< Pornography and "Freedom" A Short Pictorial History:
Cultural Attitudes Towards Female Breasts
The "Normal" Breast >
Before the arrival of Christian missionaries, naked breasts among most tropical cultures were as natural as bare feet. In this picture, as in previous times, a young vahine from Tahiti is seated on hand-embroidered cushions and wears nothing but a yellow pareu tied around her hips.
Whatever the size of a woman's breasts, she can feel utterly herself on a topless beach.
Julie Goforth of Topfree Equal Rights Association (TERA) in a store on Monroe Avenue .in Rochester, New York and at a public pool below.
Julie Goforth's toplessness caused some confusion among those who were not aware, until they talked to her, that it is entirely legal for a woman to be topless, just like men, in all public venues in New York state. If she dares.
Topless sunbathing is seen as natural, causing no raised eyebrows, and is commonplace today in much of Western Europe, Australia, and in a few other locations world-wide.
This woman enjoys the opportunity for an overall tan above the waist. Because topless women are a normal sight in this area, she can feel very much at ease and do not have to worry about harassment or strange looks from passers-by.
These women draw no attention just because they are topless, as is everyone else around them.
Discarding her top, this women takes advantage of the relaxed atmosphere on an urban beach.

Topless Sunbathing

As previously mentioned, the bare breast has not always been an immediate cause for attention in all cultures. In many tropical cultures, female toplessness was the accepted norm until religious missionaries influenced the culture.

"Rapa Nui" slips through the National Geographic Loophole. This is the Hollywood convention which teaches us that brown breasts are not as sinful as white ones, and so while it may be evil to gaze upon a blond Playboy centerfold and feel lust in our hearts, it is educational to watch Polynesian maidens frolicking topless in the surf. This isn't sex; it's geography. For years in my liberal youth I thought this loophole was racist, an evil double standard in which white women were protected from exposure while "native" women were cruelly stripped of their bras, not to mention the equal protection of the MPAA. While watching "Rapa Nui," in which there are dozens if not hundreds of wonderful bare breasts on view, I have changed my mind. Since women's breasts are the most aesthetically pleasing part of the human anatomy, it is only a blessing if your culture celebrates them. Rapa Nui (1994) Directed by Kevin Reynolds

— Roger Ebert

The Original Monokini

In 1964, swimsuit designer Rudi Geinreich showcased the first monokini, a topless swimsuit. By the late 1960s Europeans had introduced the topless beach into film. In the 1970s, more accepting of the natural body, European women throughout the northern Mediterranean welcomed the extra freedom, natural look and equal exposure to the sun that their men enjoyed. By the 1980s, Australia is also topless. The women of Germany, French Arab retreats in Africa, and the French islands in the Caribbean also took advantage of the chance to take off their tops.

It is common to see women topless at beaches and resorts in all of Europe, in Australia, and New Zealand. You can also regularly find topless sunbathers at beaches near Tel Aviv, Israel; much of the Northern Mediterranean; almost all of the Caribbean islands, including tourist resorts in Cuba; certain South African resorts like Clifton, Camps Bay and Durban; and South and Central American beaches like Rio de Janeiro and Cancun. Topless opportunities are also found in a variety of locations where international visitors congregate, including beach resorts in surprising places like Thailand, Malaysia, Morocco, and Bali.

"Women's breasts are sexually stimulating to (heterosexual) men, at least in part because they are publicly inaccessible; society further eroticizes the female breast by tagging it shameful to expose.... This element of the forbidden merely perpetuates the intense male reaction female exposure allegedly inspires."
-- Reena Glazer

Topless sunning even spread in the 1980s to the Catholic countries of Spain. Portugal, and Italy, which had banned the bikini in the 1940s. It is ironic that while the conservative Catholic countries permit topless women in public, the mainly Protestant United States remains very resistant to the trend. Nonetheless, while abroad, many American women choose to go topless.

There is a movement to make topless sunbathing and swimming more acceptable. They prefer to call the practice "topfree" to distinguish it from the more sexually-laden term "topless."

In 1986 a woman represented herself in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and won a court victory stating that the D.C. nudity law did not apply to any body part but genitals. Since then the District of Columbia has been legally female topfree.

In 1992, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that a group of women protestors did not violate a New York State nudity statute by protesting topless in a Rochester public park.

In New York, a woman sued for the right to go topless. The case reached the State of New York Supreme Court, which ruled that women do have the right to go without a shirt or bra in public. One topfree activitist group has demonstrated this fact on several occasions, organising expeditions of women who go topfree in public places, including shopping districts and public pools.

In a landmark 1996 court opinion, the Ontario (Canada) Court of Appeal ruled that former University of Guelph student Gwen Jacobs did not commit an indecent act by strolling topless down the street on a hot summer day. The appeals court overturned her conviction for indecency because "There was nothing degrading or dehumanizing in what the appellant did. The scope of her activity was limited and was entirely non-commercial. No one who was offended was forced to continue looking at her. I cannot conclude that what the appellant did exceeded the community standard of tolerance when all of the relevant circumstances are taken into account."

One of the paradoxes of a woman's right to bare her chest like men is illustrated by the cultural norms in Las Vegas -- if norms actually exist in Las Vegas. Anyone walking down the Las Vegas Strip sees brochures advertising free adult entertainment spilling from newspaper boxes. In addition, flyers and business cards of female escorts are handed out freely, creating thousands of instances where various topless women's pictures litter the streets.

Yet even in this supposedly liberal state where prostitution and gambling are legal, where topless reviews are mainstream entertainment, women cannot choose to go topless in public. (The one exception is a single pool at one resort reserved for adults only and catering to European visitors.) Why would this be? Could it be that if women were free to go topless it might rob some of the notoriety and uniqueness from the topless acts? If women were routinely topfree, topless reviews would lose their cachet and money. Business owners — men — are heavily invested in keeping women's tops on.

In the United States women can be found sunning topfree at certain resort areas like South Beach in Miami, with its high number of European visitors, and at places like Surfside Beach and Galveston, Texas, and Ocracoke Island in North Carolina. Otherwise topfree bathing is usually limited to National Park Service beaches where enforcement is lax, or to city rooftops, the rare bikini contest, Mardi Gras, and isolated swimming holes and certain stretches of public beaches. Interestingly, there are perhaps more sanctioned places for nude sunbathing than simple topfree sunning in the U.S.

Next we look at what is The "Normal" Breast.

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