The beaches of St Tropez and other French resorts are witnessing the decline of what was once a common sight – ladies in topless swimsuits. A survey asked women why they now prefer to cover up.
Topless swimsuits and bathing made their first appearance on French beaches in 1964 near St Tropez on the Riviera, and they have been there ever since, as well as on all the other beaches in France, on which topless attire is permitted. But the halcyon days of topless culture may well be threatened.
In a sure sign that the winds of change are beginning to blow, Eres, a top French name in chic and trendy swimsuits, has announced that they are selling more one-piece full swimsuits than topless versions for the first time.
Psychologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann carried out a study on the reasons why women liked going topless back in the mid-90’s, a time when the practice was extremely popular.
He looks back today on that period and comments the changes in attitudes that have been revealed by an updated survey carried out by independent French online news site RUE89. He sums up those changes by saying that “Cultural reference points have completely changed in the last fifteen years. What was once fashionable has now become old-fashioned, and young women in particular no longer think twice about stigmatizing in a very emphatic manner the “old women of 50” who dare to take off their bikini tops.”
So, in a country where seventies cliché styles such as bell-bottomed trousers and mustaches are making a comeback, why are women saying no to nipples on beaches?
Here are the 10 most quoted reasons that the survey found.
One. “Because I don’t see any benefit to be gained from having suntanned breasts.”
Among the reasons given for that opinion were an amusing “Because I don’t want my breasts to look like crumpled brown toilet gloves” as well as a more down-to-earth “I need to look after them if I want them to remain firm as long as possible.”
Kaufmann found in 1995 however that white breasts on a suntanned body were not even considered to be a fashionable, never mind desirable, asset.
Two. “In order not to show everything at once. I prefer to be coaxed into that.”
One 29-year-old who prefers not to go topless explained why. “Understatement is much better. I prefer to sharpen appetites rather than deliver everything on a plate. It may seem ridiculous, but I prefer to respect myself and my body. That’s who I am.”
For Sandrine Renault-Pannetier, who works for a well-known French fashion consulting firm, “We are now living in a game of peek-a-boo. The seduction game has become more subtle, more elaborate.”
That may well explain why short skirts adapted as beachwear made their appearance last summer.
Three. “Because you might develop cancer.”
This goes hand-in-hand with another medical consideration; “Because my skin is too sensitive.” A Parisian dermatologist confirms that “People seem to have understood the message. It could even be said that women take more care of their breasts nowadays than of their faces.”
Four. “Because I’m too shy.”
Kaufmann says that fifteen years ago women were much more intent on escaping the straitjacket of daily life, and he wrote at the time; “The beach is first and foremost the antithesis of a city. A beach is the denuding of the environment and the denuding of sleepy bodies concentrating on their epidemic sensations. The holidaymaker is always looking for more; more sun, more uncovered skin, more relaxation, and more freedom.”
Times have changed it would seem, and many women expressed their opinions on this aspect to RUE89. “In a little creek in Corsica or on a boat, OK. But the idea of going topless on a crowded beach is unimaginable” said one woman. Another preferred other places such as “A tiny inlet or by a river or somewhere like that where there’s only me and maybe some people I know very well. I don’t feel at ease on a beach.”
Five. “Because I don’t wear my feminist values inside my bra.”
One 39-year-old interviewee found that things had certainly changed in that respect and said that when she was a teenager no-one even considered the question. Everyone just did whatever they liked at that time. Now, she sighed, “I think a wave of puritanism has washed over the beaches of France, and I for one do not think that it’s a laughing matter!”
Kaufmann agrees, adding that back in the sixties the invention of topless bathing was widely interpreted as a sign that women were becoming more self-assured and that they wanted more freedom. He sees a slight regression in that way of thinking today.
Sandrine Renault-Pannetier considers on the other hand that “Affirming one’s freedom is a more subtle affair these days and women are demanding more gentle treatment. They know that it’s not by looking like men that they are going to grab power.”
Six. “Because I’ve had my breasts remodeled and they don’t look nice when they’re uncovered.”
A saleslady in an up-market swimwear retailers shop on the Champs-Elysée confirms that tendency. She says that the “numerous” clients she receives who have used cosmetic surgery on their breasts do not even consider the idea of going topless because the operations cost an arm and a leg but the scars remain visible nevertheless.
That translates into a lot of time spent in the fitting rooms trying to find the right top half, whereas the bottom half is easy in comparison.
Seven. “Because my breasts are too big”
Which just goes to show that what is often believed to be an advantage can have its down side too. A woman who fits into that category explains her problems with charming honesty;
“I take a size 90C so I’m used to people looking at me, and often their eyes are looking at something which is to be found to the South of mine. Some of those looks are lecherous, others are jealous (women) and some are even pleasant. But let’s get something straight here. I get looked at even in winter when I’m wearing a woolly hat, a thick scarf, jeans that are too big for me and a heavy cold, so imagine what it would be like if I went topless!”
This is one area which Kaufmann says hasn’t changed much over the years. He says that well-endowed women have never really liked going topless because the beach is a place where social norms are important and that society has unconsciously or not integrated the idea that certain women are not made to go topless.
Eight. “Because my breasts are too small.”
What Kaufmann believes to be the case for larger ladies could just as easily be applied to their smaller sisters.
In a slightly sad statement, one petite-size said “I have too many hang-ups about it so I only sunbath topless when I’m alone.”
Nine. “Because have you ever spent two weeks without a top and suffered the resulting sunburn?”
Well, no actually, but here’s a not-so-wonderful holiday souvenir from someone who has;
“I got insanely sunburned breasts once. In fact, they weren’t even breasts any more, they were more like shiny red traffic lights! I’ve worn a top ever since.”
Finally, it mustn’t be forgotten that although topless bathing is legal on all French beaches, the same thing cannot be said for some other countries. That’s why reason ten was;
“Because it’s forbidden in my country.”
In what may or may not be a slight exaggeration of the truth, one person declared “Not in Morocco, because I’d get myself burned alive by Islamists.” What can one say except that if that’s true, it’s difficult not to agree that that is a very persuasive reason not to sunbath topless in Morocco. Going topless is also illegal in Puerto Rico apparently, according to a lady from that sun-drenched part of the world.
The conclusion seems to be that even though topless bathing is not as prevalent in France as it used to be, at least it’s still legal, and, as RUE89 points out, it’s not just because a country considers itself to be modern and liberated that going topless is allowed on its territory. Numerous Western countries have imposed total or partial bans on toplessness, including most Anglo-Saxon countries.
Vive la France?