What to expect when walking bare-chested (Part 1, anything and everything)

National Mall, Washington D.C. Summer 2015.  In front of the Smithsonian Building.
National Mall, Washington D.C. Summer 2015. In front of the Smithsonian Building.

I have been walking bare-chested in public for two years now.  I started this blog at the request of friends and supporters to share my experiences and lessons learned.  My main goal is to provide women with the information they need to feel confident appearing bare-chested in public.  My goal is to normalize the sight of bared breasts.  That requires women to regularly go bare-chested.  Which requires them to believe it is a meaningful act in the first place.

This article is a summarized overview of things to expect so you can be prepared.

  1. Support. I was and still am sometimes surprised at how many men and women will go out of their ways to voice their support and encouragement.  Women often thank me.  Others will tell me I’m brave.  Things like that.  Men usually say something simple like, “I support what you are doing.”
  2. Vocal Criticism.  On the other hand, though less often, people of both genders will go out of their way to tell me what I am doing is wrong in some way.  These folks are far fewer than the supporters, and the majority are civil despite their judgement.  By which I mean, they don’t yell and I have never had a physical altercation.  Three times in two years I have had people, two women and one man, really get upset with me.  One woman told me she saw nothing redeeming in me as a human being and said I was endangering her teenage daughters (from sex and pregnancy) because she was trying to teach them modesty.  Another young woman in Ocean City got aggressive and told me to put clothes on, but then after we talked for a few minutes she actually asked if she could join me.  As she was drunk and 18 I asked her politely to refrain, given that the police might respond and the last thing I or her needed was to mix bare-chestedness with an actual crime.  The man, I believe, was mentally ill and yelled across a meadow in Brooklyn that I was garbage.  The great thing about that interaction is that a family of five had just walked by and given me what I took for judgmental looks of disapproval, kind of like why in the world would you do this here?  And then this guy starts yelling about how I am garbage and a whore and a harlot (I was playing frisbee) and they watched me ignore him and I could see them migrate a bit.  It was really amazing.
  3. Police.  If you are walking somewhere really public, unless your police are really prepared (like in New York City and even there there is no guarantee), you will probably have a police officer respond.  This will be because someone somewhere has called 911 to report a topless women walking down the street.  I disagree with this, but police departments insist they have to respond to a complaint, if for no other reason then to make sure everything is okay.  I appreciate that they respond to public concerns, but I also think that on the face of a 911 call in which the only thing reported is a legal activity (think bare-chested man walking), the police or dispatchers should be able enabled to withhold a response.  It’s tough.  Anyway, you’re doing something new and  people thinks its a crime.  Many places it is a crime.  So the police are going to arrive.
  4. Nice police. Some police get it.  You will know pretty quickly if you have lucked out and found one of them.  They will greet you from a distance and explain why they are there.  Thank them for their professionalism, have a chat, and you can both go on your merry ways.  In time, these calls won’t happen.  For now, necessary evil.
  5. Aggressive police. I have thought a lot about these aggressive police officers of both genders and I think it boils down to this, aggressive police are scared.  It’s understandable.  Everywhere they go, they face the potential of harm.  And in this environment, they also face the potential of their own supervisors undercutting them and failing to protect them.  So if they don’t respond to crime, they get in trouble.  If they do respond to crime and overdo it, they get it trouble.  They don’t want to get hurt and they don’t want to get fired.  And then here comes a woman walking bare-chested and their mid-brains fire and they adrenalize and it goes haywire.  All I can do in those situations is be firm but not scary.  I want to deescalate, not escalate.  They won’t hear a word I say until they come out of their mid-brains.  I will be writing an article just about police interactions soon.  I’m in the middle of a long e-mail conversation with a police department now and I want to see how it develops before I write the article.
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3 thoughts on “What to expect when walking bare-chested (Part 1, anything and everything)

  1. I’m still working through your blog, so maybe you answer this elsewhere, but how did you start with going bare chested in public? What was it like at first?

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    1. I started going bare-chested because I wanted to be bare-chested. That’s not a sarcastic answer. My motivation was just that, to feel free. And for a long time that’s all I did. No blog, no activism. But then I had a negative interaction (wildly offensive, not violent or scary) interaction with police in Washington D.C. that sent me on this path to sharing all this publicly. Frankly, I was starting to get tired of watching all these people post #freethenipple or whatever and doing nothing about it, especially in places where it is legal for women to go bare-chested, but they weren’t actually going bare-chested. They say they want this right… we have the right! We just aren’t using it. So I was kind of like, oh for heaven’s sake, and just went for a walk. What’s the worst that could happen? Somebody makes fun of me? Somebody posts a picture of me online? Someone laughs at my body? So what? My mom finds out? She’s seen me naked. So I decided to just go do what all these people were talking about, just to see what would happen. And then after like a year and a half of that, some friends asked me to share the experiences on the blog. What was it like at first? It felt beautiful from the very first time. It felt great. It was also funny because it was at a small local beach and I bumped into a high school friend and her boyfriend and they deadpanned me completely and I deadpanned them (like yeah, this fits Chelsea’s personality) and we hugged and all that and talked and caught up and I went on my way. Just like that. It was a great first experience. But then I don’t get nervous, in general I mean. When the stakes are high I get very focused, quiet minded, peaceful, and I find my center and enjoy the experience. My first walks felt like that. I was very present.

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