Monday, June 18, 2012

Would North American Benefit From a Bit of Topless Sunbathing?

Mr Butterfly and I got back last week from our honeymoon in Spain. I am always struck by how vivid and social life feels in parts of Europe. Eating amazing, fresh food in the sunshine goes a long way to making life feel really good. While enjoying a sunny afternoon on the beach with a drink and an Agatha Christie novel I realized that I was surrounded by topless sunbathers aged 21 to 80+ and it made me wonder whether North American could do with a bit of public nudity.

As I have talked about before one of the most common barriers I encounter with busty North American women is that they are ashamed of being busty. This shame stems from social stereotypes and ignorance (and by this I mean the perpetual myth that D cups are huge and boobs have anything to do with your intelligence or morals). In countries where breasts, or all shapes and sizes, are celebrated for their beauty and life giving qualities, there is far less body commentary and criticism. Topless sunbathing is entrenched in the lifestyle of many sunny countries and I feel sure that it must have an effect on the collective perspective on women, breasts and body diversity.

As a family we regularly camped in the south of France when I was a child and the beaches were always full of topless sunbathers, volleyball players and swimmers. I didn't really question it because women of all different ages wandered around quite happily soaking up the sunshine. If you've never experienced a topless beach then it's hard to imagine that's it's actually a very happy, social and relaxed environment. There is no gratuitous ogling or voyeurism. There is a palpable sense of freedom where these women are at ease. 
There was a spirited debate about this pic over on our Facebook page. I think these women 'protected' the rights of breastfeeding Mums and that's just as valuable as securing borders in my opinion.
While we were on honeymoon I posted a picture of two American Air Force Mums who had participated in a pro-breastfeeding campaign. There was a distinct military backlash to the photo because military personnel are not supposed to express their personal opinions whilst in uniform. Aside from that though there was the usual outrage at the image of a woman breastfeeding in public. The anti public breastfeeding sentiment in North America is a mystery to many Europeans because breastfeeding (public or not) is considered a beautiful and praise-worthy activity.

The African proverb 'It takes a village to raise a child' is borne out by public breastfeeding in my opinion. A mother who is confined to her home until the child has mastered enough hand-eye co-ordination not to starve will herself be lonely and her child, less socialized. This kind of isolation is ludicrous simply to save the blushes of people who can't distinguish the biological and honourable act of breastfeeding from a 'Girls-Gone-Wild-Esque' breast exposure.

Whilst walking down one of the pedestrianized streets in Barcelona we passed a breastfeeding mother sat on a bench who was chatting to a much older couple while her eldest child chased a bird nearby. This scene was casual, happy, relaxed and quite frankly, healthy. Perhaps if North America introduced some healthy public nudity on their beaches the trickle-down effect would be that breastfeeding mothers could feed in public and feel like part of a community that valued her for raising healthy future generations rather than a shameful outcast.

I wonder whether in countries where the media is so prolific, breasts have been so completely sexualized that we've forgotten what they're for. Their primary function (whether you use them for this or not) is to breastfeed. If our ancestors had got a bit squeamish about a public nipple or two then we would have died out very quickly!

I'm more than happy to get the topless-sunbathing-ball rolling here in Vancouver but I draw the line at whipping my top off in the pouring rain and wind (so that leaves precisely two weeks in August to get the girls out!) I'd love your thoughts on topless sunbathing in general and whether you think there is a link between sociable, warm, outdoor communities and public breastfeeding. xx


  1. Before I share my thoughts, you have a bit of misinformation here. Military members can share opinions while in uniform, but they cannot do anything to back a cause (social or political) while in uniform. This restriction is one of the most well known as a uniformed member. A woman in uniform discussing breastfeeding with her coworkers is very different then making posters for use in an awareness campaign.

    Now on to my thoughts. I am absolutely amazed at how much we have regressed when it comes to nudity and what is acceptable. My husband was watching a movie from the mid 1980's over the weekend. There was no issue with breasts or a bottom being shown. The scenes were not overly sexual or in some cases not sexual at all. I really do not see how we have gone from that level of acceptance to where we are now.
    I completely agree with your thoughts that the media is a direct tie in the changing attitude toward breasts, but what I don't get is the why. Why have we gone this way? There few places where being topless is accepted (like some adult only Las Vegas pools), but they are all sexual in nature. I don't feel the need to be topless all the time, but I do think it would be nice to be able to do what you mention above. I'd love to go out knowing I can modestly breastfeed my soon to be baby without worrying about being hassled. I just don't see the change happening any time soon. If the media started the path that we are on, I think they may be the ones that have to lower the perceived sexual nature of an exposed breast.

    1. I must apologize, badly worded sentence. It was what I meant that military personnel are not entitled to publicly promote their personal feelings whilst in uniform.

      I'm afraid I too am baffled why as a society we can't separate overtly sexual displays of skin from the natural and nurturing act of breastfeeding.

      A woman in Italy was asked to leave a cafe for breastfeeding her son and the media backlash was terrific. Wouldn't it be great to see that level of support for our nursing Moms in North America!

      I hope you can find some supportive places and people to help you when Baby Rules arrives! xx

    2. I get what you were saying now. :)

      There has been a lot more cases in the media lately, all women asked to leave while breastfeeding or forced to spot feeding. But many of them are given a different perspective by the media. I think the focus should be taken from making it a rights issue (how is feeding a baby a personal right and not a baby's need?) and put back on the fact that it is a natural function to meet the needs of a baby. Maybe then it will be less of a "cause" argument and more of a common sense issue.

    3. Ah, you're speaking my language...the joy of common sense! xx

  2. I can't even say how much I love this blog. I LOVE IT. As a girl with 32E's from a family of A's and B's, your posts are so encouraging. Whenever I read a new post, I'm like, "Yes! Thank you!" Between this blog and your store, you're like my Big-Boob Fairy Godmother! Haha!

    1. You've just made my day!! I'm so glad our posts let you know you're not alone in the big boob department :) Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and for the brilliant Big-Boob Fairy Godmother, I may steal that one! xx

  3. About topless women at the beach in Europe, the situation is not as simple and carefree as it may seem. In the late 90s, Jean-Claude Kaufman conducted a study that showed how toplessness was policed. Unsurprisingly, the result was that small firm breasts were fully embraced, whereas bigger, older, softer breasts were merely tolerated and only up to a certain limits. He identified a myriad of rules both self-observed or forced onto others. It's quite a fascinating read. The title is: Corps de femme, regards d'homme : sociologie des seins nus. It's probably available in English.

  4. Its really a nice experience of to know about honeymoon thanks to share ring such information specially about the Us air force women's and their love towards their children's. i saw such kind of pictures in toronto breast augmentation