I don’t remember my Mum ever sunbathing topless when I was a kid. Nor my aunts, nor those much-studied cousins old enough to have breasts. Until we went to France one summer that is. Then suddenly they were all at it.
All shapes and sizes fully out at the beach. No discussion just semi-naked relatives everywhere. I think I was eight and I’m sure I stared quite a lot before settling in to the normality, this was holidaying in France.
I also remember a lot staring, albeit more sideways and subtle, when I went to the south of France with some guy pals from university. They never did seem to settle into the normality of it all.
Only 2% of under 35 year old women say they’d sunbathe topless
I’m British and shy, so toplessness never occurred to me. Though while I’ve never cared about tan lines, I’ve skinny dipped at night enough to know it feels pretty nice to swim sans swimsuit. I can see why French women like it. Or should that be liked it?
As according to Surf Europe (“A French symbol is dying…" they wail), Elle, The Guardian and more, this quintessentially French behaviour is under attack with only 2% of under 35 year old women saying they’d sunbathe topless, according to a study quoted in The Guardian piece.
That’s quite a shift. We asked six women who live in France (well one has moved back to London now but she lived there a good while…) why they think fewer French women are going topless and whether they still shun bikini tops at the beach themselves.
Their answers were cool, thoughtful and funny. One of our contributors nearly got fined in the US for sunbathing topless, another “loves the freedom of that" on French beaches.
Others cited skin cancer fears, money spent on bikinis and “the bombardment of perfect images of women in the media" as reasons why they now cover up.
We hope you enjoy reading them...
"Even if I do look like a 12 year old boy without a bikini top on, I’ll never say never!"
"The ‘topless’ debate has been going on for some time now over here in France.
Up until the early 90s France was synonymous with its liberalism with regards to nudity (I remember going to nudist beaches when we were young, in the 80s and my mum would go topless). However, there is quite a divide in opinion these days.
A lot of this is down to the ‘bombardment’ of images of the perfect woman in the media. As a result French women have more complexes about their female forms, but also for fear of finding a photograph of themselves topless on social media.
I don’t personally pose topless, but then I’ve been wearing swimming costumes for the last five years (even when I wakeboard, if it’s hot enough not to wear a wetsuit!).
I’ve never had a bust (pre-pregnancy) and have always been very active, so I’d prefer something that stays on when I’m surfing than finding two padded triangles around my neck every time I wipe out!
I have never really been someone who likes sunbathing either, so going topless to get an all over tan has never really been desired either.
Despite personally preferring to cover up, I totally respect women who choose to go topless and I think we’re fortunate to live in a society that leaves us the choice to do so.
Personally, even if I do look like a 12 year old boy without a bikini top on, I’ll never say never!"
"Chicks don’t really do it in the US and I think the French are increasingly Americanised"
"Are women going topless less in France? Bummer! The freedom of that on la plage rules!!
To be honest, it’s that classic thing that trends from the US filter to the UK and then to France. Chicks don’t really do it in the US and the UK - I think the French are increasingly Anglo/Americanised…"
"You might want to tan topless but still not want it all over the World Wide Web"
"To be honest, I love too.
I'll go swimming in a full bikini but how nice isn’t it to just throw that wet top off and dry up in the sun topless? Plus there’s the issue of tan lines, not a big fan of those.
I don’t do it very often but it more so depends on who I’m with and what beach I’m at. Where I live there are a lot of industry people and I prefer to not have everyone I work with see my breasts.
Then again I live in France where a lot of women tan topless and it’s not considered weird at all, nor in any way sexual.
Coming from Finland where the sauna culture and nudity go hand in hand, I’ve never been a prude when it comes to changing from one bikini top to another.
Being a surfer, I’ve also gotten used to switching in and out of clothes, wetsuits and bikinis without caring too much about who catches a glimpse, something neither my surfing nor Finnish friends have a big problem with.
It also depends on your company. You need to be respectful if your boyfriend or friends are comfortable with you being topless.
When I go topless, it’s mainly when I’m with my family or girlfriends at the beach. My breasts won’t turn that many heads anyway so I’ve never felt uncomfortable doing it.
I personally haven’t noticed a change in less women tanning topless like Elle says, but then again I’ve only lived in France for almost three years.
If you ask me, I’d say that toplessness is still alive and well.
However, I do see the point they make in the articles with social media making it a bit more tricky. You might want to tan topless but still not want it all over the World Wide Web."
"I almost got a fine in the US for tanning topless!"
"I’m French, and I do tan topless.
A few years ago I almost got a fine in the US for it. It was really funny. We were at the beach with Jenny Jones and Cheryl Maas and the policeman kept telling me it was forbidden to tan topless in Huntington Beach blablabla and the whole time he was watching my boobs! Like drowning into them!
In general, I think French women tan topless when they are alone or with their boyfriend, but then keep the top on when in a larger group.
It’s all a question of fashion. I’d love to be able to surf topless instead of running after my bikini half of the time. But I burnt my nipples each time I tried..."
"I'm worried about the sun's effect on my skin after years of tanning"
"I used to do topless when I was younger, but only for a few years between 20 and 25. It was purely for not having sun marks.
I was only topless on the sand, putting a bra to go to swim for example. The sensation to be half naked was pretty awesome, to feel closer with nature; the sun heating.
I stopped because of my age and kids. I’ve not felt as comfortable as before showing myself semi-naked.
But most of all, it’s my skin. I have been more worried about the sun effects on my skin after years of tanning. I’m using SPF 50 all over my body now all the time.
About French women in general… I think it’s because of skin and breast cancers fears.
It’s about also society. We see everywhere porn, sexuality, wearing a bikini keeps a little bit of secret, intimacy…
Now swimwear is part of your summer outfit. People spend more money on their swimsuits and they want to show them off."
"I think it’s considered tasteless and inappropriate"
"I don’t do topless due to cancer fears and my less than perky boobs now I’m older, but I haven’t seen anyone doing it in a long while in France.
I think it’s considered tasteless and inappropriate. Women spend hundreds on fancy bikinis and underwear so not using them would be a waste.
There are still many naturist beaches though. I have friends that have been going to a naturist camping site in Corsica for 20 years… His new girlfriend found it embarrassing initially but seems to have got used to the concept now! They go with kids and everything."
Would you sunbathe topless? Tell us your thoughts below the line.