Drawing the bikini line on toplessness

YES: Joanna Moorhead
Rosie, my 17-year-old, flew to Corfu with her friends last weekend for what I’m sure will be a wild teenage holiday.

Will she, though, be sunbathing topless? ‘Mum! Are you mad?” she asks. ‘Absolutely not! I’d never, ever sunbathe without my bikini top on. And before you ask, nor would any of my friends.”

When I was a teenager, however, I would think nothing of sunbathing wearing only bikini bottoms. In fact, I think my friends and I would have seen it, back in the early 1980s, as almost de rigueur. It felt so good, taking off your top and lying half-naked in the sun on the beach: free, liberating, warm and, hey presto, no bikini lines.

Fast-forward a quarter century and yes, I’m still at it. But it’s a lot harder these days. My family — all four daughters plus their Scottish Presbyterian father — seem to have a deep-seated prudishness.

On a holiday to Mallorca a few years ago I decided to strip off for a midnight swim in the pool — only to have all the girls, and their father, shriek at me to cover up. And this was in the dark, in the middle of the countryside, with no one else around.

But I assert my right to sunbathing, and swimming, topless. After all, no one bats an eyelid when men wander around resorts without a T-shirt on — and, heaven knows, some of them have bigger breasts than many of us.

Women’s breasts spend far too much of the year hidden away in often uncomfortable bras. We have to ask ourselves whose agenda it is to get women to keep their breasts covered and why.

My rather uncomfortable hunch is that this is a debate that is driven by the desire of men to keep a part of women’s bodies, that they (mistakenly) believe is only for them, covered up. And this, it seems to me, is why our society is shot through with all sorts of unhealthy problems about breasts and their raison d’être.

So, in an age when the young seem to have decided to kowtow to the male agenda and cover up, it seems to me that it’s all the more important for we forty-somethings to be flying the flag for feminism. I think I owe it to the cause to get my breasts out.

NO: Zoe Williams
Somehow it doesn’t surprise me that now, when barely anybody wears clothes at all — when the Americans have a phrase for drinking in a bar without your top on (‘raunch culture”) — the young people of France have decided it is no longer cool to sunbathe topless.

Sunbathing topless is a French thing, whereas wandering around entirely naked is a German-Austrian thing. There is no functional difference between the two — one is not more revealing than the other.

Come on, if you cannot guess what is going on under a G-string, then you need to retake your beach Baccalaureat, pal. It’s not like, stripped only to the waist, you have more protection from the sun or are better placed to deal with a shark attack.

There is, however, a world of difference in meaning between total nudity and top-arf-only. The first is a statement of hyper-pragmatism, a bullish: ‘What do you mean, organs of sex?

These are just more body parts, waving robustly for their vitamin D.” Don’t get me wrong, I am no big fan of this kind of nudity either. But in its favour, it lacks vanity. It is all about the fresh air. Toplessness is not about practicality, it’s about glamour. I emphatically don’t mean ‘glamour” as in ‘glamour model”.

I mean glamour in the old-world sense that one’s own judgment is unimpeachable. If one is topless oneself, toplessness is what’s required. After all, what kind of a person would stare and point and laugh? An unsophisticated person. Probably an English person. Of course, it would be way more sophisticated if we could all take our tops off and pretend that didn’t remind us of sex.

I’m not saying the French are wrong. I’m just saying that it’s a bit of a coincidence that a sartorial (or anti-sartorial) habit — a cultural more, if you will — makes them look sophisticated and gets them an all-over tan at the same time. It’s all very convenient.

Yeah, this is all an elaborate excuse; the real reason I deride toplessness is that small matter of what I actually look like. Perhaps it’s unsisterly to say so but taking your top off does rather draw attention to your attributes — and they had better be good. —

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