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Some spoilsports would say ‘So what?’ to that statement, but like all curious toms, we’re saying, ‘Aw, why?’ Because while topless sunbathing women are a sight to behold anywhere in the world, they’re more so in France, where the process has been refined to an art form in the last few decades.
To see it decline is a pity. A bit like witnessing the fall of Rome.
Brigitte Bardot was the first Frenchwoman to go topless on the French Riviera and be photographed by national media. From then to now, going topless has meant many things to many people: it was a declaration of equality, it was a statement of being comfortable with one’s own body, it was a symbol of women’s liberation, and it was sexy.
But as Elle magazine lamented recently on the cover of its summer issue, it appears that Frenchwomen are becoming a little – well – conservative. They’re not going out in droves to sunbathe on the beach, and even if they do, they’re not going topless to do so. Just 2% of the surveyed women under thirty-five said that they went topless to sunbathe. It prompted Elle to ask on its cover: ‘Is this the end of toplessness on the beach?’
One reason seems to be the increasing amount of awareness there is around skin cancer. While getting an all-body tan is brilliant, trading that for a potential case of melanoma is something that most women today are saying no to.
And then there is the association with topless activists of one kind called Femen, who use their naked breasts as a means of attracting attention to a variety of causes. There is a campaign called ‘Free the Nipple’, which encourages women to go topless in order to end the stigma around female bodies. Marches such as Slut Walk are also not new.
One theory says that women who would have happily gone sunbathing topless a few years ago are now worried that they will be associated with topless activism when they have no such inclinations.
Women of the present generation are also vainer, apparently, to go with the health concerns of being in the sun. Roaming around topless will give gravity more of a chance to act on your breasts, and may end up making them uglier with time. This is probably why, says Alice Pfeiffer, a French journalist, most of the women we do see going topless are slim with small breasts. So self-consciousness is definitely a factor.
The change has been generational, says Pfeiffer. If you look through the family albums, it’s not uncommon to see topless photographs of grandmothers and great grandmothers of today’s young women. But something has changed, and women today no longer are comfortable shedding their tops – not for a political statement, not even for a tan.
Or it could just be that they’ve become more conservative, says Valeria Costa-Kostritsky, an author based in Paris. She thinks that French women are covering up because ‘it makes uncovering just for a lover more interesting.’

Chirag Thakkar

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