It's a cover-up: why we're no longer happy going topless
Mon dieu! Why are French women saying au revoir to topless sunbathing?
Published 31/07/2014 | 00:00
France has some weighty issues to contend with right now: the effects of EU sanctions against Russia, whether President Francois Hollande will succumb to political pressure and marry his long-term mistress Julie Gayet, bidding adieu to topless women on the beach… Pardon?
It's true, a new generation of French women say 'Non!' to the freedom fought and won largely by their grandmothers who blazed a trail for the emancipation of the bosom back in the '60s.
When Brigitte Bardot introduced the monokini - ie swimming briefs - in 1964, it was hailed as a triumph for liberté, égalité and sisterhood and quickly spread further afield. Some resorts in neighbouring countries embraced the scanty dress code and stepped it up, or down, a notch, depending on your point of view.
Yet, while the fleshpots of Magaluf, Ayia Napa and other hotspots have given rise to a whole new meaning to the term déshabillé, a new survey reveals that just 2% of French women under 35 now sunbathe topless. With the majority regarding the trend as outdated and unhealthy, it seems that in France at least the breast is firmly back in the bikini - or, more often than not, in a full swimsuit.
Marie Claire magazine has just declared the old-fashioned one-piece the most popular swimwear item on the planet, having officially overtaken the bikini in the fashion stakes for the first time in decades.
And it's not just French women who are turning their backs on getting their breasts out. A quick poll of a couple of dozen Irish women showed that most don't dare to bare on holiday and those that do so feel comfortable only when draped on a lounger, preferably in the company of other women.
"You don't know where your boobs will end up if somebody snaps you on the beach," says one twenty-something who is following in her French sisters' footsteps and keeping her breasts under wraps.
"Everybody's got a camera phone and I don't necessarily want the whole world seeing me topless. Besides, I get bored lying on a beach all day and I use factor 50 suncream on holiday anyway. I'd rather use fake tan than end up with wrinkly old skin when I'm 40."
It's a far cry from this writer's youth when we rejoiced in getting an all-over tan with no strap lines. Then we discovered that sunbathing can cause cancer, which rather took the fun out of it all. And now it's over.
For reasons as many as they are varied, topless sunbathing has gone bust. Thanks for the mammaries.
Elle magazine deems it "a worrying sign of regression in the place of women", but for today's generation, covering up is not so much a political statement as a reaction to the times in which we live.
This is not about a new generation becoming more prudish or modest than the last; the arrival of social media has changed the landscape for everyone and we've adapted our behaviour. Is it any wonder that women who've seen the pornification of pictures on the internet should think twice before taking their top off?
Others say the swing to covering up is down to simple fashion trends. Distilled from the catwalks of Paris and Milan, swimwear on the high street this year is heavily influenced by the 1950s-style of high-waisted bikinis and full swimsuits.
Conversely, while women's swimwear appears to be getting bigger, men's trunks are getting skimpier, with one trend causing quite a controversy.
The 'String Latéral Flash', by French brand Alter, is a half G-string enclosing one side of the waist and just about covering a guy's manhood. It could catch on...
Meanwhile, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg weighed into the debate, proposing 40 as the age beyond which no woman should appear topless in public.
Many disagree. In fact, the only female breasts you are likely to see on the beaches of St Tropez these days are the drooping organs of senior citizens who fought the good fight to free the nipple back in the '60s and have no intention of relinquishing that liberty now.
For other women, however, the issue is not so much about equal rights as it is about how they look. A few weeks ago, Kim Kardashian posted a picture of herself on Instagram in a yellow bikini, sans top, with the caption: #OurLovelyLadyLumps. As Instagram is a nipple-free zone, she was face down in the picture, ample posterior to camera.
For us mere mortals, being in possession of a gigantic bum is not always so conducive to a healthy self-image. It takes nerve to unleash an average-sized body on to the golden sand without feeling like a right tit while our French sisters - who notoriously don't get fat - lead the cover-up of our time.
Like it or not, our self-image is too often wrapped up in our appearance and it doesn't help that we're bombarded with images of air-brushed celebrities and impossible ideals of beauty that can make some women feel insecure, as newlywed Sammy from Utah explained on a TripAdvisor forum.
"My body is not the same since I had a baby and I hate the thought of seeing naked women who look a million times better then me, and my new husband looking at them as well," she wrote. "That's why I want to avoid going to a topless beach on my honeymoon."
Among the many recommendations heaped upon Sammy by others in the discussion group was to head to Disneyworld or anywhere that doesn't have a lot of Europeans, because "to them, going topless is not that big of a deal".
Well, it is now, and it's making waves across the pond too. Scout Willis, the 22-year-old daughter of actors Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, caused a stir when she went topless in New York last May to protest Instagram's banning of images of breasts.
"Apparently, it's okay for women to be degraded and hyper-sexualised, but it's not okay for them to be proud of their bodies," she argued.
While her protest provoked a stir online, it didn't faze her fellow New Yorkers, most of whom, she reveals were blasé about the whole thing.
When it comes to women going topless, whether won the Cote d'Azur or strolling through Manhattan, it would appear laissez faire may be the breast practice.