Happy to bare, or prefer to keep covered? Your views on ‘toplessness’
by Ema Globyte in Politics Lab
Tue October 2, 11:21 a.m. BST
Ever gone topless in public? Following the media chaos caused by French Closer’s decision to publish photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge sunbathing topless, we were keen to hear your thoughts on ‘going topless’ in public places.
Perfectly acceptable in certain circumstances – or an action to be frowned upon?
We put the following questions to Labs participants:
Have you ever in your adult life ‘gone topless’ in a public setting, and if so, where do you think the line is drawn for men and women bearing their upper halves?
If not, to tell us what had put them off the idea
And then, to tell us what they made of British public’s attitudes to female toplessness in particular: negative, positive, or neutral?
Unsurprisingly, we found that more of the male participants had ‘gone topless’ in public than the women getting involved in the discussion in Labs.
That said, participants as a group seemed OK with ‘going topless’ in public places such as the beach.
We look at the themes that emerged from participants’ comments below.
Male participants who have, in their adult life, ‘gone topless’
While a lot of our male participants have ‘gone topless’, some still found it embarrassing and uncomfortable.
Some male participants said that ‘going topless’ depended on the context: that it was acceptable to do so on the beach, but inappropriate to go shirtless when shopping or visiting tourist sites. A recurrent comment by men speaking up in Labs was that they felt OK to ‘go topless’ when everyone else around them was without a top.
Generally, most of the men in Labs felt it was ‘normal and natural’ to go topless on a hot day – within the confines of a beach or park.
“I've lived in several hot countries and it is the normal thing to do whether you're male or female when it is hot. I was completely comfortable and it helped with the tan” GD, Warwickshire
“As a man, it is slightly different for me; however, within the proximity of my house in good weather I regularly do not wear a shirt in the garden or outside at the car or in the street. If I was going to the shops then I would probably put a shirt on. Whilst on holiday, bearing in mind the better weather, I have walked further afield without a shirt on. I have to say it is often more comfortable to not wear a shirt and can be quite liberating” Bill, Tring
“Fine on a beach. Wouldn't do it anywhere else” David F, Ipswich
“I felt comfortable as others were doing the same - and physically it’s more comfortable when the weather is hot” Anon
Female participants who have, in their adult life, ‘gone topless’
Labs found that most of the female participants were comfortable with ‘going topless’ on the beach, but would not ‘go topless’ while shopping or sightseeing.
Some reported feeling embarrassed and awkward at first.
Some participants stated they felt liberated when topless, especially with friends on nudist beaches where everyone else around them was also partially naked.
Several female participants said sunbathing topless was something they tended to enjoy in their garden or in other private places, more so than in public places.
Some reported feeling ‘adventurous’ and even ‘naughty’ when topless in public.
“I was on holiday and wanted to avoid tan lines. But I felt awkward and put my top back on after about 5 minutes. But it was on a public beach. In private with my husband it wouldn't bother me” Anon
“I wouldn't go topless in any place other than a swimming pool or beach. As I feel this is indecent and uncouth.” Anon
“I enjoy sunbathing topless in my own garden or on beaches where it is considered acceptable. I take care to cover up in countries where I know topless sunbathing would be frowned upon” Anon
“I certainly wouldn't walk around the pool or along the beach without some form of cover (even if just a very small strapless bikini top). I think the culture of where you are and other factors such as if it is a very child friendly location need to be considered as not always appropriate” Anon
“Public beach – a little bit uncomfortable. With friends on holiday – natural and liberated” Anon
Most of the men who took part in the survey had ‘gone topless’ in their adult life, whilst a much bigger proportion of the female participants had never done so.
What were the reasons participants who have never ‘gone topless’ gave?
Most female participants who have never ‘gone topless’ in public reported feeling too self-conscious, embarrassed, or shy to do so.
Others said their good manners and concern for others would not allow them to ‘go topless’ in public. Some thought it was ‘uncouth’, ‘vulgar’ and ‘immoral’ to remove clothing in a public place.
Some female participants reported feeling ‘stared at’ as the main reason why they would not remove their clothes in public while other female participants said self-respect and modesty were the reasons they have not ‘gone topless’ in public.
“There is simply no need to do it. Also, it is embarrassing for others; my friends and family feel uncomfortable when a female removes her top next to the pool or on the beach andend up moving away from them, the same effect as a person breast-feeding in public – you want to move away to give them privacy” Emma, Chepstow
“I don't feel personally comfortable with being topless in public. I do not disagree with it at all and think it should remain a personal choice about your own limitations” Sarah W, Sussex
“It's just, I think, wrong in every possible way; it's immoral and also embarrassing for the people who do that and also the people who have to see that” Anon
“I wouldn't go topless in any place other than a swimming pool or beach. As I feel this is indecent and uncouth” Anon
What did our debaters think of the shape of UK attitudes towards women ‘going topless’ in public places in particular?
‘More negative than positive’
Most of those taking part, male and female, said their perception was that UK attitudes towards women ‘going topless’ in public were more negative than positive on the whole.
Labs participants gave a range of reasons for why they felt this was the case. Some said that the British were not used to public nudity, and embarrassed easily when exposed to it.
People in the UK were thought to live in a different social climate and by different social standards compared to the rest of Europe. People in the UK hold a more conservative, even Victorian attitude towards nudity, some Labs participants thought.
Some participants thought that the current nudity laws in the UK, where under the Public Order Act of 1986, if asked to cover up by a policeman, one should do so to avoid getting arrested. However, nudity is legal in the UK, unless it is proved that it was used in order to ‘harass, alarm, or distress others’.
And many participants also thought that female breasts are sexualised in the UK, making it seem inappropriate for females to appear topless in public places.“People in this country are more reserved when it comes to people being naked/topless. As we grow up we are taught to cover up, which continues into adulthood” Joanne, Peterlee
‘More positive than negative’
Only a small handful of those taking part in the survey thought UK had a more positive than negative attitude towards female ‘toplessness’.
A recurring opinion was that UK was much more open-minded in terms of nudity in public compared to more Victorian attitudes in the past.
Some participants said the view towards female ‘toplessness’ changes once the British are on holiday, and when other people around them accept it.
Most participants thought UK had a more relaxed and acceptant attitude towards nakedness in general - but only on the beach, not in other public places.“We are a much broader minded society than we used to be. I have always lived in Brighton which is a lively, diverse and multi-cultural city so perhaps my opinion would be different if I had grown up elsewhere” Sarah W, Sussex
What do you think about 'going topless'? Share your thoughts below.