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 Linda August 2, 2011 at 12:53 am

lol, actually I think some of the women with tops on might look sexier :)
To avoid the sexual feelings maybe there should just be different beaches for men and women. I just dont think there is a big difference top on or top off.

Actually to feel comfortable with your body probably has a positive side effect on your sex life. I dont think that is a bad thing. So maybe we can ask Do people in Europe generally have a better sex life? If so isn’t that a good thing?

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2 Linda August 2, 2011 at 12:55 am

Ooops this comment was meant as an reply to Zina

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3 anja August 2, 2011 at 1:32 am

I think going topless or not has also something to do with by whom you are surrounded with. Ten years ago when I was backpacking in Italy with my mormon boyfriend we somehow found ourselves on an all naked beach. So there were a lot of naked persons we didn’t know and that was not a problem because we didn’t care for them and they did not care for us (and also we are from east germany and have seen naturist beaches). But of course I myself could not go topless or naked there then with my boyfriend around, but now that we are married to each other I think we totally could. Then it would have been way too imtimitate but now it would be alright, I think.

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4 leslie August 2, 2011 at 2:25 am

being a european and going to many, many, many beaches where being “topless” is o.k. i think it’s just normal. actually i don’t really care if a woman wears a top or not {her age doesn’t matter that much either}.
and i don’t think that it has ANYTHING to do with being sexy ore bragging {seriously, a woman at a certain age with breastfed-boobs and no plastic-surgery: what “sex-point” should she be proving??}; but it has a lot to do with self-confidence. and i think it’s great! it teaches our girls {i have daughters} that being in your body, no matter the age, the look, the weight is GREAT. it’s just perfect to be you, to feel good about yourself and to be comfortable around other {half-naked} women.
of course no woman should be forced to show more than she feels comfortable with!
i hope you’re still enjoying the beaches:)

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5 Candice August 2, 2011 at 3:51 am

I was waiting for this most when you mentioned the beach! Not for me. I lay in the sun like it was winter in my denim jacket on a beach in France. There summers are like African winter to me anyway. I was probably the talk of the beach and not the lolling mamries. Not one perky pair that I could remember. For me breasts are kept private for feeding and my intermate relationship with hubby. It would be less special for him if they got displayed to any man walking by.
Another note we see boobs alot here in Africa as it is part of tribal dress. My husband served an LDS church mission in Kenya and women would just open up and breast feed in the middle of a religious discussion. Those missionary men had to get out of their sexualised idea of breasts fast

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6 Design Mom August 2, 2011 at 4:21 am

This has definitely been a funny summer weather wise. I wear a jackets on many days!

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7 Design Mom August 2, 2011 at 4:19 am

Wow! I went to sleep and woke up to some grumpy comments. : )

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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8 Trisha August 2, 2011 at 7:04 am

I truly admire you for taking this stance. Thank you.

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9 Dani August 2, 2011 at 10:12 am

Thank you! I absolutely hate the arguments for modesty where a woman is responsible for the thoughts of others. So glad you won’t allow that here!

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10 Mo August 2, 2011 at 10:32 am

Thanks so much! Smart move. ;)

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11 Mary August 2, 2011 at 4:54 am

After nursing four babies I always joke that I am now a 38 Long. And no, you won’t find me baring all on any beach (or even in a room with a mirror, if I can help it). However, I grew up overseas and spent a lot of time camping in Europe where the norm was for folks to pretty much do what needs to be done (morning ablutions, etc) for all to see simply because there wasn’t a lot of false modesty, no expectation that anyone would care enough to watch and they were comfortable in their own skin.

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12 Vera August 2, 2011 at 5:08 am

Before having kids I went topless quite often, but only when I was with my husband, as my extended family is not that comfortable with showing too much skin. Last week we vacationed in Croatia with the kids (I live in Hungary) and I didn’t fell the urge, although there were many topless women on the beach. :)
Somewhat related to the original topic, as I connect it to American culture (I may be totally wrong): I have always had mixed feelings when seeing toddlers (and very young girls) in bikini tops — as if they had to cover themselves. I find this utterly strange, in my eyes it has a reverse effect, instead of being modest, the bikini tops create a mini-adult. Is this a cultural thing too? What do you think? :)

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13 Kelly August 2, 2011 at 5:17 am

OH, girl! I have a VIVID memory of going to a “non-topless, topless” beach in Spain when we lived there as a child. Same situation. You could have a top on…or not. We, as Americans, had our tops on. (Even the kids over there are all topless!) And THEN…I turned and looked at the biggest woman I have EVER seen, skin like LEATHER…topless. I am 32 now and STILL have that picture burned into my brain. She looked like a walrus on this picturesque beach! There really were only two families there. Us, and them. US, and the family of topless kids with this topless lady who could easily have been made into a purse had she dropped dead right there! There’s something to be said for being “comfortable” in your own skin, but don’t make others “uncomfortable” in the process, folks! !)

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14 inês August 2, 2011 at 5:40 am

It is so funny to read “top less beach”, there are no top less beaches in France nor in Portugal (where I’m from), it’s just beach and you are top less or not.

It’s not a sexy thing, it’s a tanning thing – to get as less tan lines as you can!!

People of all sizes and shapes, sexual orientations, with families nearby or single do it. As long as they are confortable with their bodies. Imagine how are it would be to be self conscious top less!
Also they are not judgemental, just because one goes top less, doesn’t mean everyone else has to!

Another thing is nudist beach, in Portugal they are right along side a (normal) beach, they are not closed or extreamly secluded, you are just warned by a simple sign you’ll be entering a nudist zone.

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15 Rixa August 2, 2011 at 5:58 am

I’m LDS too and have no problems at all with topless (or even nude) bathing. Nude beaches–and I’ve been to a few during all my summers working in France–make me laugh, actually, because it’s just about as far from sexual hedonism as you can imagine! It’s either a nice young family with little kids, or it’s old retired couples. Either way, it’s not at all about exploiting the body sexually.

I’ve gone topless in France once or twice and it didn’t bother me, but I generally wear a top. Not because of modesty concerns, but more to protect my skin from the sun. And now that I’ve nursed three children, I can’t STAND the feeling of my breasts touching my chest. They used to be perky As and now they’re droopier C/D’s (currently nursing my 5-month-old and 2-yo-old). For that reason alone I would never bathe topless!

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16 Rixa August 2, 2011 at 6:04 am

ps–this is a bit off topic, but I also nurse openly “from the top” (pulling a v-neck shirt down) as well as “from the bottom” (pulling a shirt up). This includes sacrament meeting, etc. I think North American culture is way too obsessed with breasts and the focus on covering them up–even when they’re being functional, or rather *especially* when they’re being functional and nourishing a baby–is damaging to everyone: men and young men as well as women. So I do my best to make nursing not a big deal, as it used to be even in LDS culture. (For example, women used to open up their dresses and nurse openly and uncovered in Sacrament Meeting in the 1800s. See here for details: http://rixarixa.blogspot.com/2010/08/breastfeeding-history-moment-lds.html)

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17 Marianne Firth August 2, 2011 at 6:33 am

Gabrielle, Here are some thoughts:
What if it is a completely nude beach? Would you or your readers be as comfortable taking their daughters? Would these same women who think their sons, and men in general should be ok seeing us naked be ok with their 12 year old daughters seeing their fathers or other men naked? I don’t mean to be crude, but if it really is all about liberation, comfort and nature, should there be any difference?

This is what I don’t understand. Why, as women, does being “comfortable” with our bodies mean that we should be ok exposing them? And that everyone else should be ok with it as well? Since when did the virtue of modesty become the byproduct of shame? It seems as if most of the commenters who say they wouldn’t, are apologizing for their lack of bravado. Saying it’s only because they are too white/flabby etc…

Why cant we celebrate modesty? I have no shame of my body, but I choose to be modest for many spiritual and practical reasons. I’m curious if anyone has a good answert to this side of the question.

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18 Design Mom August 2, 2011 at 6:52 am

Hi Marianne! Here are some thoughts in response:

You say, “It seems as if most of the commenters who say they wouldn’t, are apologizing for their lack of bravado. Saying it’s only because they are too white/flabby etc…”

I believe these responses are because of the particular question I posed, which was: pretending you can take the modesty question out of it (it’s modest in some cultures, immodest in others), are you comfortable enough with your body that you would go topless at the beach?

So, the question isn’t actually about modesty at all, I was asking about body image, about how women view themselves.

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19 Marianne Firth August 2, 2011 at 7:20 am

Gotcha! In reading so many comments, I followed too many other train-of-thoughts, mainly the ones dealing with peoples issues with nudity. Seeing as so many people were pro-nudity, I guess I wanted to see the other side of that coin and lost track of the original question. Sorry. I didn’t mean to derail the topic. I would be totally ok if you erased my comment.

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20 Design Mom August 2, 2011 at 7:10 am

A few more thoughts:
I do think many people celebrate modesty! I certainly try to. But I also think modesty means much more than how a person dresses.

As for a fully nude beach, I’ve never been to one and don’t know how I’d react. But I suppose some of the reaction would come down to how our family reacts to nudity in our own home. Which is frankly, pretty casually. If my kids want to talk to me or my husband as we’re showering or getting dressed, they come talk to us — it’s a non issue.

I suppose if nudity in general is something that is stressful to a certain family, the reaction to a nude beach or even a few topless bathers, will be much stronger.

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21 zchamu August 2, 2011 at 6:48 am

It’s really interesting that some see “topless” beaches as sexual, when the reality is they are exactly the opposite. Breasts are not sexual unless they are purposely sexualized; otherwise, they’re just a normal part of someone’s body, just the same as your nose or ears or knees. Not covering your breasts is as unremarkable in many parts of the world as not covering your toenails. I think it’s wonderful, and incredibly liberating, that there are places in the world that don’t have the weird sexual hangups about the human body that North Americans do. Having said that? I probably wouldn’t sunbathe topless – but not because I would not want to expose my breasts, but rather because I tend to be pretty covered up in the sun anyway in order to keep my pasty white skin from getting completely fried.

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22 From Belgium August 2, 2011 at 6:59 am

As in France, topless women on a beach is very common in Belgium. I don’t do it myself, but nobody here minds. The only etiquette is that you cover your ladies when you go for a bite to eat. And letting your kids run around nekid in the summer is a great way to get them potty trained without a huge pile of laundry…

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23 Natalie August 2, 2011 at 7:02 am

We stumbled upon a topless beach in St. Maartin years ago and I also thought it would be young, buff beauties strutting their stuff. Instead, it was 60-80 year old women letting it all hang out. I wouldn’t have the guts to do it no matter the age, but it was refreshing to see these women feeling very confident in their skin.

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24 Gillian August 2, 2011 at 7:42 am

I remember my first holiday in france aged eight and being a bit giggly about the jiggly bits. But like with your kids, it lasted about half an hour. Since then I have always gone topless when in France/Greece and at times in Ireland where we live.
Having said that I didn’t go topless this year in France but I think that is more to do with trying to stay in the shade and there is not really much point in being topless in the shade. Also the older I get the more I appreciate the support of the top.

On a slight change of subject have you come accross the ‘speedo police’ since you’ve been in France? In the last few years it has become widespread that at public pools men and boys cannot wear baggy boxer style swim trunks and must wear fitted swimsuits! It is really strongly enforced in some campsites I’ve been to. They say is for hygienic reasons. Seriously annoying having to go out and buy new swimsuits for all the boys and I’m sorry but do we really need to see men in tight swim shorts, yuck!

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/aug/12/speedos-fashion

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25 brooke August 2, 2011 at 8:42 am

Design Mom-I have to say that I don’t love that you would equate going topless with being comfortable in your own skin. I am extremely comfortable in my own skin, but I wouldn’t go topless at the beach, even if it was considered the norm. I know this is due to my beliefs on modesty, but I truly believe that our bodies are beautiful and sacred and baring them to others is downplaying the sacred nature of our bodies. I am not in any way saying others are wrong if they disagree with me, just saying that you can still be comfortable in your own skin and consider yourself beautiful in every way even if you aren’t willing to go topless.

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26 brooke August 2, 2011 at 8:44 am

sorry-i just couldn’t help bringing in the modesty issue. it’s just a HUGE part of who i am

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27 Design Mom August 2, 2011 at 9:19 am

Hi Brooke. I think modesty is a virtue most people care about — but living modestly does not equate to dressing a specific way. So much of “dressing modestly” is cultural. That’s why I tried to take modesty out of the question.

I’m not trying to “equate going topless with being comfortable in your skin.” I’m saying, if you were in a place where it was culturally normal to be topless, do you like your body enough to join in? It sounds like you like your body, so you would probably be a yes. I’m troubled by my very uneven chest so I don’t think I would be a yes, but I would love to get over my negative issues about my chest. Conversations like the one on this blog post help.

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28 Anonymous! (because I overshare) August 2, 2011 at 9:21 am

I feel out-of-step with many Americans on this. My husband was an Army brat who spent most of his childhood in Europe and my mother’s family were recent European immigrants. So, we are both so comfortable with nudity. And it really isn’t sexual–for example, I think it is way more inappropriate for a toddler to wear a bikini than to only wear a diaper.
I would not go topless in America, because of the attitudes here–I don’t want anyone gaping at me–but I would definitely do it on Europe.
We also go naked in our house more than I think most people do. (overshare!)

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29 Claire August 2, 2011 at 9:37 am

I’m smiling while reading your article :-) I read the previous one about your Dauville experience and I was expecting to hear about the topless subject…. but no, it didn’t come that time so I didn’t say anything… maybe things have changed in France in the recent years? Actually they did. Going topless was big, very big in the 80′s but breast cancer prevention came and things changed a bit, just a bit.
Like you said, going topless is a very natural thing in France; the main idea is to get a uniform tan. It’s always funny to see the reaction of foreigners though, young and old, when they discover this tradition à la plage. Enjoy! ;-0

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30 Fairly Odd Mother August 2, 2011 at 9:41 am

I would go topless only b/c I think my 34A’s have held up remarkably well after nursing three kids (there isn’t much to sag when you don’t have much to start with!). For me, the bigger hurdle has been getting comfortable wearing a 2-piece bathing suit. I am NOT in 2-piece shape, but I’ve been trying it out here and there, just to force myself to be more comfortable with how I look RIGHT NOW. And while no one has wolf-whistled at me (thank goodness) no one has said anything mean either (thank GOODNESS). I’m in awe to those women who can do this without the least bit of self-consciousness. I’m still working on that.

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31 Janan W August 2, 2011 at 9:52 am

I don’t think I would, haven’t yet. For me it isn’t about repression, or comfort level, or sex. This is my body, it is private, and I WANT to only show it to my husband. And I think Zechamu comparing heads to breasts is silly.

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32 Kelsey Gerhard August 2, 2011 at 9:57 am

I went to France with my family when I was 6 and I distinctly remember shopping for a bathing suit there and finding bottoms only for little girls. :)

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33 Design Mom August 2, 2011 at 1:59 pm

I found this to be true. For under 6 set, there are pretty much only bottoms sold.

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34 bettijo @ PagingSupermom.com August 5, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Interesting! I didn’t realize that. I hope you brought along plenty of suits for Maude ;) (OK, I guess she’s older than 6 LOL!)

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35 Giselle December 5, 2011 at 1:30 pm

That is especially true of me. I was raised topless on the beach, bottoms-only.

(sorry for being anonymous… But my email is full of mails from comments like this)

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36 Tracy B. August 2, 2011 at 10:11 am

As I read this article, my brain was screaming “NO WAY”. I realize European cultures are different from the way I’ve been raised in the United States, but my answer is still “no way” I would not be comfortable with it. As it is I have spent hours at stores trying on bathing swimsuit to end up leaving without purchasing any simply because none of them cover up enough skin.

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37 Erin August 2, 2011 at 10:25 am

Three cheers for saggy boobs and cellulite proudly displayed at the beach. I should move to France! It’s interesting, in my college dorm there was only a large group shower (we were living in a former mens’ athletic dorm). In the first weeks, the girls would line up hours before class so that they could enter the giant shower one-by-one and have complete privacy. At a certain point, most of us decided we’d rather sleep-in than get up to shower at 5am! It wasn’t long before most of us just jumped in when there was an available spot and it was no big deal. It sounds like your public beach experience was probably a nice reminder, like that group shower, that we all have the same “stuff” just in varying shapes and sizes (and that real women’s bodies are usually far from the extreme, surgically-enhanced ‘ideal’ usually portrayed in the media as normal)! Would I go topless at the beach in France? Maybe, but only with SPF one million and, I liked your comment about context, with a group of girlfriends, not my husband’s business partner!

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38 Design Mom August 2, 2011 at 1:59 pm

SPF one million made me laugh.

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39 Kathleen August 2, 2011 at 10:25 am

Our neighbor’s had a house guest a few weeks ago who was sunbathing nude. There’s a wood fence between our yard and theirs, but my husband got an eyeful anyway during his chores outside. I was a tad, uncomfortable about there being a naked lady where my husband and possibly my teen son’s could get a look. Then I thought about it. With all the negative stuff my kids view a day what could the harm be if they saw our neighbor’s guest in the nude? And as for my husband, he had a laugh and a funny story to tell at work the next Monday. So, nude beach? Who needs a beach! Haha!

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40 Esther August 2, 2011 at 10:40 am

It’s such an interesting discussion — thanks for bringing it up, Gabrielle.
We just returned from a vacation in Spain, and we spend numerous afternoons on the lovely Spanish beaches where, as you explained, going ‘topless’ is as normal as it is to be ‘covered’. I personally find that when you’re not ‘exposed’ to ‘topless’ on a regular basis it can be considered shocking, however when you’re on a beach and surrounded by topless women who are comfortable with their bodies (even if they have clearly been breastfeeding as you pointed out, or if they have different sizes breasts, or other totally normal things ;-) ), you get used to the idea fast. And you may find the urge to take off your own top! Kids can be naked if they like, women can be topless, and it’s all natural, accepted, and fine.
I would like to add to the discussion that saunas in the Netherlands (and Scandinavian countries) are shared by men and women, there is nothing ‘sexual’ about these saunas, it’s totally normal sauna and it’s acceptable to be nude for both. In fact, it’s not accepted to wear a bathing suit in a sauna! xxx

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41 Design Mom August 2, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Ben Blair takes a sauna after every workout at the gym. He loves a good sauna!

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42 carrien (she laughs at the days) August 2, 2011 at 10:41 am

I think what this post illustrates very well is just how arbitrary standards of modesty are. Everyone has a different idea of what is and isn’t modest and that leads me to feel that many discussions had here in north America about what is and isn’t modest are usually silly and that it’s not really that big of a deal.

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43 Design Mom August 2, 2011 at 2:02 pm

I was thinking the same thing.

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44 Sarah August 2, 2011 at 10:48 am

I spent a summer in France during high school, and the first day I got there my hosts took me to the beach. I didn’t notice any topless women there, but a man set up his stuff just behind us and proceeded to strip completely naked. I don’t really think that’s normal, but we were in a pretty secluded spot of the beach. Also, the daughter in one of the families I stayed with only swam with bikini bottoms, and we would spend the day in the pool, and then she would come to the dinner table just as she was, with only her swimsuit bottoms. It was a bit of an adjustment for me, but it was really interesting to see that it was just normal behavior to her family–they didn’t seem to think twice about it.

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45 Erin H. August 2, 2011 at 10:57 am

I am not embaressed by the human form at all and don’t want my children to feel ashamed of their bodies in their natural states at any point in their lives. I have 4 kids and although my form is less than perfect at this point, I have learned to walk tall knowing that the happiness I have achieved through raising a family was worth it 100 times over!

My husband and I went to Mexico recently and are currently residing in Brazil. Although I think we should each be proud of our bodies however they look, I do not think it is appropriate for women to go topless. I am pro-breast feeding, etc. But blatant nudity seems so silly to me. I save those most intimate parts of myself for my husband only and would never want to downplay my gift to him by exposing it to all of mankind.

I feel I can teach self confidence to my kids within the walls of our home. I don’t need a topless beach to help me confirm that principle. A confident, modest woman is to me more stunning than any scantilly clad female no matter her age.

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46 Erin August 2, 2011 at 1:16 pm

From one Erin to another, thumbs up!

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47 Design Mom August 2, 2011 at 2:05 pm

“I feel I can teach self confidence to my kids within the walls of our home.”

Absolutely! So true.

Though the idea of my body as a “gift” to my husband always makes me cringe. Did you ever see the SNL skit “D**k in a box”? : )

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48 Beth August 2, 2011 at 12:13 pm

I must admit to being confused by all the responses implying that the only reason a woman would cover up her breasts at the beach is because of embarrassment and/ or cultural shame, indicating that if she were really comfortable with herself she would have no qualms about sauntering around the beach topless. Shame and embarrassment seem a weak reason to do or to not do something. I myself don’t go topless, but because I have a deep respect for my body, rather then a lack of, and that is how I choose to manifest that. I guess an example of that is that some people chose to talk about some of their most personal experiences and deepest feelings in public, where as some people reserve those for a more intimate setting. Is one better then the other? I really think that depends on the person, but let’s not discount a woman who chooses to not go topless as less free, confident, etc. She might have a real strong and valid reason that has nothing to do with shame.

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49 Design Mom August 2, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Hi Beth! I believe these responses are because of the particular question I posed, which was about body image, about how women view themselves.

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50 Jess August 2, 2011 at 12:17 pm

I’m totally ok with topless beaches :) besides, were from new jersey, and if you go to beaches there I bet you’ll see more boobs than any French beach, but on the guys! They have back hair and beer bellies and walk around shirtless, if they aren’t considered immodest, why should I feel insecure or ashamed?

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51 Linda August 2, 2011 at 12:28 pm

I’m LDS too. Having said that…… I was very uncomfortable nursing in public or even at home that was only because I was proud that it was so hard and I was always fumbling with my clothes and my baby all at once… I hated when I took too long and my baby cried and then people would look and (I thought) laugh or think that I was really bad at nursing my baby.. I was very uncomfortable, at the beginning, but along with many women all over the world, I soon got the hang of it and soon nursed exposed, covered, however I was comfortable. As for topless beaches, I have bathed at some in Europe and South Beach, FL and I wasn’t uncomfortable. I feel like ( and this is especially for the LDS audience) if you are seen in a swimming suit, you are pretty much naked anyway. As long as you are not parading around (or running) showing off your body for men and women to oodle over you, then its totally fine. Lets just be classy, people.. no matter, LDS or not. (and for the record, after having my baby, I do not look good with my top off so you’ll see me in a little sun dress and that’s as bare as I’ll get, lately. If/when I look better – I don’t want to make any one throw up – I’ll certainly sun bathe in full comfort :-) but in the end, to each his own.

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52 Swissy August 2, 2011 at 12:57 pm

I’ve had the discussion with my European hubby who said it was normal to go topless but that maybe I shouldn’t do it around my inlaws. Let me tell you that BF on the beach is less anxiety-provoking when your neighbors are topless;)

My nieces wear only swimsuit bottoms which struck me as strange. I think US kids wear tops as well or one pieces. Or is that outdated? The Swiss are hardly known for exhibitionism!

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53 Britta August 2, 2011 at 1:13 pm

I love how daring you were to ask this question…your readers responses are entertaining! Scandalous or not, I admire people who are confident about their body in a very tasteful way.

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54 Britta August 2, 2011 at 2:28 pm

After reading more responses, I think that people are conditioned by the culture they live in about our bodies. I am another one of those “modest is hottest” kind of people, but I don’t think that seeing a naked body has to be a sexual thing all the time. My husband, a medical professional, has to see naked bodies almost all the time, and he doesn’t bat an eyelash. As long as Americans sexualize EVERYTHING, we will never get away from the boob obsession. On a completely different subject, have you heard about the breast feeding doll for young girls? It’s from over seas and coming to America…obviously controversial. It’s interesting to hear the views on both sides. But that would be for a different discussion. :)

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55 Erin August 2, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Would I feel confident enough? Sure. I’m always surprised at the number of shapes and sizes and arrangements that human bodies come in, despite all of us being the same race.

That being said, I wouldn’t go topless at a beach simply because I don’t think it’s modest. Breasts, for all they are and mean and do, are too sacred to show to just anyone–even if they’re not looking.

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56 Design Mom August 2, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Yay for confidence!

Your thought about breasts being “too sacred to show” reminded me how cultural modesty is. In some countries, every part of a woman’s body is “too sacred to show” (think burkas). I imagine there are many places in the world where an American woman would wear a conservative “modest” outfit (maybe jeans, sneakers and a t-shirt) and be considered about as modest as a prostitute.

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57 Erin August 3, 2011 at 12:29 pm

True enough. Plus, modesty, I’ve noticed, reflects the calendar year; it’s July in Minnesota, and I can’t imagine living when showing your ankle was enough to earn you an undesirable reputation, or when a bathing suit really emphasized the “suit” part, long sleeves and pants. Or doing winter in Minnesota when women didn’t wear pants, which is only about 50 years ago.

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58 Sol August 2, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Being English, it doesnt phase me at all. Having been on holidays all over Europe from a young age, and living in a sea side town with a language school, this is common place. (lots of scandinavians, learning English)

I agree with a previous comment, There is no such thing as a topless beach. There are beaches and then that are nudist beaches. There will be a sign for a nudist beach. and all other beaches are just free to anyone as long as they wear pants/bottoms. Wear as much or as little as you want.

You will be hard pushed if you went to a hotel in Greece, Italy, Spain or France, to not see it. With the large amounts of more northern Europeans flocking to these places to catch the rays, it is simply a fact, that is what will happen.

Even in Sharm El Sheik, the Russians, Germans, Dutch, Norweigen ladies I met there were topless, whilst pool side. And being Egypt it is obviously an Islamic country.

as in another comment, could it be that we have over sexualised breasts? That people on the TV with their enhanced bodies are the norm and due to implants are seen as sex objects and not for what they were intended? For a baby…

There is a time and place for everything. people know when to wear clothes. common sense and respect for others.

fab post! very thought provoking.

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59 Dee August 2, 2011 at 3:04 pm

I couldn’t do it, but I wouldn’t mind if others did.

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60 Lee August 2, 2011 at 6:14 pm

I had experienced European beaches as a child as well as Barton Springs. What caught me off guard as a teenager spending a summer with a German family was the father of the family undressing at the beach to change into his trunks. The college aged brothers did as well. I just looked away and wished we were as comfortable about nudity here.

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61 Karen M August 2, 2011 at 7:02 pm

I remember my first visit to a topless beach… I was with my parents and I was pretty embarrassed. When I was 25 I spent a summer in Europe and felt completely comfortable going topless, as long as my US friends weren’t there (I think it would have been awkward only because it wasn’t the norm for us).

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62 Erin August 2, 2011 at 7:39 pm

I am a 33 year old mother of 3 and breast cancer survivor. I have had a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction. My breasts are far from perfect, they are very scarred after 8 surgeries. Through my journey, breasts have become just another body part. They are almost not even connected to me anymore. Topless? Sure. It would feel the same as showing my hands or feet. I have not always felt this way but I think it would make a difference in the emotional struggles of breast cancer if we could shift our way of thinking a little. I hope my daughter can grow up and not feel like breasts equal sex.

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63 Design Mom August 4, 2011 at 2:50 am

So interesting, Erin!

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64 UK lass in US August 2, 2011 at 10:49 pm

The thing that I find strange about America is that they seem to assume that they have to talk about sex etc. / imply sex in every aspect EXCEPT the nudity to get your attention (eg. bikini wax styles on the local news), yet people get all up in arms about nudity. When I lived in Germany, there would be plenty of topless sunbathers at the outdoor pool and then there would also be topless women in a daytime margarine advert – which I found ridiculous. As for the UK, there would be a few topless women about (well, it is a tad colder there) and the nudity on tv is limited to after 9pm – yet there is less talk about / implying of sex than goes on in America the rest of the time.
So I grew up with nudity being considered ok, but not to be shoved needlessly in your face. It may sound weird, but I am sick of seeing topless women in movies, where I don’t consider it needed for the story, yet topless women on a beach I see as less of an issue. However, these days there are people who post voyeur pictures of topless women on a beach on the ‘net, which I think adds another dimension to the issue. I would actually want my kids to be more conservative than I was, because back when I was younger there was not the possibility of things being shared instantly with millions…

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65 Sol August 3, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Good comment. Facebook and instant needs to share. this maybe is something people need to think about more now. I sure didnt think of that.

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66 Andrea August 2, 2011 at 11:54 pm

i spent a year going topless the year i studied in France. i haven’t done it since then, but likely would if it was just me, my husband, and a bunch of people i didn’t know. what was interesting to me is that i had no problem doing it as long as none of the american guys were at the beach. if they were, i’d cover up. it would be the same today if we were on a topless beach with our friends. i wouldn’t go topless in front of them – but i have no problem with other people going topless.

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67 Amanda August 3, 2011 at 8:36 am

So interesting to hear different stories! I only went topless once…on my honeymoon in Jamaica. I saw some other women doing it and figured this would be my only chance to try! It was liberating, but I also felt scandalous, and my new husband was quite impressed. :)

Interestingly enough, my sorority floor in college had NO curtains in the group showers…it was like a shower in a gym. I remember being so nervous to shower there after I moved up to the floor, which everyone said was typical. The first week I would avoiding looking places and felt awkward. Then, like many have said, you realize that everyone has these parts, some better-looking and some not. And it became no big deal…but the guys were always asking questions and curious about it. Guys are all naked in their gym showers and it’s no big deal, but they couldn’t handle girls doing the same! lol

For me, the biggest difference between the two experiences was that the shower situation was in front of only females…the beach was in front of men and women, which made me feel a lot more “naked.”

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68 Sara August 3, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Such an interesting discussion! My in-laws are European (but live in South Africa) and often skinny dip in their pool or when we hike to lakes/rivers to swim. At first it made me uncomfortable, but it feels so much better to swim naked that now I don’t mind. It’s definitely NOT sexual at all! Also, European and Australian men (in my experience) are much more likely to wear small speedo type suits rather than more covered up shorts. So it’s not just the women that show more skin.

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69 Sara August 3, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Also, I have been to natural undeveloped hot springs on the west coast of the US where it was the norm to go naked (although not everyone did). It was not sexual there either, families with children, twenty-somethings and old hippies all mingled together. I still wore a bottom, but did go topless.

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70 Liis August 3, 2011 at 3:27 pm

I think I would not have an issue with it, coming from a small Nordic country. I am also used to men wearing speedos and not really long shorts for swimming. I would maybe worry a tad about getting sunburned as I have not gone topless in years and if discussing body parts, my thighs are more of a concern indeed for me personally:) In the US, I am sometimes really bothered by the fact that small kids are all dressed up in bikinis. If I remember correctly, I started covering up my breasts when they started to grow which was definitely not before the age of 12 at least. So, until then I wore bottoms to the beach (and nothing when I was little) as did most of my peers. Now, I sadly see, that in my country too, people are starting to dress their small toddlers in bikinis already. Although, you can still see totally nude children as well. My two year old was naked at the beach and my 5 year old sometimes as well if she came from a swim and needed to dry off. Nobody stares or looks at them awkward in my home country. Now, that I am returning back from vacationing in my home country to the DC area in the States, I am already concerned that people probably expect me to put a bathing suit on my two year old (turns 2 in Sept) who still is a total baby, but to brag a little, diaper-free since 18 months. So, she does not need a diaper as the majority of US children her age would, but norms require to dress her up. Or what is the general view on this? Sorry, for using this topic for this question, but it really bothers me. Our children see us naked and I believe in not putting an embarrassment flag on nudity is a key to self-confidence about your body in the future and it is just a natural thing overall.

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71 Design Mom August 4, 2011 at 2:49 am

Congrats on the diaper free 18-month year old!

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72 Sylvia August 3, 2011 at 5:47 pm

How do I feel about my body? Would I go topless at a topless beach? Sure (if I wasn’t concerned about modesty). Like a lot of commenters, for me, it’s all contextual. I’ve lived in Europe and now live in Morocco. The former is home to topless beaches, the latter to public baths and hammams (where you lie naked and another woman scrubs the bejeebers out of your skin–it feels amazing). In both these situations, it’s so totally blase to just strip it all and hang out (literally) that you find yourself blase about it, too! Suddenly you’re thinking, ‘Who cares what my breasts look like? Who cares what my post-partum stomach looks like? Obviously no one here, so naked it is!’ It’s completely liberating.

But the amazing thing is how horribly awkward you feel going to the hammam with an American friend.

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73 Melissa August 3, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Loving this post, Gabby! When Chris & I ventured to Brasil for a month, my perspective on beach-appropriateness totally changed. Women at the beach (and some men) wore thongs, but mostly as little as possible. It wasn’t a sexual thing for locals. It was a functional thing. Every shape & size wore the same kind of suit & no one pointed & sneered.

I wish we were like that here in the states. Specifically in Utah. It’s scandalous if a mother comes to the pool in a bikini. Either it’s too unflattering for her to bare her skin (because only flawless people can get away with it) or its too flattering and that marriage isn’t going to last long. I’ve heard both kinds of comments.

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74 Design Mom August 4, 2011 at 2:47 am

Ugh! Stories like that are so frustrating.

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75 Jack August 3, 2011 at 10:06 pm

As a guy who has visited the topless beaches in Europe, I agree that the standards of modesty are somewhat relative. By my estimation, a woman who is comfortable wearing a bikini in the US will probably go topless in Europe given enough time. Objectively speaking, it would be difficult to define a small bikini top as “modest”, while being topless is “immodest”. It is merely a matter of degree.

I however disagree that there is “nothing sexual about it”. Wearing little to no clothing sends strong signal for sexual availability. This is of course very natural. It may appear that public semi-nudity initially has a more mesmerizing effect on American men than their European counterparts. However, the casual attitude of European men around nudity should not be misinterpreted for lack of sexual interest.

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76 Design Mom August 4, 2011 at 2:38 am

“it would be difficult to define a small bikini top as “modest”, while being topless is “immodest”.”

I agree with that.

“Wearing little to no clothing sends strong signal for sexual availability.”

I disagree with that. A woman wearing swimwear, which would certainly be defined as “little or no clothing”, is not sending signals of sexual availability — even though men might want to interpret it that way.

A woman at the beach with her family, building sandcastles while dressed in swimwear, is sending sexual availability signals? Really?

I’m quite sure the only time a woman wearing little or no clothing is sending signals of sexual availability, is when she asks you to have sex with her, and then takes her clothes off.

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77 Jack August 4, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Thank you, for your response to my comment. I think that you have expressed a one-sided idealization of sexual signaling. As the Design Mom you must be profoundly aware of the ability of appearance and esthetics to communicate an idea.

Here is a more concise rebuttal, excerpted from scholarly paper:

“Because sexual intercourse requires a degree of nudity, once the adults in a society go about clothed, nudity becomes a signal of sexual availability.”

http://www.law.uchicago.edu/files/files/69.FremR_.Pos_.Status.pdf

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78 Design Mom August 4, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Hi Jack. Yes, I’m sure my response is one-sided. I don’t have time to read the article you link to, but if I did have time, I still don’t think I would read it. I can’t say I’m particularly interested in the other side of the argument.

The excerpt you quote is certainly concise and scholarly, but just because it’s a law school paper, doesn’t make it right. The kind of thinking it leads to is the common defense of rape. As in, well, she was wearing a mini-skirt so she was pretty much asking for it.

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79 Claire August 3, 2011 at 11:47 pm

Having been to quite a few beaches in Europe, and Thailand, I’ve experienced many topless women. At first it was a bit of a shock (it’s not something you see here in Australia) but you get used to it. While I’m not comfortable enough to do it myself, I admire the women that do go topless as, like you said, they’re obviously very comfortable and relaxed in their own skin. I remember seeing women of all different ages and shapes/sizes wearing bikinis or going topless in Europe. I think that Australian women (and possibly American by the sounds of it?) are often very insecure and also judgemental of others and what they look like/wear which is very sad.

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80 Marina August 4, 2011 at 12:04 pm

I remember an incident when I was maybe 15. I’ve been on a beach in Croatia with my mom and most women over 25 went topless. When my mum took of her bikini I was so embarassed by it and told her to cover up (I know, not very nice) but she simply told me not to be a prude and to take my bikini of, to get more sun on my body. I finally did it and at first it felt odd but a few hours later I simply forgot about it. When i went swimming I took the bikini on again, somehow it felt inapropriate to walk around with my nude “breastes”. Now going topless is not much of an issue to me, I do it occasionally when I see other women without a bra too and I feel just normal with it. I must say that I’m not very comfortable with my body but it’s a bigger issue to me to go from taking of my clothes to be in a bathing suit then from taking of the top of my bikini. Does that make any sense?
But when I’ve been to France two years ago with a couple of my friends I didn’t take my bikiny of. I think I would have felt uncomfortable showing my breasts in front of my male friends – but when I’m with girls only or with older men or women it’s not a problem at all. Without a bikini top you just get a much better tan.

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81 dawn August 4, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Like Di, I’ve never seen anyone topless on a Scottish beach, but that’s temperature-related. You’re considered brave to enter the North Atlantic or North Sea without a wetsuit on. There are “naturists” in Scotland who holiday in warmer parts of Continental Europe and go topless regardless of the palidity of their skin.

And now that I’m living in LA, I’ve not seen anyone topless here despite the amiable beach weather. I’d always assumed that there were strict “indecency” laws.

My personal shyness stems from my flabby tummy, but I have no problem in going topless otherwise or breastfeeding in public. That said, I do feel self-conscious when I’m stared at by passerbys.

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82 Nick August 5, 2011 at 3:30 pm

This has been a really interesting read, as a nearly 50 year old brit who has breast fed 3 children for a year each time, I go topless on french beaches because I love the feel of the sun on my skin, my husband and children(10,13 and 14) have no problem with it.
I find it really sad that so many women have only seen young/augmented breasts and not those of other women in all their variations, it’s no wonder that women feel inadequate about their bodies. Despite what some men think, a breasts primary purpose is to feed a baby not as a sex toy.

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83 bettijo @ PagingSupermom.com August 5, 2011 at 6:07 pm

I found this topic super interesting since I just got back from the beach on Wednesday. With my new baby in tow, I had to nurse while at the beach, but you can bet I was sheepish and buried under towels and blankets. I had to laugh about Maude “being embarrassed for the world” — I can just imagine! LOL!

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84 Meg Dugan August 8, 2011 at 12:23 pm

I always thought I would not have a problem going topless. Once unexpectedly faced with the opportunity, however, I could not go through with it . . .

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85 kpriss August 9, 2011 at 8:28 am

This is something that still keeps me busy from time to time – especially in summer – wink-. However, things have seriously turned for negative since our kids have grown (the eldest, a boy, is 7 in just a month and a half). Not only do I keep myself covered (swimsuit, two pieces bikini, but swimsuit nevertheless), we also carefully choose the beach we’re going to, permanently looking out for any semi / nudity. Kids are so curious…

That doesn’t mean I don’t approve or understand topless sunbathing. Au contraire. I did it too. Even if I had already breastfed two kids.

Also – I think breastfeeding isn’t immodest. It’s the best thing to do for the baby and the mother. However, it should be done in private. But not because of the “showing” part but because most babies tend to be easily distracted and forget about eating if they hear / see anything in their immediate proximity.

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86 Annie August 10, 2011 at 11:29 am

I would definitely have the confidence to go topless, in fact I already have. Confidence with nudity most certainly has a great deal to do with the society and culture you are surrounded by. I feel like going topless or completely nude is very liberating. Just like when you were a child running in the yard completely naked!

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87 Droitetgauche August 23, 2011 at 5:52 pm

I visited France and Italy 2 years ago with my husband, his sister and his best friend. We only visited two beaches (one in Annecy and one in Massa) and saw some topless sunbathers of different ages. My companions were uncomfortable (especially the boys) but I’m a bit more of a heathen than the rest of them and I thought the women looked really pretty and comfortable, and I was jealous. I’m pear shaped, so if any clothing is staying on in public, it’s the trousers for sure. But if I’d been on those beaches without my companions? That top would have been off in a flash! (no pun intended :)

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88 Hilary Rudd August 25, 2011 at 7:24 am

I’m British and 54 – I first encountered topless bathing as a pert 23 year old in the South of France in 1978. Although virtually every woman and girl on the beaches was sans top, it took me three days to pluck up the courage. Since then I have rarely sunbathed with a top on, even on UK beaches and at home. My three grown up children have always taken it for granted that their mother sunbathes topless. Like Nick I have breastfed my children and share her sentiments about the joy of it!

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89 Hilary Rudd August 25, 2011 at 7:28 am

Design Mom, I think you need to come clean… did you actually go topless or not on your trip to the French beach?

Assuming you didn’t, I think you should try it and post again on this topic!

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90 Kirsty Boucher October 31, 2012 at 5:43 am

What an interesting debate… I am American raised however have lived in England for nearly 30 years. I told my new boyfriend, who is American that I go topless when on a beach in Europe, in the privacy of my own home in my garden if the weather is ever good enough to do so, at my family home in America around my family. They were all uncomfortable with it initially but once I had been topless for an hour laying on the blow up device in the pool drinking a cocktail they were soon realised it wasnt a big deal. I really dont like swimming or sunbathing with lots of fabric on and so i find it really restricting. I do not have breasts that any man would swoon over however my new boyfriend is horrified that I would go topless in front of others. I am going to have to bring him to a beach in Europe to show him that it isnt a sexual exploit as many people here have mentioned. Old old ladies go topless and children are topless and the 40 somethings that have had children, have cellulite, a little extra winter fuel do in fact go topless like myself. Why do men feel that it is so terrible if their woman does it but happy to look at other women who do it??? Double standard???
This isnt helped by the fact that he has said it is because I am “his woman”. :) You can imagine this comment didnt go down too well…. The need to educate men is frightening!!!

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91 Bonnie January 10, 2013 at 10:30 am

We’re moving to Portugal this summer, and I plan on fully enjoying the laid-back attitude they have toward the human body there. I’m comfortable in my own skin, for the most part, and I don’t consider my breasts something to be shy about in a setting like a top-optional beach. I think having my son is what really did it for me – my body feels like “just a body” now instead of some sort of troublesome appliance that I have to fuss over and worry about. I used to feel detached from my body in a way, like it was a dress that I had to be very careful not to wrinkle or stain, but I’m much more one with it now that “we” have been pregnant, given birth, nursed, and spent a lot of casual time naked in front of a boy. Also, having a little one that runs naked and free sometimes has really desexualized nudity for me.

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92 Erin July 21, 2013 at 10:14 pm

Studying abroad in France, on a beach no less, I spent an entire semester topless on the beach. The first time it was awkward, but it quickly became the norm. Once, while laying out with my girlfriends, my boyfriend suddenly appeared and tapped me on the shoulder. I opened my eyes and was shocked to see him and like 6 of his friends?! He just wanted to let me know that they were starting their football (soccer) game a bit late and that he wanted to push back dinner for an hour. As they walked away I thought about how in America we’d all be shocked that all of our significant others friends had just seen us topless, but it truly was no big deal. I would recommend all college girls spend a semester topless on a beach–I’m now in my 30′s and pregnant with my second baby, my body certainly looks different than 13 years ago–but I’m significantly more comfortable in my own skin than most women I know. (I also recommend french boyfriends to all 20 somethings!)

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93 Susan December 24, 2013 at 1:42 am

I like to go nude and topless on nude beachs. It my choice. I don’t care what other people think.

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94 Anna May 23, 2014 at 4:07 am

It’s pity that nobody is realising that toples sunbathing for women is the MAJOR reason for breast cancer!

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