Photo by Coralie Kourany (@ladyfromthesea)
By Alli Hayes
“Excuse me ladies, is it alright if I take my shirt off at this park?” Ironically, I am asked this question after spending a lot of time this summer talking to friends, strangers, and family about baring your chest in public. The man was visiting for Vancouver Pride, and was fresh from the airport carrying his luggage and neck pillow, looking to bask in the sun at Crab Park before his Vancouver lover arrived to pick him up.
Regardless of our society’s ever evolving mentality, it’s still common for women to feel uncomfortable baring their chest in public. Laws are not the same from region to region even in Canada, evidently this man was confirming with my friend and I due to what he knows back home for any gender.
Women’s Equality Day is this Saturday, August 26th, and naturally, Go Topless Day in Vancouver is the same day. Go Topless Day will be celebrated on Robson Street in favour of self-identifying women exercising their legal rights to be topless in public.
A recent Daily Hive Facebook post surrounding the event racked up hundreds of hateful, ignorant comments and arguments. “No one needs to see your sex organs,” one Facebook user commented. “No one will take you seriously if that’s what you’re trying to accomplish in the face of feminism,” penned another.
Fortunately for those living in B.C.and Ontario, top free laws are protected thanks to local activism.
Over the years, North American female activists and advocates have stood up over top freedom and caused attention in the press. Ironically, some of these women fell into activism after being wrongfully arrested for baring their chest. Canada’s own Gwen Jacobs was arrested during a summer day in Ontario 1991 and found guilty of committing an indecent act. Five years later, she would win a challenge against the court and top freedom was legalized in the province. During this battle the judge ruled that top freedom isn’t necessarily a sexual intent and therefore, wouldn’t be seen as indecent. In 2000, B.C.’s own topfree activist Linda Meyer had been wrongfully charged multiple times and harassed by local police. In the celebrity world, Scout Willis faced some flack (daughter of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis) in New York a couple years ago when she documented a topless day in the city in protest to Instagram’s breast censorship. Moira Johnston, also of New York, was banned from a yoga class after she took her top off in class, despite it being known that many men practice yoga without shirts on. She has since been arrested multiple times but continues to exercise her female rights to raise awareness.
While personal motives are various, GoTopless.org has proven to be a fantastic central resource where you can look up bylaws, events, activism, and information on affiliates. You can also look up breastsarehealthy.wordpress.com for a fine perspective by gender-equality advocate Chelsea Covington, on her escapades around the U.S. and de-stigmatizing breasts as solely sexual objects. Laid out are stories, pieces of history regarding both men and women, and memorable experiences with the law on what is happening to top free choice.
On a personal note, some family members and even some friends have questioned why I feel so strong towards representing topless freedom as it seems there could be more important things to concern my time with. Here are five reasons why topless freedom should continue to progress and be legalized abroad.
1. Top freedom is not a means of undoing the progression of feminism. It is not a protest in the face of feminism, but for gender equality.
2. Breasts are in fact sexual organs, but rather should be respected and not shamed for being exposed.
This is where the debate gets heated. Many men and women alike feel that naked breasts are something that should be respected by a certain someone in private and is non-consensual otherwise. Nobody should be put up on a pedestal however, because then it leaves an open invitation where bribery, chivalry, and the only way you’re going to evolve sexually with someone is if they get the chance to see you naked. Also, when did topfreedom become a sole topic of sexuality? Breasts can be perceived and are perceived in many non-sexual and nurturing. Put the matter into your own hands and do what makes you comfortable and don’t fire up that everyone has the same outlook as you. We are a mosaic of sexuality and self expression.
3. It was once illegal for men to bare their chests
In the American Golden Age (1920’s) male bathing suits were a full onesie covering the chest. It was not tolerated or even in movies for men to bare their chest until 1934, and not legal until 1936. Top freedom isn’t necessarily all about women, at one point men were fighting just as hard as women are today seeking top free acceptance. It was also considered very indecent to wear a bikini that was created thirty years later, where Hollywood female icons like Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot would push the boundaries of a two piece bathing suit.
4. Bare breasts are not solely for sexual excitement: it helps raise awareness on many breast related health, body positivity, gender inequality and censorship.
5. Embracing the elements/leisure when we can.
Let’s face it. When it’s summertime in Canada, we wanna free ourselves of the dreary, nipply months. Feeling the sun, the warm rains, the water, the light breezes on our bodies is so cleansing and healing for any person.
6. Non puritanical cultures don’t consider top freedom taboo
The history of toplessness took a couple side roads. There are many modest cultures around the world that don’t wear bras, that bathe topless, that live topless. Among the variety of daily habits, these women weren’t required to think twice. It wasn’t until puritan religions abroad started to crack down on was is considered decent in public. Modern Islamic movements, the Victorian Era, and modern dictatorships to name a few patriarchies would not tolerate self expression and top freedom.
As I sit on my balcony top free in the current smokey sunlight, I admire this space as one of a few spots I feel comfortable baring my chest. I’m not out here to cause an uproar, I’m just living in my body, trying to do me. Here’s to all the bad womyn showing society what’s up and not concerning themselves with outside opinions.
Alli is a wildcard. Faux fur is her wingman. She is constantly moved by art, cool parties, and independent film, and continues to create her own projects. She wishes her photographic memory did her Instagram more justice. Check out her blog at thewildcardwins.com.