Modest young French women refuse to go topless
Published 23/07/2009 | 11:15
French women on the beaches where Brigitte Bardot first introduced topless sunbathing have begun covering themselves up.
Forty years after their mothers and grandmothers first claimed the right to flaunt their femininity, today's young women have discovered what has been dubbed "la nouvelle pudeur" – new modesty.
The cultural shift is being put down to a backlash against the liberal ideas of previous generations.
French commentators have now declared that the days of the proudly-held bosom, the monokini and the no-strap tan may be over.
"It's the most eye-catching summer trend: female holiday-makers who go in for topless sunbathing on our beaches are fewer and fewer in number," said Le Parisien newspaper. "Some have decided to put their tops back on. Others – especially the younger generation – have never dreamed for a minute of trying out the monokini experience."
At one private beach at Bormes-les-Momosas on the Mediterranean coast, fewer than two per cent were topless this week. "It used to be about half," said one sunbather in her 40s.
The women's magazine Elle noted the return of a value – la pudeur – which it thought "had been put firmly in the discarded goods cupboard since May 1968".
According to a recent poll by the IFOP agency, 88 per cent of French women describe themselves as pudiques. Nearly half say they are shocked by the sight of bare breasts on a beach, and 57 per cent by bare breasts in the garden.
The most striking finding was that younger women are far more unwilling to bare all than their mothers or grandmothers. A quarter of 18 to 24 year-olds even described themselves as "tres pudiques".
Jean-Claude Kauffman, a sociologist said it was a sign of less showy times.
"We are witnessing a return to more safety and family-oriented values. Modesty and discretion are the order of the day," he said.
Elle magazine urged older feminists not to be outraged by their juniors' refusal to keep fighting the same liberation battles. After all, when the war has been won there is not the same need to flash one's weapons.
However many French women fear a return not to la pudeur but to la pudibonderie – or prudishness. They say that the modern-day reluctance for women to show their bodies on the beach or in sports changing-rooms has less to do with "modesty" than with a consumer-rooted obsession not to appear ugly.
Younger women who had chosen to cover up gave a variety of reasons. Some said it was because of the risks of skin cancer, but more attributed it to changes in society. "On the beach, it's only the older ones who show their boobs nowadays. Having boys look at you is too annoying," said Clara, 17.
"There's a real difference between the generations. Frankly it's hard to find girls of 20 these days who want to go topless," said Manon, 20.
Mr Kaufmann advised French men not to ogle if they wanted bare breasts to remain on their beaches at all. "The male look on the beach must be void of expression, with a lack of interest, which glides over the landscape neither avoiding bare breasts nor staring at them Otherwise the beach equilibrium is broken," he warned.