Design Mom Asks: Topless Beaches

August 1, 2011

I’ve got a (possibly scandalous!) question for you related to last week’s discussion about Cosmetic Procedures. But first, some backstory:

On our visit to the beach at Deauville, we were getting our chairs and towels situated, when I looked up and realized many of the women on the beach were topless. Not everyone, mind you — I didn’t feel at all out of place wearing my swimsuit — but there were plenty of examples. It’s not like this was an official “topless beach,” it was just a normal public beach, and if you wanted to sunbathe topless, you could. This was the first time I had ever been to a French beach, so I didn’t know, but I’ve since heard it’s the norm here. And I have to say, it was not at all what I imagined a topless beach to be.

Before I visited Deauville, the words “topless beach” brought to mind something scandalous — like a frat party from a movie or a glimpse into life at the Playboy mansion. But the women I saw on the beach were not 18 year olds, they were my peers. Some younger, some older, but pretty much all of them with children and a husband, having a regular family day at the shore. I didn’t want to stare, but I couldn’t help notice these were women who had evidently nursed their children. : ) I was unexpectedly impressed by these women. They weren’t trying to draw attention to themselves, and they weren’t trying to be “sexy”, but they were totally comfortable in their skin and they had very normal bodies — among the full spectrum of “normal”.

Now, I realize there are different standards of modesty in different cultures — from burkas to topless bathing. (Fun fact: I’m a Mormon, and there are some Mormons who believe showing your shoulders is immodest.) I also realize that Americans are nutso when it comes to breasts — implants are commonplace, but women go to great lengths to cover up while nursing their babies. Bizarre! So, pretending modesty isn’t part of the equation, my question is: How do you feel about your body? Are you confident enough in your skin to hang out at the beach topless? (I don’t think I am.) Also. Have you ever visited a beach with topless bathers? Was it shocking?

image by Oh Happy Day

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{ 265 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kristin Pratt August 1, 2011 at 2:12 pm

I definitely do not have the confidence for that and I think that is largely due to the culture I live in (Utah). I think it’s great to experience new cultures and I love hearing all about the adventures your family is taking part in. Out of curiosity…how did you handle the topless issue with your older children…I imagine the little ones thought nothing of it?

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2 Design Mom August 1, 2011 at 2:16 pm

You’re exactly right, Kristin. The little ones didn’t even notice. Ralph didn’t seem to care either — the ladies were all old in his eyes, not objects of desire. Maude was embarrassed for the world as only a 12 year old can be embarrassed. She was glad none of the girls her age were bathing topless.

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3 Redneck Mommy August 1, 2011 at 2:14 pm

I’ve done a topless beach many times. Not here in Canada, (brrr, it’s too cold) but when my husband and I go on tropical vacations. I have no problem with public nudity or my female form in all of it’s less than perfect glory.

One walk down a topless beach and a gal will quickly realize what ever type of body she is rocking, someone’s will always look better. And someone’s will always look much, much worse. Wink.

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4 Design Mom August 1, 2011 at 2:17 pm

I love your confidence!

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5 craftyashley August 1, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Would I feel comfortable going topless? No. Do I feel comfortable in a bathingsuit in general? Heck, no! I would like to at least experience a topless beach. I’m hoping every one else’s boobs end up like mine post-babies. I think I’ve built up this “everyone else’s body looks so much better than mine” image in my head.

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6 Tracy August 1, 2011 at 2:22 pm

I think I’d be afraid of a sunburn more than anything!

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7 Kathy@mishmashmom August 1, 2011 at 2:30 pm

:)

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8 Kayt August 1, 2011 at 5:07 pm

This! I’m so pale and freckly, it would be horrid to to expose all of that skin to the sun. Even with sunscreen, I always manage to burn badly at least once a summer.

I grew up in a family that isn’t afraid of nudity in the privacy of your own home, but I’m also not self-confident enough to go topless in public. I nursed publicly without a cover over my baby’s head, but I would always have a blanket over his torso covering any of my exposed belly.

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9 Janelle August 1, 2011 at 5:54 pm

You put it perfectly – not too worried about my breasts showing while I nurse, or some nudity at home, but I HATE my muffin top (post 5 pregnancies) showing to anyone. I can’t imagine that I could leave my breasts free while wearing up to my ribs to conceal the rest :)

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10 Candice August 1, 2011 at 9:54 pm

HA! So true for me too, Janelle. And besides that, I’m not comfortable showing my body. Once I was on a beach in Malaysia and the Malaysian women were on the beach in burkahs…and there were Europeans going topless! To me, that was totally culturally inappropriate. So, like you said, it seems like it’s a lot about context, but for me personally, not gonna happen. ;)

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11 Kaely August 1, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Definitely this! I’m Irish, pale and freckled. I don’t go outside without a hat on, much less a shirt. But I do nurse without any sort of cover over me and in my house we all change in front of each other.

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12 heather in arizona August 1, 2011 at 2:22 pm

hmm, I like the idea that a woman of any shape and size can feel comfortable baring it all at a beach. I think (again, modesty aside) if I were at the beach with a bunch of girlfriends I might be brave enough to bare it all. I Don’t think i could do it with my husband and children there. My husband would be embarrassed I am sure, and well, I don’t know how I would feel about my kids seeing their mom that way…only because we’ve tried to raise them with a sense of modesty and I wouldn’t know how to explain it to them.

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13 Julia's Bookbag August 1, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Hey Gabrielle! I was an exchange student in France when I was in high school — I went to a french beach once and experienced the whole topless gig — Not for me! I was/am just to shy about that sort of thing. But I remember vividly being amazed at the spectrum of French ladies doing it — every age on up to some really elderly 70ish plus ladies. It was very fascinating! ~Melissa

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14 Design Mom August 1, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Yes! I noticed elderly women too.

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15 N.Y.N.K.E August 1, 2011 at 2:25 pm

In Europe it is very normal to be topless at the beach and I don’t mind at all, even when we are amongst friends. It’s totally normal in Europe, so I am totally not shocked.

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16 Paulina J! August 1, 2011 at 2:29 pm

I have never been to France, but saw many European women go topless on the public beaches back home (I’m from Dominican Republic). I would NEVER go topless since it’s was not the norm growinh up (in DR and here in the states). Besides, I’m a Jehovah’s Witness and it wouldn’t be considered modest at all (you think?) :)

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17 Geevz August 1, 2011 at 2:29 pm

I think it’s a little ridiculous how embarrassed of breasts we are in the U.S. Especially when a nursing mother is asked to stop or go somewhere else when some teenagers are wearing dresses with less fabric than my nursing cover.

We were on a beach in Greece and there were some completely nude couples. Not sexy at all, but not really that awkward either. I think it helps your own image confidence. Sort of a “If she is bathing in her birthday suit, with that body, maybe I could too and be proud of it” kind of thing. I could never go the full monty on a public beach, but I think I could handle topless if everyone around me was. Of course my husband would probably have a heart attack and be more embarrassed than Maude :)

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18 Paulina J! August 1, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Forgot to add that on a family vacation, some men (family friends) were trying to guess the age of said women based on how their “ladies” hung :) Men just can’t behave!

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19 Summer August 1, 2011 at 2:34 pm

That’s hilarious! Oh, men…

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20 Tiffani August 1, 2011 at 2:32 pm

When you say “Fun fact: I’m a Mormon, and there are some Mormons who believe showing your shoulders is immodest” do you mean even when/if they are wearing a bathing suit? I’m just a little confused by this statement.

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21 Design Mom August 1, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Hah! I didn’t explain very well. I would be confused too. : )

For every day dressing, there are some Mormons who feel showing shoulders is not modest. Pretty much all Mormons make an exception for sports, swimming or other activities that require specific uniforms or particular clothing.

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22 Jane August 1, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Do you show your shoulders in every day dressing DM?

My mother always let me till I turned 12, then she said it was no longer appropriate due to the pressure from other Mom’s in the branch.

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23 Design Mom August 1, 2011 at 5:18 pm

I don’t — if I did my undershirt would show. : ) But it’s not a modesty issue. I think there’s a big difference between dressing immodestly and showing your shoulders.

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24 Delores August 1, 2011 at 7:00 pm

DM:
I wanted to add something. I’m an LDS mother and I remember when my daughter was around 14 and it became a big deal what she should or shouldn’t wear. I found that there were a lot of girls who were immodest in their attire even though they had their shoulders covered and their dresses were as long as their knees. It’s HOW something is worn that can make it immodest. Tank tops are not necessarily immodest, it’s how a piece of clothing is worn.
I don’t wear tank tops because of my undershirt, too, but a 12 or 14 year old is not immodest if she wears a simple sports tank top.
BTW, I’m not embarrassed by the human form, but I don’t think I could sit on a beach without a top. Plus, I have all that Irish complexion–just looking for a sunburn.

25 Nichole August 2, 2011 at 5:45 pm

What is an “undershirt” you ladies discuss?

I have been to topless beaches before and just could not do it! I admire the woman who can.

26 mandi@herbanhomestead August 1, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Not for me. I have been skinny dipping in a pool, but that was with close friends. And I was 17! I can’t imagine letting everyone see everything!!!
The closest I have ever come to being in a public topless bathing situation was at Barton Springs in Austin. It’s tops optional, however most women prefer to be covered (I use that term loosely!). The funny thing was that I was accompanying a group of jr high boys and girls. The woman who opted to go topless was beautiful. It was so funny watching the boys try to be “good” and not ogle her!

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27 Patti August 1, 2011 at 2:33 pm

The first time I ever encountered it was in France in the early 90s–I was expecting it, but what I wasn’t expecting was to feel so conspicuous being the only woman of my age not going topless; the beach I visited was almost one hundred percent top-free. Eventually I took a deep breath, peeled off, and went home sunburnt and faintly scandalized with myself, but in a good way!

Would I do it now? I don’t know. I’m in two different places than I was at 18: both much more pleased and confident with my body, but also much less likely to care if I’m standing out like a sore thumb in a crowd. I guess that’s a happy dilemma!

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28 liz August 1, 2011 at 2:36 pm

so funny! when my sister and i were backpacking in Italy, we came across this hidden little beach. there were not a ton of people there, but all the women (of ALL ages) were topless. we felt like being adventurous and joined. and it felt totally normal and freeing! no one blinked an eye or looked twice. a few hours later, we heard english (everyone else was speaking italian) and saw a group of american guys coming down the path towards the beach and we SCRAMBLED to put our tops back on. so funny how boobs just mean such different things to each culture.

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29 Design Mom August 1, 2011 at 2:38 pm

I love that story, Liz. It’s true. Such a culture thing.

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30 Lillie August 1, 2011 at 2:37 pm

I so wish that I had the self-confidence to go topless on the beach. Just this week, I bought a dress for a friend’s wedding – the first dress I will have worn in a very long time because I don’t like my body. Although part of me thinks that I will totally rock the dress!!!!

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31 Design Mom August 1, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Go Lillie! You are totally going to rock that dress.

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32 caru August 1, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Hello, I live in Chile and I live on the beach, my city is visited specially for tourist from Argentina, and there is a beach “Reñaca” really popular. In summer is like be in Argentina, because is full of tourist from there. Well they don’t have problems with their body and they are beautiful and usually you saw argentinian woman without the top of bikini but only the back because is not permitted do topples in almost all beaches. About breast feeding before was more usual see woman feeding their babies, but now not, because the breast fall down, and the people who practice the breast feeding there is two kind, the cool kind who breastfeed your child but not in public places, this year malls start to build areas for moms and childs to they can feed the babies away the others. (this is new in my country). And the others who practiced the BF like always, in public places like me, to me is more important feed my child than be hide because someone could see me.

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33 Di August 1, 2011 at 2:40 pm

I would go topless – however, I am so pale (living in Scotland would do that to you) I could only last about 5 mins….usually on the beach in Scotland you are wearing a raincoat, thermals etc.

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34 Summer August 1, 2011 at 2:41 pm

I’ve never done it, but I’d probably try it if my friends would. However, I would never go full monty. Yipes. If for no other reason, the sunburn.

The only time I’ve seen topless women sunbathing was in Miami (I have a theory that there are no laws in Miami….which is awesome). It was more amusing than anything. For example, I got to send a text to my friend saying, “Hey, found a place – I’m propped next to the busty topless lady, so might be easier to find her and then look for me.” There was another one there with her baby (and breastfeeding) wearing only swimsuit *thongs.” She rocked it. Good for her, sad for me. Brazilians don’t droop at all, anywhere, do they? :P

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35 Mary j August 1, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Hi- having just returned from France, I found the women’s comfortableness in their own skin refreshing. I never had the impression that one of them was wishing they were another size and that in turn made me more comfortable! It was very refreshing! I can’t say I would ever go topless, but I don’t bat an eye at those who did, by our second beach day we hardly noticed.

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36 Design Mom August 1, 2011 at 3:14 pm

“by our second beach day we hardly noticed.” So true.

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37 charlotte August 1, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Yes, I’d second the comment about it being totally normal in Europe. I grew up by the sea in the UK and although less so than Europe, it was commonplace there too. I didn’t own a bikini top until I became a self-conscious teenager and I rarely wear one now if I’m in France on holiday. Your point about the women being normal and natural is really nice as there’s really nothing exotic about it :)

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38 Melissa August 1, 2011 at 2:47 pm

We have frequented many topless beaches in Europe, and you described it perfectly ~ it isn’t about sexual allure, but more centered around women being confident in themselves. I’ll admit that the first time I tried it, it was liberating, and when given the chance to go topless again, I shall do it.

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39 Erin August 1, 2011 at 2:49 pm

I used to be very self-conscious about my body. But between the birth and breastfeeding, having my first child got rid of many of my hang-ups. I can’t say I *love* my body, but it is what it is and I have no worries breastfeeding in public. So I’d probably try the topless beach at least once. At least sand wouldn’t get stuck down your suit! :)

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40 Terra August 1, 2011 at 2:53 pm

My first experience on a topless beach was in Norway when I was an extremely self conscious 18 year old. I hadn’t even heard of such a thing and went to the beach with some Norwegian girls. They took their tops off as soon as we got to the beach and I just sat there in my one piece swimsuit dumbfounded. But during my year in Norway I learned that females there don’t ever feel ashamed about their bodies and don’t even think twice about covering up like most in North America. I really wish that we could get some of that here because they really don’t have as many girls with self esteem issues.

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41 Sharlene August 1, 2011 at 2:59 pm

NEVER! Won’t go to a topless beach, either. Totally uncomfortable with the topic, in general. Cultural or not, modesty has to play a part. Modesty is a virtue that has nothing to do how “comfortable” someone is with the appearance of their body. I could be a perfect 10 and still would never wear anything too revealing, let alone topless.
PS ~ Nursed six children (1 year each) and never embarrassed anyone while doing so. (a little modesty doesn’t hurt anyone)

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42 Design Mom August 1, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Isn’t it fascinating how different cultures view modesty? There are parts of the world where a women can nurse uncovered and no one is embarrassed. No men, no women — it wouldn’t even occur to them to be embarrassed because they see nothing immodest or embarrassing about nursing.

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43 Lauren August 1, 2011 at 5:48 pm

I have never felt more comfortable nursing in public than when I was in Peru. There, women (and men, sometimes) would lean in to complement and talk to my child (over a year, by then). Nursing (anywhere) was completely natural and commonplace.

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44 Sharlene August 1, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Yes, it is fascinating how different cultures view modesty.

I don’t think I made myself clear. I think nursing is beautiful and natural, but I do live in a cultural that could be uncomfortable, so I covered up (which was no problem at all) out of respect for all those around me.

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45 Denise Laborde August 1, 2011 at 10:17 pm

I “like” your reply DM. I am American but had and nursed my sons in France. Nursing (in public, at home, friends house) never has been a source of embarrassment for anyone in France (IMO).

When I hear my friends who live stateside explain their nursing experiences it makes me sort of sad. I ve heard men AND women describe the site of a mother nursing her child as gross. There is some sort of boob double standard.

As for going topless at the beach. Growing up in Miami Beach it was widely accepted to be topless. Interestingly, in Biarritz (the beaches I frequent in France) there are very few topless beach goers. I wonder if it is regional even in France?

Very interesting topic. I appreciate your ability to start these conversations among women everywhere ;-)

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46 Decor Arts Now August 1, 2011 at 3:00 pm

There are topless bathers at Ditch Plains Beach on Montauk ,NY where I summer. Most are younger women with bikini bodies.

I am thin and despite turning 50 in 2 days, I look just fine in a bikini .thanks. Still I would be way to shy to go topless. Xo and Happy. Summer,Lynn

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47 Design Mom August 1, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Happy almost birthday!

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48 Whitney Baker August 1, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Oh I find this topic so interesting. I am a Mormon and definitely respect modest clothing, but I have no issue with topless women at the beach, I feel like when women are doing it not be sexy, but just because it is more comfortable and natural it seems just fine. But then I wonder if these are contradicting thoughts? Regardless, I decided as a teenager to never worry about my body (swimsuit clad or not) at the beach because it takes away all of the enjoyment.

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49 Design Mom August 1, 2011 at 3:15 pm

“I decided as a teenager to never worry about my body (swimsuit clad or not) at the beach because it takes away all of the enjoyment.”

I think that is brilliant!!

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50 Amanda August 1, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Whitney,

I totally agree that it is a waste of time to worry about your body in a bathing suit. No one else is scrutinizing you–they’re all worried about THEIR bodies!

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51 Tracy B. August 2, 2011 at 10:01 am

Oh, that’s a good point Amanda. I never thought about the fact that they are all too worried about their own bodies in a swimsuit! Thanks, that helps.

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52 carole August 1, 2011 at 3:14 pm

I think here in the US we live with breastmania. I don’t really know where it comes from but it holds men and women hostage in its ugly grasp. As my grandma said, “Parts is parts.” It doesn’t take long to realize the full spectrum one experiences in faces and hair color and ear shape also exists in breasts, and derierres and other private parts. I think men and women (and teenage boy and teenage girls) here would benefit immensely if everyone would just chill out about breasts. There would be less surgery and body anxiety and breastfeeding would be restored to its rightful place as the normal way an infant is fed. Breasts don’t have to be either/or. For some reason, we’ve just made them that way. (and yes I have been to topless beaches in France. In fact, I once saw the cutest thing… and older woman, probably 70-ish would use her bold blue and white striped bikini top as a turban to keep her hair up and out of the water while swimming. She had the most elaborate way she wrapped and tucked the top and then clasped it in the front. Then she would regally walk into the water and swim, with her very-obvious top holding her hair above the wake….)

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53 Kate Coates October 4, 2011 at 6:24 am

I love this, from the “parts is parts” from your grandma, to the mental image of the 70 year old woman…. absolutely true and phenomenal!

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54 Kate August 1, 2011 at 3:15 pm

This is quite fascinating. I am European; I spent most of my childhood in the UK but have since lived 10 years on Australia and 12 years in France. In both France and Australia women go topless at the beach. Beaches are not called “topless beaches” it’s just what women do here ….at every beach, so there is no need for the label! Funny, I brought a couple of friends from New York down to the beach in France and it didn’t even cross my mind but I must admit once I’d spotted their slightly uncomfortable / embarrassed expressions it made me realise just how “alien” this concept of “going topless” appeared to them!

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55 Trisha August 1, 2011 at 3:20 pm

I have fond memories of the older ladies sunning topless on the beaches in Italy — standing up, naturally, for more even exposure. They stood serenely with their hands on their hips and rotated in the sun for what seemed like hours.

And I once found myself on a beach while traveling alone. I chose the “women’s” section of the beach because I wouldn’t have anyone to watch my things while I was in the water and I felt that was safer.

The beach was full of older ladies happily and comfortably fully nude, like cats in the sun. One group had formed a circle in the water and were singing together.

I didn’t strip off my own suit that day because, truly, no sunscreen would have been strong enough for my never-before-exposes skin!

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56 Destri August 1, 2011 at 3:31 pm

I think I would do it if I were all alone, is that weird? I don’t mean the only one on the beach, but without anyone I knew. I think the only reasoning I can come up with is then there would be no one to judge? Or maybe like another girl mentioned, breast just mean something else in a different culture. If nothing else, so that one day when my little girl read my journal she could say “NO WAY!” and think that maybe there are a few things about her mamma that she didn’t know :).

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57 Emme August 1, 2011 at 3:32 pm

I felt the same when I was in Croatia. I didn’t feel like the women were trying to be overly sexy. I was actually jealous of how liberated they seemed. I thought I could go topless and I was just so uncomfortable — I guess I couldn’t shake that stuffy American out of me!

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58 Kayla August 1, 2011 at 3:33 pm

I don’t think I could do it. And not even because of my boobs (which aren’t worth a second glance) but because my STOMACH would have to be exposed as well. And for some reason I’m way more self conscious about that.

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59 Kayt August 1, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Me too! As I said in reply to another commenter, I nursed my son in public without a traditional nursing cover, but I always had a blanket on hand to cover my exposed belly. That bothered me so much more than the idea of my nipple being exposed in public.

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60 Barbara August 1, 2011 at 3:38 pm

When I visited Portugal a few months ago, I went to a beach and saw women sunbathing topless. My boyfriend told me about it (his entire family is Portuguese so he’s used to it) but growing up in America where that’s not common, I was taken back a bit.

Honestly, I think if you’re confident in your body, more power to you! I don’t even wear a 2 piece bathing suit, so I don’t think I’d do it. Maybe after a few more months at the gym. :)

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61 Cutzi August 1, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Reading through all the comments… so interesting. I wonder if going topless is less about being confident, though, and more about it not being a modesty issue in France. For example, I don’t think men go shirtless here in the U.S. because they are more confident… it’s just because it’s considered “normal.”

I also think many countries understand the health benefits of sunshine more. A friend of mine had a grandmother who lived in France and when they would go visit her in the summer the grandmother would insist she go topless so she could get sunshine on her skin. My friend, being an adolescent and an American, was embarrassed beyond belief but her grandmother really believed, and rightfully so, that she needed the sunshine.

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62 Design Mom August 1, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Good point, Cutzi! It’s always amazing to realize how much culture influences us.

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63 Natalia August 1, 2011 at 4:45 pm

I agree with you Cutzi. It’s not necessarily about confidence but more about the way we were raised. It’s a normal thing and there is nothing sexual about it. I’ve been topless in the past in France but I wouldn’t do it here because people would stare.

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64 Sherry August 1, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Have been to several topless beaches in Europe and at first it seemed strange..especially because we were with our kids and another family, but after one stroll on the beach, you feel totally in place. I’m not shy or modest though, so it was easy to fit in. It felt so refreshing.

In our own pool or with friends at our lake house, we embrace topless sunning…and skinny dipping. It’s so freeing that it’s easy to get use to it.

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65 hikooky August 1, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Would I do it? No. Not because I’m ashamed of my body, but because I’ve grown up in a culture (American) where showing breasts says something in particular – and I don’t want to say that. :) I breastfed in public without qualms, but going topless – I don’t think so. That being said, if I lived in France and was comfortable with the vibe (i.e. sure that my toplessness wouldn’t be misinterpreted) then I would consider it. Like some other commenters, though, I’d be afraid of sunburn!

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66 Jane August 1, 2011 at 4:07 pm

I would relish the opportunity to have my breasts feel warmth of the sun.

I think it’s an innocent pleasure that for many cultures has been warped into something so over the top sexual. I don’t think beaches would allow it where I live for fear of sexual assault or inappropriate activities being encouraged by a few bare breasts.

I’m a natural size D-DD and have nursed my children but my breast have remained firm and for the most part perky. They do however try to hide under my arm pits when I lay down.

This summer I’d like to be tan all over but I would make that happen in my own backyard. I hope the VT’s don’t come over unexpectedly!

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67 Jane August 1, 2011 at 4:18 pm

As another note, I was having a ‘my breasts are awful’ crisis recently and went bra shopping with a friend. She got a little tired of my lamenting and took off her shirt too to show me her’s are FAR more saggy and deflated. I’d never seen another woman’s bare chest before and it was a great reality check.

I think topless beaches would help keep a healthy perspective for girls/women as far as shape, size and reality.

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68 Kristina August 1, 2011 at 6:48 pm

“I think topless beaches would help keep a healthy perspective for girls/women as far as shape, size and reality.”

What a great thought!

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69 Trisha August 2, 2011 at 7:09 am

Yes! Thank you for saying this. When all we see exposed (more importantly: our children) are “perfect” breasts, we get a really distorted sense of what’s normal and healthy.

I went to a sauna at age 21 in Europe and realized that I was seeing naked bodies for pretty much the first time in my life. It really changed how I felt about my own body — in a good way.

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70 Jane August 2, 2011 at 4:16 pm

I’m glad Trisha and Kristina agree :-)

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71 Sarah August 1, 2011 at 4:42 pm

I am continually surprised how little you knew about France before you moved there!

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72 Meg August 1, 2011 at 6:30 pm

And I am continually surprised by how well you seem to roll with the punches during your time abroad. I have to say, as someone who’s lived abroad, that the things we may *know* about another culture/country don’t always come to the forefront of our minds when we’re actually moving through that country. I had a similar experience in Europe, and not because I didn’t *know* that was common, but because you get so caught up in your own routine (ie: packing for the beach, getting set up, etc.), that it can still be unexpected. It’s so fun to actually live those differences, and not just read about them. Enjoy!

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73 Alexandra Gjurasic August 1, 2011 at 4:47 pm

I think Nature intended for us to wear as little as possiable when swimming. The most heavenly experience in life in one can have is to swim nude. I find that when I am in a bathing suit I tend to feel uncomfortable with my body–tugging here and there and making sure this and that is still where I put it. I feel more confidant with the less I wear!

http://gjurasicpark.blogspot.com

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74 Tina August 1, 2011 at 4:53 pm

I lay topless on the beach in Spain on the Costa Del Sol. It was spectacular. And I found it much the way you described it. There was nothing scandalous about it at all. Really, I think it has more to do with what I feel are ridiculous, sexualized, American ideas about breasts. This is why most women I know are so scared to breastfeed in public as well. But I think once you go to Europe, to the beaches, see the mamas nursing their babies, etc. It all becomes really silly. In Spain, all the babies were naked as well. And when I say naked, I mean kids as old as 6. There were no itty bitty swim suits or swim diapers. It was so sweet and adorable and felt very natural.
Best,
Tina

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75 Camaron August 1, 2011 at 4:58 pm

I like that the US is so modest. But not necessarily at the expense of being super judgmental and critical. Which is what the media is known for. Every actor is picked apart and dissected to the point that you’d need dental records to know who’s lips went with which set of eyebrows! I wish there was a way to feel comfortable in your skin without needing to wear clothes made for someone 15 years younger than you!

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76 Kay August 1, 2011 at 5:00 pm

I personally think our culture (including Mormons) are wayyyy to hung up on breasts and bodies being purely sexual and something that should be concealed. There is a huge difference between dressing like a skank and being confident and secure with your body, too. I walk around naked in front of my 3 boys and I would do it on a beach also. I think it’s healthy for them to see a woman’s body in a nonsexual way.

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77 pepper August 1, 2011 at 5:02 pm

I’ve gone topless on beaches where it is the norm, and felt comfortable. I would join in if I were in France.

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78 the emily August 1, 2011 at 5:03 pm

I could NOT do it. Even when I was a skinny cute college student I was uncomfortable with my body, but 13 years and 3 kids later I have stretchmarks, scars, and I nursed 3 babies. It would never happen. Also, I understand that women can be comfortable with their bodies, but that doesn’t mean other people want to see them topless…I would be very uncomfortable in that situation.

What did your kids/husband think? I’m dying to know.

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79 the emily August 1, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Oh, nevermind. I saw your comment up above about what they thought.

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80 Sally August 1, 2011 at 10:40 pm

I find this interesting. I don’t think I could have ever gone topless in my late teens or early 20s either. In fact I remember blushing when I was an exchange student in Germany and went to a beach and there were women going topless for the first time (by the end of the year, didn’t blush so much, but still didn’t participate). Now after 4 kids and a year of nursing each, I think I would be more likely to go topless. I am much more confident in my skin and also because the mindset that my body is so much more than an object of sexual attraction. That’s where I think many cultures go wrong, telling girls they have to cover up or dress a certain way because of what they are making the boys think. Going topless at most beaches is so much more than attracting attention. It’s about being comfortable and confident.

Side note to DM: Not sure if France is the same way, but in Germany there were designated nude public pools and beaches, so watch out for those if you are taking your kids.

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81 Jennifer Day August 1, 2011 at 5:03 pm

That is the norm in France from my experiences. I would not go topless unless I had an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction. I suppose it is modesty, but I nursed both my kids and I know I flashed people. I did my best to keep covered, but sometimes those babies just wiggle too much. I wasn’t self conscious when I was nursing at all but going topless on a beach is another story. I am rather big chested, and to me, it would be uncomfortable to go without support.

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82 Johanna August 1, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Several years ago I was vacationing near Tulum, Mexico with my husband. There were lots of Europeans around sunning toplessly and it wasn’t a big deal. To this modest, self-conscious American, their confidence was infectious — I probably would have done the same but I only had a one piece suit which makes undressing/redressing quite awkward! Next time I will be sure to bring a bikini, though I would never wear one in the States.

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83 Penny August 2, 2011 at 3:29 am

Dear Johanna,

well, in the eighties, when one piece swimsuits were fashionable, lots of girls just pushed theirs down. Just a though; )).

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84 Giselle December 6, 2011 at 12:30 pm

That’s exactly what I did! But I pulled my arms out of the neck opening , pulled it down a little, flipped it inside out, and let my legs through the arm openings. Wow, those were the days.

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85 RebeccaNYC August 1, 2011 at 5:06 pm

I love the casual nudity on French beaches because bodies are totally normal, healthy and beautiful at any age, and in any shape. Its only sexy when you are having sex…which should be done in private, IMHO. I do not like the strange double message sent in the US where everything is SEX SEX SEX but a breast feeding woman is considered too much. With that said, I am uncomfortable at first going topless, but after awhile, I don’t even notice. When it is just myself and my husband in a private pool, I AM NAKED! It is a wonderful free feeling.

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86 kendra August 1, 2011 at 5:07 pm

As a grown woman, i don’t think I would personally mind being at a topless beach (though i probably wouldn’t participate….i don’t think i’m quite “there” yet), but as a mom of 4 boys…..would you take your sons to these beaches? just curious.

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87 the emily August 1, 2011 at 5:11 pm

I wouldn’t. No way. My boys would stay far, far away from a topless beach.

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88 Kristina August 1, 2011 at 6:52 pm

I have three boys, ages 13, 10, and 8. I would definitely take them to a topless beach. In fact, I think the sooner they could go, the better. I want them to think breasts are just another normal part of your body.

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89 Trish August 2, 2011 at 3:29 am

I have two boys, ages 7 and 10 and I would take them. I also see nothing wrong with body parts. I feel like we make such a big deal in our country but why, they are just boobs. And I would go topless there even though I have nursed two kids, had many scars on my breasts from lumps being removed and I am nor thin. I guess it is just not that big a deal for me.

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90 Giselle December 4, 2011 at 12:16 pm

I go topless, or in a one-piece. Meaning with my family and children, son and daughter (twins) 9, older daughter 12. All of us girls don’t even own a bikini top. Also, “modesty” is what you make of it. Meaning, if it was unacceptable to go topless then it is immodest, and vice-versa.

Christian, believe it or not.

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91 amy August 1, 2011 at 5:08 pm

my husband and I visited italy for a sunfish regatta last summer without the children, and while we were packing I couldn’t find one of my bikini tops. He said, “you know, we’ll be in italy, you don’t really need it” and my response was, “yes, that’s true, but do you really want your sailing buddies to see my breasts?” he said no and suggested I look a little harder for my bathing suit.
there were topless women on the beach, ranging from women who were older than me, down to 16 year olds…all there for a family day at the beach. it didn’t bother me one bit, in fact I was proud of the obvious lack of self conciousness (even among the women who were wearing bathing suits)
had we been somewhere where we didn’t know anyone, I might have gone topless myself.

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92 Natalie T August 2, 2011 at 9:19 am

This, along with a few other comments, are where I stand. I am pretty comfortable with my body and agree that we should take the sexualization out of public nudity (especially in the U.S. and Mormon culture), we walk around naked in our home in front of our girls and I will teach them to feel confident about their body, parts, and accepting and living cultural norms where ever we are… but…

I think *I* could feel comfortable topless on a beach a) if I didn’t know anyone, i.e. my in-laws weren’t there (I just cannot imagine being topless in front of my FIL!) or our close friends and b) if I knew that my husband wasn’t looking at OTHER women in a sexualized way. Is that terrible? I am perfectly fine with it, I just don’t know if my U.S.-husband is ready for it. I guess that’s why I wonder less about how your (DM) kids handle it and more about how your husband handled it?

But, if I ever get the chance, yes, I think I would go topless at a beach. I wait for the chance!

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93 Natalie T August 2, 2011 at 9:20 am

Oh, and I’m pretty casual about nursing. I only cover up when I’m around my Dad, FIL, my brothers-in-law, etc. It’s because I know it would embarrass THEM.

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94 Jodi August 1, 2011 at 5:10 pm

I’m always so intrigued at how the American culture formed itself, people here have no problem wearing very revealing clothing, yet at the same time they are very uncomfortable with certain things- am I right? I hate what a pain it is covering up while nursing. I would be so fine with just doing it (and some places I don’t bother, like at church in the nursing room) But I don’t because it would make other people so uncomfortable and many would stare- I do however still think there is a time and place for it you know…I don’t think I would just whip it out during an after dinner conversation with company! But at the park or beach, sure sure.

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95 Ulli August 1, 2011 at 5:16 pm

America is mind boggling. As a European who has lived here for over 10 years I don’t get the fear of the nipple and the boob….but it’s perfectly fine to turn on a cable tv on a sunday afternoon and I can easily find some awful show that depicts slashed throats, rape, dismembered bodies and other crap…but the beauty of a female body…I was laughing the other day. I was watching “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmer” and I swear to god, there was a warning that there would be some “nudity” because he was in the Kalahari desert and well, that’s what the tribe wore (or didn’t). It struck me as odd. So, because this is a “Tribe” in Africa, the breasts are fine….but if it were a white woman breast feeding and you’d see some nipple, the world is going to implode…
Breasts. Beautiful. And for participation in nude bathing…there is no pressure to undress, so whatever works ;) I love it.

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96 katie c August 1, 2011 at 5:18 pm

I will never forget being an LDS missionary in France and having one of our investigators pop her breast out to nurse in the middle of a meeting. And the only embarrassed people in the room were the four American missionaries. It was such an interesting thing that even the Mormons in France were just not that freaked out about a breast. I’m sometimes afraid that being TOO obsessed with modesty, we overly sexualize our parts. Great discussion DM : )

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97 kelly August 1, 2011 at 5:21 pm

This post makes me think of the Kabuki bath house in San Francisco. I went one night when it was women only and swimsuit optional (on co-ed nights they are required). It felt so reassuring to see all the different shapes and sizes that women really come in, none of which included super-model thin with large breasts that seems to be the ideal in America. Experiences like that are a great reminder to me to be comfortable in my own skin, and I think it’s so funny that it takes a little nakedness for that reminder! It’s strange to me to think that our more “modest” culture has led to way more insecurities about our bodies. Maybe when my daughter’s a little older i’ll take her to a beach in France so she can learn this lesson too!

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98 NY Mom August 1, 2011 at 5:26 pm

For me it would be not so much a confidence issue, but a message-sending issue – at least here in the U.S. I give sexual purity talks to youth groups and always address modesty. Being unclothed in a private setting is one thing, but it becomes an entirely different thing in public when it’s done provocatively. I teach the girls that clothing gives a sense of mystery to them, and that clothing can actually be more seductive – and enhancing/attractive – than baring it all. Most women have a natural, innate sense of modesty that should be respected and protected, especially when they’re adolescents in an American culture. Not in a prudish or negative way at all, but in a positive way that honors their beauty and dignity, which is precious. That said….if I knew no one was around, I would relish being topless in the sun …but you’d have to absolutely guarantee my total privacy!

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99 Marianne Firth August 1, 2011 at 8:23 pm

Thank you for making this point! Would all of these mothers who would let their sons go to a nude beach let them go if it was frequented by groups of young college girls? I imagine not.

My standard of modesty is this: if a General Authority (Mormon thing)/church leader/neighbor down the street were at the same beach/pool with me, would I feel comfortable with what I was wearing? For me, I show my respect to others by being modest, as it is the social norm here. I’ve been on a clothing optional beach in the Caribbean and didn’t find it “liberating” or “beautiful.” More “eh” and a throwback to less civilized cultures and times.

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100 Mo August 2, 2011 at 12:46 am

I’m European and I was one of those kids (a girl, admittedly), that went to beaches with topless women (as one commentator earlier said, there is no such thing as a topless beach, all beaches can be topless, at least in Croatia where we used to spend our summers). I really don’t think I’m in any way scarred by that. I don’ t think I even noticed really. When I mom decided to go topless and I was a teenager I did feel a little uncomfortable, but nothing serious. It simply is not a sexual thing. Period.
I don’t go topless myself, because I don’t feel like it, I do wear bikinis though and don’t cover up when changing wet tops for dry ones. It’s the beach, it’s not a shop or a church or whatever. We have different clothing standards for a reason.
I think covering up just because you’re afraid of what some sort of authority might think or feel tempted into is in fact a “throwback to a less civilized culture and time”. (when pointed at you, that’s kinda insulting, don’t you think?)

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101 Marianne Firth August 2, 2011 at 7:01 am

Mo- I apologize, I did not mean to infer that places that have topless beaches are uncivilized. I’ve traveled all over Europe, and obviously it is the epitome of culture and civilization. It’s just that in the Caribbean, to me, the beaches I saw seemed kind of like something out of National Geographic. I don’t mean offense, it’s just my observation.

And as to General Authorities, these are church leaders similar to Bishops, Cardinals or Pastors in other religions. And I am not afraid of nor do I care what they think of me, rather I deeply care about how disrespectful it would be to be immodest in front of them. I wouldn’t dare disrespect the Pope either in this manner, even though he is the leader of another faith than mine. And by disrespect, yes, I mean nudity. I would have no problem wearing a swimsuit in front of these people in the same situation.

Isn’t it interesting that the idea of modesty as a show of respect to others isn’t as supported as the idea of nudity is.

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102 Design Mom August 2, 2011 at 7:22 am

“Isn’t it interesting that the idea of modesty as a show of respect to others isn’t as supported as the idea of nudity is.”

I wouldn’t say this is true. The commenters that are saying they would be okay bathing topless at a European beach, are not saying they would also bath topless at the community pool in Colorado. In Colorado, it wouldn’t be respectful and they understand that.

If the Pope, or any church leader, happened to have spare time to spend lounging at a public Italian beach, I’m guessing he or she would see bare breasts. If they made some sort of formal appearance at an event on an Italian Beach — say, the dedication of a site for a new religious sculpture, well then, that would be a particular event and I doubt anyone would show up topless.

I think people all over the world do a very good job of showing respect for others by wearing what’s appropriate for a particular activity.

103 Katie August 1, 2011 at 5:29 pm

I experienced a topless beach while studying in Europe during college (and went topless – I was 20, why not!). It had a huge impact on my life. I saw women at all ages and with every body possible on the spectrum. It was really clear that some women aged much better than others. I knew intuitively at the time that taking care of their bodies was probably the reason and it really helped me to commit to eating well and exercising. Now, in my 30′s that’s still an important priority for me. When I start to slide, I still think of those women’s bodies and how I’d like to look as I age!

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104 Maria August 1, 2011 at 5:32 pm

I’ve been to beaches in Greece and went topless at age 28 for the first time. This was pre-kids but I was probably more self-conscious then than now. I would go topless again. I’m 35, been nursing for 5 years and am quite proud of my figure. And what’s funny is, it took a 10 lb weight gain recently to really truly feel comfortable in my own body. I was always trying to look skinny before and now that I’m not skinny but just normal I’m finally happy. If you know what I mean.

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105 Kate Pease August 1, 2011 at 5:41 pm

This is one of the most refreshing things about Europe. The over sexualization of the human form is extremely downplayed in Europe. While visiting in the Greek islands, I embraced the culture and topless sunbathed. When I went to take my top off, I thought everyone would stare at me. When i did, no one even looked! It was so refreshing to see women, proud of their bodies in a non sexual way. Vive Europe!

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106 Becky Osthed August 1, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Last October we took a family vacation to Cancun. I have one girl and 3 boys. At the pool there was a lady going topless. My middle boy was the first to spot her, he just looked at her with his mouth open and shocked eyes bugging out, he is 7. When the 10 year old and 4 year old saw they pointed and the 4 year old said, “She is SO immodest!” We had a talk about how people get to choose what they wear, and let’s give her some space and respect to not keep looking. But I positive Im not confident enough to go topless. I do wonder however if I was brought up in a culture where that was the norm, and my parents were doing it, if I would really have a problem. Im so happy with my body and am not a shy person…

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107 Another Mama in NYC August 1, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Fascinating answers here. I’m comfortable in my own skin and amazed by both my body and the inherent power in all women’s bodies. BUT – boobs in general kind of weird me out. So, my head says “NATURAL” and my heart says “Aaaack, nipples!” So silly, right? Breastfeeding is 100% natural, God-given and normal and yet – my friend’s bare boob at the pizza place had me choking on my slice. (And frankly, mine did as well when I nursed my son!?) Cultures aren’t the only conflict here! I’m a walking conflict! So, guess I’d be more likely to go bottomless than topless? Ha!!!!

(PS – DM, do you cull these responses or have we REALLY found an online community of readers sans trolls?! My faith in humanity may be restored!!!!!)

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108 Emily August 1, 2011 at 5:48 pm

Ha! I visited a beach in the Canary Islands with my husband, our three young boys, AND both sets of our parents — his were mission presidents. The kids didn’t care about all the breasts, and the adults all pretended not to notice. But I must say, it was a fascinating education for me in sizes/shapes. I also admired the confidence level displayed.

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109 Johanna August 1, 2011 at 5:51 pm

I am a 24 year old female from New Zealand. We do not have a culture of topless sunbathing however we all have stories of a bit of a skinnydip with friends – a good laugh and good natured fun.
I lived in Australia for 2 years on the sunny gold coast where topless subathing is more common. I personally do not have a problem with it however it is important to guage whether being topless is appropriate for the area of beach you are on. If no one else is doing it and there are loads of young men around then it may be best to move down to a more secluded area. Noting of course that public nudity is against the law you may like to head for a secluded spot to avoid a slap on the wrist. I think it is wonderful that women can feel confident in their bodies to be topless and comfortable that those viewing them are not seeing them as sexual objects but as happy confident women. But yes, slip slop slap – burnt boobs are not fun at all.

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110 jen August 1, 2011 at 5:52 pm

funny you mentioned this. the first time for me was when i was in france! as i remember, everyone seemed topless that it felt weird to not be so i just went with it. i was also 20 years old. now 37, my body is not what it used to be so i feel even uncomfortable wearing a bathing suit. so, no, i won’t be going topless anymore, not even if i was on a beach in france.

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111 Gail K August 1, 2011 at 5:52 pm

I have no problem being topless or fully nude at a topless beach or at an all nude resort. It is SOOOOO freeing. I am over 50 and have over 10 children so my body is NOT the most gorgeous in the world AND it does NOT matter. All the people are different and NOBODY cares. It is just so nice and peaceful to not have to worry about what is showing and what is not, messing with bras and panties and socks and shoes. A lot less laundry too. I would not be embarrassed around my children but they may be embarrassed around me. My husband does not care.

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112 clairsy August 1, 2011 at 6:04 pm

In a similar experience but not quite the same as it was women only – when in Japan I visited quite a few onsens (Japanese bath houses). You have to be completely naked, and scrub yourself from head to foot in a communal room beforehand, then hop in a big shared hot pool. I was so nervous and self-conscious at first (I guess being the only non-Japanese woman made me feel extra different), but then being surrounded by girls, old women, mums, toddlers all together for their routine wash and thinking nothing of it, it made me think that it’s a much more healthy approach to nudity. Especially as a self-conscious teenager it must be nice to grow up knowing how different everyone’s bodies are and that yours isn’t so weird after all, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

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113 M. Peterson August 1, 2011 at 6:12 pm

We took our honeymoon in Greece (Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini) where topless women are also commonplace on the beaches. It is a bit odd, coming from an American culture to see that, but ultimately – there’s nothing to see. It’s just women with bodies as equally “imperfect” as mine. I personally did not get topless. It’s not so much modesty as just not wanting my tots out for all to see. They are mine, you know? Not to mention – can you imagine getting sunburned THERE?! Ouch!

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114 Dayle August 1, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Wow, I am squirming in my chair just reading about it! Nope I definitely couldn’t do it. It even bugs me at the gym when women walk around letting it all hang out! We adopted, so i never breastfed. I do feel like my girlfriends that did BF are more comfortable with their breasts. What does make me sad is all the sudden my 7 year old is afraid to get dressed in front of her friends when they play dress up. Great discussion!

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115 Lola August 1, 2011 at 6:29 pm

It seems like certain resort areas are marketed at certain continents, because often when I go outside Europe, the hotel is still largely if not totally European. I can assure you that the topless sunbathing is a norm for those on the continent! After years and years to get used to it, I still find it shocking – not really for modesty reasons anymore, but because it just feels quite … assaulting, is probably the word. I know we’re meant to be all about the beauty of the female body, and I’m not saying anyone should be insecure, but breasts just aren’t that pretty. Obviously my own don’t bother me, and I’m sure if I was in love with another woman I’d think hers were beautiful, but in general they’re just not really what I want to see. I think clothes ad a nice layer of illusion and make being undressed in front of someone a more personal thing, as I personally believe it should be for adults.

Here in Britain, it seems as though there’s the typical class – note, not wealth – divide (which can be applied to showing emotion, as well as breasts): the middle/upper class keep it hidden, the younger working class dare to bare.

That said, I think I’d be fine with going topless on the beach, so long as others were doing it too.

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116 Rebecca August 1, 2011 at 6:32 pm

O yes, I would go topless! Anything to draw attention away from my thighs!

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117 Kristina August 1, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Hahahaha

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118 Design Mom August 2, 2011 at 4:28 am

Hah! This made me laugh.

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119 Sarah R. August 2, 2011 at 8:23 am

Love it! I always think I look better nude than clothed. Clothes accentuate my flaws, but nude, I quite like how things look.

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120 Giselle December 4, 2011 at 12:19 pm

My feelings exactly!

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121 Aimee August 1, 2011 at 6:35 pm

My family is from Greece and when I last went, one of my aunts drove my husband and I over to my other aunts house. She was sitting out side her front door with shorts and just a bra on! She is fairly old and heavy and needless to say somewhat embarrassed especially for my husbands sake. Then I thought, well this is my aunt and we are in Greece. My aunt was overjoyed to see us and didn’t seem to notice she had no shirt on.

What I would like to know is when did topless beaches become fashionable? I’m sure 100 years ago no one was topless on beaches. What caused the switch. Any history buffs out there that might know the answer?

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122 Sarah R. August 2, 2011 at 8:28 am

Oh quite the contrary. I would assume 100 years ago everyone bathed nude. If you couldn’t afford indoor plumbing, why on earth would you spend money on a suit? My very uneducated guess is that swimsuits are a rather modern invention.

One funny story my old boss told me. Her husband took a swimming class at the U of Utah (this would be the 60s, I think) and everyone swam nude! And girls passing by the pool would stand on their tiptoes to see in the little windows and peek at the boys. Hilarious. But anway, it illustrates how times have changed!

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123 Kaet99 August 2, 2011 at 8:50 am

A 100 years ago would have been the height of the post-Victorian period. Heck, no, people would not have been nude. That was when an exposed ankle was absolutely scandalous: http://www.victoriana.com/library/Beach/FashionableBathingSuits.htm

Women didn’t participate in swimming as a sport until post WWI. This site even mentions bathing costumes being worn in Ancient Greece: http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~roseying/ids110/WHIS.HTM

Fascinating stuff, history.

P.S. That UofU story is hilarious!

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124 Kristen E August 1, 2011 at 7:00 pm

I really WISH we in the U.S. could be more comfortable with our bodies and not sexualize everything that’s normally covered with clothes. I think it would be AWESOME to be that comfortable in our own skins. That said, I don’t have the confidence to go to a topless beach! However, I did go to a public bath with three of my closest friends and we were all expected to be nude inside. It took a little getting used to, but after about 30 minutes it was completely comfortable. It helped that there were 80 year old Korean ladies walking around naked, too, AND it helped that it was a single-gender bath. I would be uncomfortable around men, not because of anything sexual (two of those friends are lesbians) but because I feel like they’d judge me more than the women did.

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125 Maren M. August 1, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Your comment about covering up to nurse babies hit home with me. I was thinking of the very thing just the other day as I tried to nurse my baby in a public place. She’s starting to get so she doesn’t want to have a cover over her and it’s a constant battle to keep it on. It would be SO much easier if other people didn’t have such hang ups about what shows while nursing. I’m not saying I would let it all hang out, but it would be so much easier if I didn’t feel like I had to hide.

So on that note, I would totally go topless right now because it would be easier to nurse the baby! (Although I suspect that would be very much frowned upon at our neighborhood pool here in conservative Indiana. :)

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126 Deidra August 2, 2011 at 9:14 am

Join me on the right side of the chapel! I’ve decided I’m not being sentenced to the mother’s lounge, but I can either fight my baby or feed her. I’m going with feeding her. Sometimes I feel like covering up draws more attention than just getting it done without a fight. (Funny enough, a pregnant woman sitting right behind me asked me a few weeks ago if I was nursing. Apparently she hadn’t noticed our little struggle to get the process going, the noisy sucking or all of the other things I just knew were so conspicuous. Maybe I make myself more nervous about public nursing than I should.)

I feel like someone, especially in conservative communities, will be scandalized by just about anything and there will be those who shrug their shoulders and think, “meh.”

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127 Melinda August 1, 2011 at 7:12 pm

My first trip to Europe was in the summer of 1977 when I was seven. We went to several beaches in Italy and not only where the women topless, they were skinny, bronzed, and wearing stilettos in the sand. I noticed and then promptly got on with my seven-year-old beach activities. While I have been back to Europe many times since then, it was just the summer before last that I found myself back on the Italian beaches. We went to Capri, Positano, and Lido–only on Lido did I see a topless woman (and she was definitely not the long, lithe, brozed goddess I remembered from the 70s.) However, the only people wearing a one-piece were a 90-year-old grandmother and me. This poor guy in Capri couldn’t stop staring at me, like “what is the 30-something woman doing in that bathing suit?” I felt as awkward in my one-piece on that beach as I would have felt in a brazilian thong bikini at my country club. I told my husband that next time I am definitely wearing a two-piece even I have to go buy one specifically.

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128 Beth August 1, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Oh, how I wish it wasn’t so but I am ashamed of my body. I have no discomfort with seeing women of all shapes and sizes go topless in France and I deeply envy their comfort in their own skin.

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129 Design Mom August 2, 2011 at 4:29 am

Beth! I’m sure you’re beautiful!!!

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130 Anabel Manchester August 1, 2011 at 7:34 pm

When I backpacked through Europe in my 20′s I got very comfortable topless sun bathing in France very quickly. I loved the freedom of it, but then I went from France to Italy and took my top off, only realize I was the only one with it off! I was bashful for a split second, but then I just pretended I was French and enjoyed my day. :)

What I want to know, is how did your kids do with all the nudity? When my parents took me to a nude beach in Martha’s Vineyard as a small child, I went around pointing out all the boobies and cocks I saw… “Look mom…” I was a very observant child!

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131 Michelle G August 1, 2011 at 8:14 pm

When I backpacked in France we were at a beach with topless sunbathers. I in my modesty (and self-consciousness) was wearing a tankini…and more people were staring at that! They knew instantly that I wasn’t French- ha!

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132 Genevieve August 1, 2011 at 8:15 pm

American ideas of a topless beach are far from what they actually are in different countries. I live near Las Vegas and a few of the casinos now have topless pool areas. I havent been to them but going by the advertising and the American idea of topless Im sure they are filled with women showing off their implants and that the atmosphere is very sexy. Topless beaches in other countries are totally the opposite. It is very liberating to see women of all ages and body types strolling around, totally comfortable. As comfortable as if they were totally clothed. I found it very freeing to see women (of all sizes) totally comfortable in their skin, not worried about if they were saggy or showing cellulite. It really affected me and the way I viewed my own body. As far as modesty goes, I think its all relative. We’re American & Christian and I teach my daughter to be modest in accordance with both of those things in mind. She is only 6 but when she sees something that she thinks is attractive (usually has something to do with dancing lol) she always asks if it modest and we discuss why or why not. If we lived in a different country I think things would be different. Modesty is relative. There are cultures where it is the norm to walk around topless but to show your knees is taboo. Our culture is so sexualized to the extent that breastfeeding in public is even an issue. While I dont see things changing here anytime soon I would totally go topless at a beach where it was the norm and thats coming from someone who hates having to go in public in a bathing suit. I do agree with others that it would be harder to do so if you were with others that you knew (other than family) that were American as they would have a different mindset and would then see it differently, kwim? Sorry this got so long!

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133 Design Mom August 2, 2011 at 4:31 am

I love your comment, Genevieve!

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134 Di August 2, 2011 at 6:55 pm

This is an interesting discussion on so many levels. I was born and live in Australia, having spent a couple of years living in Alberta, Canada, when I was in my late 20s. We noticed the differences in what was popular in swimwear – much more covered in Canada, boxer-style shorts for men etc. With a toddler and a young baby, I was also bemused by the “nursing capes” in the baby stores.
In Australia I was used to people wearing brief-style costumes at the beach, women choosing whether they wanted to wear their top or not, babies and young children bathing sans cossie, and breastfeeding without needing to cover up. When people cover anything here, it’s to keep the sun off.
I guess changes in people’s attitudes take a long time to happen, and in the meantime, many people would follow the norm, so as not to offend. It is probably a good subject for someone’s anthropology thesis, on how, like continental drift, the gap between cultures and practices on body-consciousness, is wide.

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135 Barb August 1, 2011 at 8:24 pm

I’ve been vacationing in Europe since I was young so was used to seeing topless women, then it came to my turn to do it and I had no problems, and I am by no means thin or have amazing breasts.
I loved the feeling of the sun on my chest. Whenever I get a chance I do it, even in my backyard in Canada, where noone can see me. In Europe nobody stares, its normal so it is the perfect place to do it.
I recommend all women should try it at least once, even if it is on a secluded beach or in your backyard, you’ll see how nice it feels!

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136 Meg Grant August 1, 2011 at 8:25 pm

First, I love you pointing out the odd paradox of implants and feeling the need to cover while you nurse in public in the US…so very odd, no?! Anyhoo, yes, I’ve been to topless beaches and I, too, was left very surprised at the crowd that was topless. Rather than young girls being topless when, quite frankly, their breasts are at their best, it was all women in their 40′s on up. I find that interesting because it shows how with age, confidence, wisdom, and perspective matures and cancels out, in some light, the insecurities of being young. I was actually on my honeymoon at this beach, myself in my early 20′s, and would not even consider the idea of removing my top. However, three (nursed) children later, a few pounds heavier, but a ton more comfortable in my own skin, I may entertain the thought. I guess, with age, your body is more than a surface ornament…I am constantly amazed that what my body has done, the gifts it has given me, and the scars that I bear that make me…me.

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137 Design Mom August 2, 2011 at 4:32 am

“with age, confidence, wisdom, and perspective matures and cancels out, in some light, the insecurities of being young”

I think that’s true.

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138 Emily August 1, 2011 at 8:28 pm

I haven’t been to europe, but if my Husband and I get to go one day like we hope (sans kids) I will go for it and go topless!

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139 Polina August 1, 2011 at 8:32 pm

I would be absolutely comfortable to go topless as long as I don’t run into any family/friends, that would be uncomfortable. Same for breast-feeding. With all my three sons, I covered up all the way around people I and my husband know, but was more flexible around strangers.

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140 Design Mom August 2, 2011 at 4:32 am

Context means so much!

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141 Stephanie August 1, 2011 at 8:50 pm

We vacationed in Cuba years ago. Many of the women at the beach in Veradero were topless. Most of the women were, as you described in France, not the objects of normal lust, they were older women, or larger women, nothing close to the American “ideal.” At 21 I was happy to take my top off too, but I know that now I wouldn’t dare.

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142 Midwestnest August 1, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Uh, no. Definitely not comfortable with topless. All would be traumatized along with myself!

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143 Katrina August 1, 2011 at 9:29 pm

I will be the odd one out here: I have a 10 yr old & we don’t do nakie shoulders. Not to church, not to school, not in the summer.
And I wouldn’t do the topless beach. God fixed two things for me. He made me SO white that I can be seen from space, and my tatas do not fall under the normal range. And after breastfeeding, 3 c-sections, it would take an hour of bushwhacking just to get IN the suit. After sea salt water hit all that y’all would be staring a my golfball dimpled rear, shave rash and ample tatas bounding along the beach.

No, God never intended this skin to be exposed. I am the poster child FOR covering up. Me & DI can go to the Scottish beaches in our thermals- the way God intended me to be. Congrats to all you liberated topless-ers. I’ll be holdin yer bikini tops for ye!

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144 Kirsten Livingston August 1, 2011 at 9:31 pm

We used to go to them all the time when we were kids vacationing in Holland. My mom would go and sometimes we’d be embarassed until the summer my sister put just her bikini bottoms on and said she felt “liberated” (she was 10)… Now as a plus size, Mormon wife and mother people assume this would be a no go, but I’d do it in a heart beat (and plan on it when I visit Europe for three months next year…)!

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145 Kaet99 August 1, 2011 at 9:35 pm

Am I the only woman who prefers keeping the girls supported? It hurts to take my b-cups out of halter. If I am at the beach (which is rare because I detest sand), I want to PLAY and not worry about bouncing all over the place. Ugh.

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146 Design Mom August 2, 2011 at 4:34 am

I didn’t see activities like beach volleyball happening, but if they did happen, I assume the ladies would just put their tops on. : )

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147 Helen August 1, 2011 at 9:53 pm

I grew up vacationing on European beaches, but still am too much of a prude to do it myself. I wish I was a little more comfortable with my body.

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148 rkwpnw August 1, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Here in the NW there are many clothing optional places (http://cgwc.org/). And quite honestly its quite liberating to attend (especially) a ladies only event to find that we all basically have the same body parts yet in different shapes, sizes and colors. Americans are generally way too modest with their bodies in my opinion. If we were all

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149 nikki August 1, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Where I live you can walk down the street topless (not that I would!) The by-law was passed a few years ago but after the initial shock of it, I haven’t seen women going topless since.
I have my own body insecurities from before having children and although I am now more accepting of my body post kids, I still would not go topless, beach or not. That being said, it does not bother me to see other people choose to do so. I was at a topless beach a number of years ago in I believe France. Like you, I didn’t realize it was one at the time and not everyone was topless, but I also found myself strangely fascinated :)

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150 Katie August 1, 2011 at 10:23 pm

I think topless beaches are totally fine. Every time I go to France or other European locale I am struck by how freeing it is to not be obsessed with body image. I wish north Americans would just get over it and get comfortable, a t least with nursing in public.

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151 annabelvita August 1, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Did you know that for the French, the ability to legally sunbathe topless was a real feminist battleground? French feminists thought to force women to wear a bikini top when men don’t have to was unequal and unfair, so they campaigned to have it legalised.

It’s on the wane now though: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/jul/22/topless-bathing-france (Brigitte Bardot’s topless back on that link)..

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152 Design Mom August 2, 2011 at 4:35 am

Thanks for the link! I’m definitely going to check out that article.

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153 LLH Designs August 1, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Hi Gabrielle! I am so behind on blog reading, but how funny that this is where I’d jump in this summer! My first topless beach experience was in France and it was very much as you described…ladies comfortable in their own skin. I am so NOT that comfortable in my own skin, but even if I were, not sure that I want more than my husband seeing it all. That’s just me. I’ve always been modest…even pre-children with a tight tummy and perky boobs. I can’t believe I just wrote that! Tee hee! Hope you got a good laugh! I bet you’re having fun with these comments.

On another note, I think those of us with “real mom” bodies are at a huge disadvantage in this culture of plastic surgery, taught skin and perkiness. Sad. But as my girls see my lines and sags, I tell them they are worth it! Wouldn’t trade them for the world!

xo,
Linsey

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154 Lisa August 1, 2011 at 10:38 pm

When I lived in Vienna people would sunbathe nude in the park. It was certainly surprising to me, after all it was a public park. I think that is just the norm in Europe. To each his own… :)

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155 AZ August 1, 2011 at 11:02 pm

[ Note from Design Mom:
I removed this anonymous comment. FYI: If a commenter leaves a false email address, so they can't be contacted, the comment is considered anonymous. ]

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156 JanMama August 1, 2011 at 11:36 pm

Wow. Refreshing to hear the man’s point of view. Thanks, AZ! I have 7 sons (3 are teenagers), so I am always aware of what the menfolk might be thinking.

I also wanted to comment on the breastfeeding in public thread. With my first baby, I always covered up. With the second, I was skilled enough at it to not flash too much, but still covered up. I remember, with one particularly squirmy baby, my husband holding the blanket over me as I tried to (not so discreetly) nurse in public. Baby #3 would have nothing to do with being covered. Since then, I haven’t worried about it, and I’ve not had many stares or rude comments.

Just like the nude sunbathing, nurse with confidence. Don’t be “in your face” about it, but don’t apologize for feeding your baby, either. Last week I went to a waterpark in Utah and breastfed my twin babies – in a one-piece suit. I had to pull the top down and was somewhat exposed, but didn’t get a single gawk. That’s the real attractiveness of the female form: the simple beauty of a loving woman.

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157 Peggy August 1, 2011 at 11:55 pm

This is very normal in Spain also…..and children without bathing suits also is very normal…..(that would be young children!!)……when we were there my son was 14!…..and he very much enjoyed going to the beach!…….however, like you said, I was very comfortable in a bathing suit and it just seemed so okay there!…..my son (who is an adult now and would still enjoy topless beaches if he lived in Europe) would agree with AZ!!

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158 Juliana Chan August 2, 2011 at 12:04 am

I came across this last year and I was vacationing in Italy. I was surprised to see that it didn’t bother me that much though ( and I am mormon as well:). I think it was because it wasn’t a sexual thing, instead it was how you described it, mothers and women of all ages who just didn’t want tan lines I guess. Even though I didn’t get bothered by it, I don’t think that I am anywhere close to being comfortable with doing so myself, so I think I’ll stick to my bikini until my body allows me to, and then one peace for me.

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159 Zina August 2, 2011 at 12:10 am

What I can’t help wondering is, if the topless sunbathing isn’t, at least on some level, about sex, then what *is* it about? If it’s about an even tan, isn’t an even tan also about sex, on some level? (Or at the very least about vanity?) Why would we want evenly tanned breasts if not because they’re perceived as sexy?

In other words, to ask the opposite of your question, setting aside sexiness, what’s the point of toplessness?

I guess one other reason that’s been suggested is comfort–but I have a hard time believing that’s really the major reason in the majority of cases. Is it really SO confining to wear a one-piece or a bikini top? (I have a lot more sympathy with toplessness if it’s truly about comfort, though, than if it’s about sexiness or vanity.)

At the same time I do value a matter-of-fact attitude about bodies, I think bodies are beautiful, and I think there’s great value in learning to appreciate all sizes and shapes. But I’m just not sure that there’s not more going on than that in the undercurrent of the topless beach scene.

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160 Trish August 2, 2011 at 4:00 am

I guess I feel like so what if it is in part about sex. Sex is natural too. So what if a man is looking. I would guess most are not. I just feel it is all part of being human. Not so right or wrong just is.

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161 Design Mom August 2, 2011 at 4:45 am

Hmmm. Zina, my sense was there wasn’t a lot of thought or pre-meditation in the decision. I don’t think it necessarily had to do with vanity, sexiness or comfort. It was just standard normal beach behavior. I couldn’t see any ulterior motives.

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162 zchamu August 2, 2011 at 7:09 am

Your question is making me think. I am uncomfortable with the implication that all nudity or vanity is by definition sexual. I think we can take pride in our own appearance and want to look a certain way without it being chalked up to sexual motives. Covering up is, after all, a convention, a societal norm; it isn’t biological.

Let’s put it another way. In European culture, bathing suit tops are obviously considered optional. Breasts are no big deal. Here, hats are optional. Hats on the beach make sense; they keep our faces and parts of our bodies from being sunburned, and can be quite fetching. But nobody is required to wear one, and uncovering your head is no big deal anyway. The question, then, about whether choosing to wear a hat can be boiled down to “sexual” becomes somewhat absurd. In that same context, asking if the decision not to wear a bathing suit top is sexual also takes on some absurdity, does it not?

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163 Leilani August 2, 2011 at 9:33 am

I can understand Zina’s point, asking if it’s possible to remove the element of sexuality from being nude. I personally believe that nakedness does not need to equate to sex, but I think it’s a valid question to address. It also seems many commenters suggest that women’s breasts are more sexualized in the US than in Europe, because partial-nudity is accepted on many beaches in Europe, but the level of sexualization may not necessarily be more or less.

Having lived in Germany and visited other countries in Europe, and likewise in US cities, I have noticed advertisements on the streets showing women partially-nude, offering clubs or services where women or men show themselves naked, and those displays make me uncomfortable. Also with artistic drawings, paintings or sculptures, I find many works showing the nude body to be inspiring and beautiful, and other works may feel degrading or disrespectful to me.

I’ve had a few experiences on beaches where partial-nudity is allowed, and found the the not-an-issue/not-something-inappropriate attitude to be refreshing. Like Gabrielle said, I think the majority of beach-goers there simply don’t have the teaching in their mind that wearing no top would be an issue/something inappropriate, and most aren’t worrying about whose looking at their body or how they’re being seen. Like in Finland, almost all families have saunas in their homes, and enjoy them together nude. As a child, I remember my mother loved taking baths, and would let us walk in and talk with her.

I suppose, without sexiness, the point of toplessness for women or men, other than practical cleanliness of shower/bath/sauna, would be if your physical temperature is very hot and you want to cool down, or if you want to swim and feel the water on your skin, and you’re in the context to comfortably remove your top, like on a beach in France or with your family at home, etc.

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164 Linda August 2, 2011 at 12:32 am

It is interesting to hear your thoughts on the culture differences. In sweden there is no topless-beaches, the word doesn’t exists. But it is OK to be topless at all beaches. And it is also OK for kids to be naked if they wish.

As a Swede living in US I am experience this culture difference in an opposite way. I went to the playground with water features with my 3,5 and 5,5 year old. My youngest didn’t make it to the restroom in time, so after washing him off in the restroom I let him walk naked to our bag which was on the other side of the playground. The 1 min walk made me feel so bad, I got angry looks and one Mom covered up her daughters eyes. The girl was around the same age as my son.

It made me feel sad. Because that Mom should my boys that nudity is not OK. You are not OK as you are born. Why not teach our kids to like their bodies?

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165 Zina August 2, 2011 at 12:39 am

[ Note from Design Mom:
This comment has been removed by me.

I wrote this below, but I'll include it again here — for future reference, any comments implying that women are responsible for the thoughts of men, or that any person is responsible for the thoughts of another person, will be taken down. ]

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166 Mo August 2, 2011 at 12:56 am

As a European I’m always taken aback when discussing these topics with Americans. I’ve been absolutely amazed when in a spa a group of American students couldn’t deal with European men of all ages wearing speedos instead of trunks. Are those men too sexual for the majority of men, too?

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167 Zina August 2, 2011 at 10:26 am

Hmm. I don’t feel like this is a fair representation of my comment, but I guess I could always take this topic to my own blog if I wanted to pursue it further.

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168 Carrie August 3, 2011 at 12:27 am

Gabby, I have always respected you and have always enjoyed what you have to say. This comment, however, shot my adoration to a whole new level. It is so refreshing to hear someone with strong religious conviction say that it is not a woman’s responsibility to control the thoughts of men, or that any person is responsible for the thoughts of other people. I believe you are right, of course, and am thankful that you have used your platform to say so.

While I don’t have children yet, I can only hope that I am able to be as rational, loving, optimistic and supportive a parent as you. Kudos to you for exposing your family to new experiences and encouraging healthy debate (both on this blog and, I am sure, at the dinner table).

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169 Herb August 3, 2011 at 10:48 pm

I wish Zina’s post had not been removed. I didn’t read her comment, but someone who saw it before it was deleted told me roughly what it said, and I think it is unfortunate that such different opinions can’t at least be explored.

It is careless and irresponsible to assume that nudity has no effect upon men. There is far too much to say about this, and the nuances are—well—endless, as inferred in the lions share of comments on this post. To be sure, the finer points ARE controversial and difficult to navigate. But it is important to explore arguments that make people uncomfortable—especially ones that concern the ramifications of sex, nudity, and beauty in God-given nature in the body.

There is far too much to say about attraction between the sexes, and the appropriateness or inappropriateness of nudity. I am not an absolutest on the topic. As I said, there are a multiplicity of nuances. I just wish Zina’s post had not been removed.

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170 Design Mom August 4, 2011 at 3:10 am

Herb, I agree, it’s great when we can explore differing opinions. But in this case, I’m unwilling to let comments stand that I feel are anti-women. I interpret comments that imply women are responsible for the thoughts of men as anti-women. I took AZ’s comment down for the same reason.

I can’t imagine that anyone would argue “nudity has no effect upon men”, but men are affected by women no matter how they’re dressed. In college, I took a course called American Heritage where they showed poll results that said the first thing men notice about women is their hair. Should women be required to cover their hair so they don’t distract men? My curves still show in jeans and a t-shirt. Should I be required to wear a tent-dress to hide them so men don’t notice the curves? Lots of men get turned on by beautiful faces. Should we decide which people are beautiful and make them wear masks?

I repeat. Women are not responsible for the thoughts of men. Any more than children are responsible for the thoughts of pedophiles. Period. Exclamation point. If you think there’s room for discussion on this point, perhaps you can find another forum.

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171 Carrie Hill August 5, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Gabby,

Thank you for so thoughtfully and eloquently expressing what I feel is an important point, so I’m going to put my own two cents in.

What a slippery slope! If the way a woman dresses (or doesn’t dress, if in an appropriate place to be lacking certain clothing) puts her in a position of being responsible for anyone’s thoughts, wouldn’t it be an easy jump to make the case for her then being responsible for another’s actions through her manner of dress, no matter how inappropriate, abusive, violent or illegal those actions may be.

I appreciate your clear and thoughtful management of the discussion around this.

Carrie

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