When I walk bare-chested, I just walk. The most important thing to me, now that places like Washington D.C., New York, New Hampshire, Maine, Ohio, etc have clear legal protections for breast exposure, is to work on the much more difficult and slow task of making bare-chestedness socially normal.
My abiding theory is that a person cannot be shocked by the same thing twice. So the only thing to do is to do the work, appearing publicly and allowing people to get over the initial shock of seeing a bare-chested woman otherwise behaving normally. I don’t often begin conversations with people, but when people approach me I greet them nicely, try to make them feel comfortable, and be patient while they process what is happening inside of them.
I have had beautiful, heart-warming interactions with people of both genders, and I have had deeply troubling interactions (not scary so much as disheartening), all within minutes of each other, sometimes simultaneously. Nothing I have ever done before has created such a range of emotions and reactions at the same time as peacefully walking bare-chested.
The support and positive responses have far outnumbered the negative ones.
One day in Brooklyn, NY a young couple saw me coming and stopped. They even pointed. The man said, “I love this country!” but his girlfriend didn’t seem as enthused. We ended up talking to them about what I was doing and by the end of the conversation we were all laughing and sharing food and water. Immediately upon leaving the conversation a mixed gender group called out encouragement and gave thumbs up, followed immediately by a woman yelling at me to cover up because, “Nobody wants to see that!”
It happens that way a lot. Once in Dupont Circle, Washington D.C. a young woman in a group of women stopped me in a busy crosswalk, took both my hands in hers and met my eyes. She thanked me for being “so bold,” told me she understood and supported what I was doing, and encouraged me to continue. While this was happening, from the passing traffic a male voice called out, “Titties!” No more than five minutes later a woman stopped me to tell me it was wrong to appear bare-chested with children around to which a man behind her defended me quietly and appropriately.
Keep in mind, this whole time, I was just walking. I wasn’t even responding to these people except maybe to look in their directions.
Up and down, up and down, so many reactions…some beautiful, some ugly, but all real.
And in a world of ever-increasing disconnection between technology and the actual world in front of us, I appreciate the authenticity.