photo by antwerpenR

Yesterday The Man of Mans and I celebrated our twelfth wedding anniversary by taking a day-trip to a nearby waterpark. Sophisti-muh-cated romance in da hizz-ouse, y’all!

Actually we had a really great time. After hours of wet, silly fun we got ourselves ready to head back home. As I was changing to leave, I realized that I’d forgot to pack a bra, which left my wet bikini top as my only support garment. The MoMs and I decided to maximize our date time by taking the a longer, scenic drive home. Hanging out together was great. The incessant trickle of water dripping off my suit ties and down my back was not.

As I squirmed and lamented my first world problems, it occurred to me that technically I did have the option of taking my top off. While I do find it necessary to wear a bra for impact activities, sitting and driving topless wouldn’t have placed any undue strain  on my boobs. Not to mention the joy of having my bosoms warmed by the summer sun, instead of being bound up in clammy elastane.

I was tempted. Until I realized that while I would have been physically comfortable, I felt self-conscious about cruising while topless. Baring one’s breats has been legal ’round these parts for over 20 years.  As a burlesque performer, I’m used to revealing the boobies in public. And strangely, that sort of purposefully sexual exposure is much less intimidating for me than thought of what might happen in a situation where baring my breast in a non-sexual way.

When I perform, I feel in control. I’m choosing to show my body. I’m inviting the audience to look AND to communicate any sexual response to through applause, cheers, (respectful) catcalls, etc.  Because I’ve consented to what’s happening, I feel safe.  When I feel safe, I feel free to enjoy that type attention.

As a theoretical topless driver, I accept and expect that some people, depending on their tastes, might look at my boobs and get aroused. Shirtless guys on summer days often turn me on. (Shirtless guys on winter days just confuse me). Sexual response is largely involuntary and that part doesn’t really bother me. But sitting in the car yesterday, I couldn’t help but anticipate some sort of leering, honking or salacious comment had I chosen to expose my boobs. I was afraid that exposed breasts in any context would be misconstrued as an invitation to sexual engagement.  At that moment, in the car, I wasn’t trying to be provocative. I just wanted to feel a little more comfortable.

Jezebel published an article about Moira Johnston – a self-proclaimed topless activist who’s been strolling about the streets of NYC topless to normalize – you guessed it – toplessness! (It’s legal in the Big Apple too!) Sadly, I don’t have the wontons to be that person, but I’m happy somebody does. Because breasts are still largely regarded as sexual objects and exposing them is often interpreted as an explicit sexual invitation, regardless of whether that’s true. I suspect that’s why two decades later, bare breasts are rarely seen in public, despite being a legal as a piece of foolscap.

It’s an unfortunate cycle –  our culture is not used to seeing breasts in a non-sexual way; therefore we assume bare breasts are always sexually provocative, we respond in kind, thus making the owner of said breasts uncomfortable and unlikely to bare their breasts in a non-sexual context.

So I ask the boob and boobless alike – have you ever gone topless in a non-sexual situation?  Did you feel self-conscious? How did people around you respond? The comments are open!



  1. I have gone topless in a non-sexual situation, but only in an environment where it was considered normal or at least acceptable. That includes being completely naked in public sauna/spa in Europe and being topless at beaches or in parks in Europe. I also breastfed without covering up. I didn’t take my whole top off, but I didn’t hesitate to nurse out of the top of a tank top, versus pulling my shirt up. Exposing a breast was more comfortable to me than exposing the rolls on my postpartum tummy.

  2. Chinelo says:

    I happen to share your opinion(s) :-) I think the only time I dont consider a nude breast as an invitation is when it’s in an infant’s mouth!

  3. Robin says:

    not topless – except in Italy on a beach where it was, well, fine. Normal. Tops on, on that beach, was the anomaly, and although the moment of taking it off was a little odd, HAVING it off was no biggie. Nobody was looking… or if they were I didn’t notice.

    Here, I frequently nursed in public when I had babies. :) I never had a problem with that although it was clear that some others did although nobody ever actually SAID anything to me at the time. but again – that’s purposeful bareness, not bareness for the sake of personal physical comfort.

  4. Nat says:

    Shirtless guys on winter days just confuse me. hahahaha…

    I feel the same way, I remember changing post-race one day and doing a quick change in public (no where else to go and we had to leave.) And wondering why I was trying to rush through the procedure when it was, in fact, legal. But still it was the feeling, that even though I was surrounded by more than a few shirtless people (mostly male runner dudes), walking around was still too much.

  5. Fiona says:

    Topless in a non-sexual situation? Well, yes all the time if you count private or semi-private situations like walking around the house or in pool/gym change rooms. Oh, and the occasional skinny-dip, but again, after dark. Actually out in public, though, not so much.
    My mother, who is even less endowed than me, frequently goes braless and will often take off her shirt if there’s a reasonable expectation of privacy. This includes, in particular, on long hot hikes in the woods. As a child, this embarrassed me to no end, especially if someone ended up coming down the trail in the other direction, but I respect the way she does it without any shyness. But she still keeps a shirt handy to reduce the risk of shocking other unsuspecting hikers. The fact is that people are still surprised by toplessness.

  6. Thomas says:

    A couple of months ago, I was walking down Bank St. and I noticed a couple approaching. She was topless. She appeared to be laughing / embarrassed almost trying to hide, so I’m not sure what was going on. I wasn’t sure how to react. Then I thought about the court decisions and realized that the best way was to follow the spirit of the ruling of the court. I thought I need to treat her exactly the same as I would treat a guy walking down the street with no shirt. That thought helped me react in what I would consider to be a normal healthy way. I nodded at the two of them (I mean the guy and the girl you perverts!) and walked on by as if she was a guy. I think the brilliance of the ruling is that we learn to treat each other as peers / humans and not sexual objects.

  7. FairyWithT says:

    In public? Well, only at regular places like toples beaches, the gym, and sauna, I’m not from Canada and I always felt really confortable walking around without a bra in public (my boobs are really small, just using the shirt unless I need to run or jump) or completely naked at a gym. However, since I moved here, the looks of “please cover up you are making me umcofortable” have made me leave a towel around the waist when at the gym. I also stopped wearing my thong bikinis at the beach for fear of being burned alive by the mob of angry/uncortable looks from men and women alike. Having said that, I still tend to wear shirts with no bra, just a niple cover, or low cut necks in the summer.

  8. Bryn says:

    Did you forget a shirt, too? How would you have felt wearing a shirt without a bra underneath? I know I would still have felt very self-conscious, though perhaps in the safety of a personal vehicle I would have gone for it.