed the difference immediately; there were no more stares directed her way.

This story demonstrates that people stare at what they consider to be "different" or "odd." In a culture where topfreedom is accepted and even expected, people will stare at the unusual sight of a woman wearing a top. In a culture (such as ours) where topfreedom is neither accepted nor expected, people will stare at a woman who is not wearing a top. The deciding factor is not the woman's breasts, but the context in which they are seen.

Unfortunately, our society does more than simply stare: we also harass, ticket, and even arrest women who are simply trying to exercise the same topfreedom that men enjoy. This can be seen in the case of "The Moscow Three," a trio of women who dared remove their shirts last year during the 32 degree heat of a summer day in Moscow, Idaho. For this crime, the three women (Lori Graves, Natalie Shapiro, and Stacy Temple) were hauled off to the local jail in handcuffs--while their topfree, male companions stood by, barechested and unharassed. If this is not a blatant example of discrimination, I don't know what is!

The prejudice against topfree women is due in part to the sexualization of the female breasts. Since women are not allowed to bare their breasts in nonsexual situations, our society immediately associates bare breasts with sexuality. Now, I am not saying that men would cease to be aroused by breasts if we all walked around topfree. Of course some would! Just as some men are aroused by long hair, or bare legs, or blue eyes.

Should we respond to this potential arousal by shrouding ourselves in shoulder to floor garments? Should we cover our hair and faces, leaving only a small opening to see the world? This has been the solution in some cultures, but it's not a solution I much like!

Instead, we can demand that our society grow up and learn to deal with the existence of our physical bodies. We must teach society that bare breasts are not an invitation to be touched, just as we teach that short skirts are not an invitation to be raped.

When we look at the larger picture, we see that sexual violence against women is perpetuated by our present system: a system that legally sanctions women to be topfree only when they are performing striptease acts or serving men drinks in a "topless bar." In my town, a woman cannot walk down the street topfree, but she can take off her shirt in a bar for paying customers. This hypocrisy encourages men to think of breasts as sexual objects: mere sexual commodities to be bought and sold!

Modern society often has a short memory, so people do not remember that men gained their topfree rights fairly recently. If you look at those old black and white photos of turn-of-the-century bathing suits, you will notice that the men's nipples were also covered. It wasn't until Clark Gable bared his chest in a film in the thirties that men began to go topfree in great numbers. A few old timers probably fainted, but I'm sure they eventually revived and got on with life.

Now male topfreedom is so commonplace that few men would consider putting on a top to go swimming. If we want women to enjoy the same rights, some of us are going to have to be brave and just do it!

This is easier said than done. Each woman needs to choose the time and place that feels safe and appropriate. Believe it or not, I do not enjoy making myself a public spectacle! Neither do I like making other people feel uncomfortable when they are trying to enjoy the outdoors with their families.

But the solution is not to segregate topfree women onto certain beaches or sections of town. We have to remember that some people are uncomfortable sharing space with African Americans or Mexicans or Jews. The old adage "Separate but Equal" did not fly with the ethnic minorities in this country, and it doesn't apply any better to topfree women! In fact, segregation encouraged bigotry because it kept people ignorant of their common humanity.

The same applies to topfreedom. Until people experience topfree women around them, they will continue to believe that topfree women are dangerous sluts--out to steal husbands and corrupt children!

It's important to provide the information that will help end this ignorance: to know cases where women have challenged unfair laws in court, to discuss how topfreedom affects breastfeeding, motherhood, and body esteem.

Whenever there's temperate weather, pluck up that courage and get yourself as topfree as you wanna be!

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