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!