Just the other weekend I took a day trip with a few girlfriends to a small beach town in the south of France called Cassis. I had heard of France’s infamous topless beaches but had yet to ever go… until this trip. Seeing as my friends and I are all about embracing other cultures, we decided to go full French and go topless at the beach.
Guess what? I loved it. While the lack of tan lines was great, that is not the reason I loved my experience at the topless beach. I was absolutely blown away by the fact that I felt completely comfortable while topless in a public space. I was finally in an environment where my breasts were not being sexualized every which way I turned.
There were women, men, and children of all ages at this beach. The topless women ranged from young women to elderly women, all with a magnificent range of body types. Here is the beautiful part: not a single man, boy, or woman for that matter seemed to take notice, not even the 13-year-old boys running around where my friends and I were laying out. I was amazed. I find that in the United States I am used to covering my cleavage and body because of sexual harassment and unwanted attention by strange men on a regular basis, and yet here I was laying topless on a beach in the south of France feeling zero objectification by the people around me, especially the men.
At one point during the day, a young French boy and his father were sitting next to us on the beach. The little boy looked at my friends and I lying out, and turned to his father and asked the English equivalent of “what are those?” in reference to the nipple piercings my friends and I all have. The father simply glanced and replied, “Ce sont des piercings” or “They are piercings” before turning back to the water. The little boy nodded and that was that. It was incredibly sweet to see this father model to his son the way in which we should talk about women’s bodies. He did not condone our piercings, or shame us for exposing them to his son. He answered the question in a matter of fact manner, didn’t avoid the question, and then moved on.
This experience cemented in me the belief I already held: that the female body can simply be a body. The female body is not innately distracting, but rather it is the way in which society has sexualized breasts and women’s bodies that make it distracting. The fact I was able to be topless at a public beach and still feel safe feels incredibly pertinent in a time when too often you hear comments such as, “what was she wearing” or “she dressed like a slut, she must have wanted it” in regards to sexual assault.
We as women are raised to feel like our bodies are something that needs to be hidden so as to not upset the social structure in place, that our bodies are an unwelcome distraction. If you are comfortable with your body and show it, you are a slut. If you keep the top button always buttoned, you are a prude. In American society today we seem to be at war with women’s bodies, which is why I think we could take a lesson from the topless beaches of France. Breasts don’t need to be sexualized but can be simply seen as a part of the body if we decide to change the lens.