Nothing unites the French, young and old, left, right and center, male and female, quite like the right to sunbathe topless, apparently. A tourist family with small children were at the beach in the south of France and they asked the gendarmes to request that some local women put their bikini tops back on apparently to protect the children’s delicate sensibilities. Amazingly, the entire country came together to decry the incident and insist on the right to toplessness at the beach.
American women have already been told that French women don’t get fat, and their children are miraculously well behaved, and many of us have read these books and done our best to emulate our French sisters. Today the French are leading the way with bralessness, and not only at the beach. Fully 20% of French women currently report not wearing a bra, period.
Looking around Los Angeles – at a socially distant outdoor restaurant, of course – the trend seems to definitely be, masks on, bras off. I’d say based on my observations that this is more of a young woman’s game, but in LA and with masks on, who can really tell? It’s definitely a trend more easily adopted by the smaller-breasted among us, though those who have had their breasts surgically stapled in place also enjoy braless abandon, I’m told. If this trend continues in LA, I’d say that bralessness should hit the heartland by summer 2021 at the latest.
Personally, I’ve always hated bras. My breasts are very small – not Kate-Moss-dating-Pete-Doherty small but quite close - and bras just never fit well. And before you suggest that I probably just need to be properly fitted, let me assure you that I’ve been to shops my girlfriends swear by, and while the boob professionals were always able to find me something better than I might have done on my own, it was never really that good. Here’s the thing – you get far enough out on the bell curve in any way, be it height, shoe size, weight, waist to hip ratio, whatever, and stuff just kinda isn’t made for you. The only bra I ever even liked was the Lorna Jane sports bra. These bras are both very comfortable and have huge built-in padding which makes me look like a normal size female. I jokingly refer to them as my prosthetic tits.
So this braless trend is speaking to me in a big way, in part because I can actually do it without too much issue. I’d always flirted with bralessness in very specific circumstances, like being at a night club in Vegas or at a concert. Then the pandemic hit, and suddenly going braless at work was just a matter of ensuring that the camera angle on my laptop was appropriate. Next I experimented with walking the dog braless but was always wearing a jacket. Lately I’ve discarded even that modesty and have just been walking my neighborhood in whatever feels easy and right, which has turned out to be mostly tank tops. It feels nice.
What has surprised me is how difficult it has been to find the mental freedom to accompany my newfound physical freedom. I will run into one of my male neighbors, and my reflexive thought is, “oh, I hope I am not offending him.” Of course, I realize that this is basically insane. I’m wearing clothing after all. If a man can see the shape of my breasts under my clothing and that’s problematic for him, I definitely shouldn’t worry about it! And yet. When you grow up training yourself not to bend over in skirts, or wear spaghetti straps to school, or wear loose clothing to the clubs, it’s tough to let go of that self-policing instinct.
And I know I’m not alone. Someone at the Daily Mail thought that the most important thing to call out about Alicia Silverstone walking with her son through the Hollywood hills is that the actress wasn’t wearing a bra. It’s literally in the first sentence of the article. Sure this is a gossip piece, but the cultural policing of her breasts is telling nonetheless.
And ultimately, I think this is why the French lost their minds at the gendarmes embarrassing the young women at the beach. Sure, you can have laws that say that bikini tops are optional, but the feelings we have about it, the comfort we have with letting ourselves be seen - that is a far more delicate thing. I’d wager that these young women don’t take off their bikini tops again without both feeling a pang of worry about being seen and having to remind themselves that the law is actually on their side. Certainly I know that if it was me, I would struggle to find that ease within myself again.
As it is, I am still working on my own comfort with being publicly braless. Between facemasks and sunglasses, I’m finding it easier than ever to go braless to the grocery store or to run by the bank, since the chances of me being casually recognized have gone way down. It’s sort of like training wheels for my courage. I assume that the more I do it the more comfortable I will get. And hopefully someday I will join women in the south of France, proudly making conservative tourists uncomfortable.