Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Going Topless

We just spent a week at a French beach resort and although it was great to be immersed in the French language, culture, and food; we were also surrounded by their custom of going topless on the beach. We've been to this resort before, so it wasn't entirely unexpected, but I have to say that the first day on the beach still took some getting used to. I read somewhere that going topless is falling out of fashion on French beaches, but this was not the case here. Women of all ages were sunbathing, conversing with whole groups of people, and playing on the sand and in the water with their small children - all sans tops. It was a very family friendly G-rated, albeit, topless scene. So regardless of the current trend, why were/are the French so much more carefree about their bodies?

In general, on the beach the French seem to cover very little compared to Americans. But from my observations, its not because they all have perfect bodies - they don't. So, why did I feel like I should be covering up my imperfections, even with a top on? It became very clear to me that Americans obsess way too much over appearances. Its really no wonder that we have body image issues. Is it possible that other countries just don't care? It was interesting that the only person I saw wearing a skirted tankini, was a prudish American. She might as well have been wearing a dress because she looked fully clothed next to all of the monokinis on the beach. Interestingly, the term "monokini" in France means just the bottoms, not that strange looking attached bikini suit they sell in America where you can wear a "bikini" without showing your stomach. In America, by trying to cover up our imperfections instead of just baring them, are we insinuating that there is something wrong with less than perfect bodies? This isn't the best message to be sending to our children.

I also noticed that absolutely no one seemed to take notice of the boobs all over the beach; except for my American husband. I'm sure other men noticed, they are men after all, but there was no gawking. Can you image the Guido crazed frenzy that would occur if the Jersey Shore decided to go topless? But really what's the big deal? Men are topless on the beach, why can't women be? And would my husband really have noticed if he grew up in a place where it was normal for women to bare it all rather than hide everything? I don't know, but I liked how by baring it all, the French seemed to strip away that superficial layer of appearances. Boobs just became boobs, all sizes and shapes, not some mysterious thing for boys to be obsessed with getting a glimpse of.

I won't deny that by the end of the week, I was feeling pretty confident and comfortable with the idea, the idea mind you, of removing my top on the beach. However, on our last day there, I was putting sunscreen on in my bedroom of our suite and hadn't yet put my bikini top on. My 3 year old came barging in to ask me a question. He took one look at me and ran, without question, to the other room to immediately tell his older brother, "Mom doesn't have her 'boob covers' on today!" Feeling gone. You can take American kids to a French resort, but they're still American.

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