Raven’s Own Words on Her First Bare-Chested Walk

United States Capitol Building, Washington D.C. October 2015
United States Capitol Building, Washington D.C. October 2015

On Sunday, October 25, 2015 I walked bare-chested through D.C. and felt real freedom for the first time.

I have struggled with a very poor body image and low self-worth since my days in early grade school. Yes, I said early grade school. Even then, in third grade, at the ripe young age of eight I felt as though my entire being was inadequate. My biggest fear was rejection. I wanted to be whatever I needed to become to be accepted by those around me. I compared myself to the girls on television, my peers, my daycare mates, and any other living breathing young female that happened to cross my path. I knew it wasn’t healthy to think of myself in such a negative light, but no matter how much I tried to fight it, the feelings came crashing down in wave after relentless wave. It seemed to me that everything I wanted and felt was considered wrong. I wanted to hang out with the boys, but according to my class mates that made me a slut, a loser, or a lesbian. When I think about how those accusations flew so easily from the seven and eight-year-old girls’ little mouths, it sickens me. Where did they get that negativity and hate from at such a young age, and why did they need to label me at all?

National Mall, Washington D.C. October 2015.  Morning clouds ceded to a gentle afternoon.
National Mall, Washington D.C. October 2015. Morning clouds ceded to a gentle afternoon.

It took me a number of years to realize I wasn’t any of the names they called me. I was just me, existing in a way that made me feel good. I was spending time with the people I enjoyed spending time with, listening to the music that interested me, reading every piece of poetry I could get my hands on, and living my one beautiful life to the best of my ability. I love and have loved many men and women, but I realized on Sunday that I have never really loved me.
Like Gingerbread said in “IT FEELS GREAT TO FEEL FREE!”  The Free the Nipple campaign has brought a great deal of attention to gender equality and body image, and though I have very energetically protested and petitioned for environmental and human’s rights issues alike, I could not see myself in line with bare-chested demonstrators waving signs about gender equality.

National Mall, Washington D.C. October 2015.
National Mall, Washington D.C. October 2015.

So what was I left with? How could I support the movement to make bare-chestedness legal as well as socially acceptable? I wasn’t sure. I didn’t have the answers, and I certainly wasn’t brave enough or comfortable enough in my own skin to remove my top and go explore New York, which was the only place that I was absolutely certain it was legal.
I was stuck reading about a movement that I supported wholeheartedly, but had no clue how to actually support in real life, until I read Gingerbread’s blog. Suddenly I was reading about this amazing woman who wasn’t protesting at all. She wasn’t chanting catchy slogans about gender equality, she was being herself and living her life. She was free, and that was captivating, so I read every word on her blog. She was more beautiful and free than I had ever hoped to be. All at once it clicked. I said out loud, “I can do that. I need to do that!”  And the decision was made.

When the day came for me to do what I felt that I could and needed to do, I was terrified. I was about to go bare-chested in public for the first time. “Act normal,” she had written in an early blog post. “Understand why you are doing this,” she wrote.
As I walked up to meet her I thought about my poor body image, my lack of self-confidence, and all of the other anxieties that had built up in my head. I tried to prepare myself mentally. I thought, “You’ve breastfed in public for a total of two and a half years. You’ve got this!” and then I instantly thought “Wow, I’ve breastfed three kids. My breasts have probably sagged down to my knees and I just haven’t realized it yet!” My brain was on a crazy rollercoaster ride. I spent most of my preparation time in thought trying to guess what other people would think and how they would react to my bare-chestedness.

The lawn in front of the United States Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.  October 2015.
The lawn in front of the United States Capitol Building, Washington, D.C. October 2015.

Finally I saw her. She waved from the opposite side of the street, then motioned for me to cross. When I got to the other side we hugged and I unzipped my sweater. I was still just a bit chilly so I left the sleeves of my sweater on while the front was completely open.

I quickly realized I could have never actually prepared myself for my own reaction to my bare-chestedness. Much to my surprise, I instantly felt at peace. I wasn’t worried about what anyone else thought for the first time in my life, and I wasn’t worried about how I looked either. I was only concerned with how I felt, and I felt GREAT! I know we caught the eye of quite a few folks, but I wasn’t really paying too much attention to the crowd. I was free, truly free for the first time. I was free from my poor body image and all of the mental constraints I had put on myself. My confidence skyrocketed and my anxieties disappeared. It was one of the most amazing feelings I have ever had in my life, and I cannot wait to do it again.

~ Raven

United States Capitol Building, Washington D.C. October 2015
United States Capitol Building, Washington D.C. October 2015

Raven, thank you for these words, as well as for your trust and courage.  You are a beautiful soul.  Spending yesterday with you and your family ranks among the high points of my life.  Love, Gingerbread.

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14 thoughts on “Raven’s Own Words on Her First Bare-Chested Walk

    1. Since 1986! The police chief, a commander and I have shared some extensive, positive and civil emails and the police are doing quite well now. They understand how intimidating and discouraging it can be to have police stop and ask a woman why she is bare-chested, even if they don’t arrest. With very few exceptions the police are being very professional and appropriate with me. Last week I even overheard a Capital Police officer explaining to an observer that bare-chestedness is legal in D.C. This is a social issue in Washington D.C., not a legal one. The law is clear. Now we just have to go out and patiently show the world that breasts are healthy and normal. I’ll be out tomorrow in fact. Warm temps forecast. Thanks again for your comments!

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      1. I wish I had known toplessness was legal in DC when I was there this past summer. I am 57 years old and want to get involved! Has anyone compiled a list of where toplessness is and is not legal? While I am VERY ready to go topless in places where there is no law against it, I am not yet ready to take on the law itself. I am looking forward to summer, as normalizing bareness is very alive for me. 🙂

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        1. This is great! I have a series of articles called “Is Bare-Chestedness Legal Here” in which I lay out my process for understanding the laws in your state. I summarized my total process in the article “How to go Bare-Chested Without Getting Arrested.” If you don’t want post your locale in a comment, you can email me at breastsarehealthy@gmail.com and we can talk more about it there. Generally it’s not too hard to tell what your laws say. It can be more challenging to get the police to agree sometimes. Sometimes it’s super easy. York Maine took a walk in conversation to their police department. Five minutes. Pittsburgh has been dragging on for months… Thank you for visiting g the blog and commenting.

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          1. I have a house in Sedona, Arizona. I am moving to Brownsburg, Indiana (suburb of Indianapolis). I do travel a fair amount, so in addition to knowing what is legal locally, I would enjoy participating wherever it is “safe” to do so. 🙂

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            1. Arizona state law reads, “A person commits indecent exposure if he or she exposes his or her genitals or anus or she exposes the areola or nipple of her breast or breasts and another person is present, and the defendant is reckless about whether the other person, as a reasonable person, would be offended or alarmed by the act.” Now I would make the argument that I was not being “reckless” by simply walking around, but that’s a conversation to have with your police department. Indiana law forbidding public nudity reads, “As used in this section, “nudity” means the showing of the human male or female genitals, pubic area, or buttocks with less than a fully opaque covering, the showing of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any part of the nipple, or the showing of covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state.” So those don’t seem like soft places to go bare-chested. I have gone bare-chested personally in Vermont (not in Brattleboro), Maine, New York City and elsewhere in the state, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, beaches throughout Maryland and all over Washington D.C. I also kayaked bare-chested in Delaware but Delaware law says no female breast exposure. I went bare-chested in Cape Charles, VA for several hours without problem. Virginia law has gender equal language, but a lot of towns in Virginia have local ordinances. Cape Charles did not, so I tried it and didn’t have any negative interactions. I have also received confirmation from Keene, NH law enforcement that bare-chestedness is legal there and in most of New Hampshire (not Laconia at this moment), but I didn’t get to test it before the weather turned and there is a bill coming up this year to make female breasts exposure illegal in NH. We are fighting that now. I understand that Oregon and Washington State allow bare-chestedness and that women are doing it there, but I have never been to either of those places, and Boulder CO apparently has a group of women appearing bare-chested with some regularity (yoga in a park.) Miami Beach allows bare-chestedness on the beach, and I’ve been bare-chested on other beaches in Dade County in the polices’ presence without trouble, but I read it is technically against Miami code to leave the beach bare-chested. A commenter named Johnny and I are discussing how to make a list of places women have successfully been bare-chested in public with some way to confirm those claims. If you get around D.C. or Philadelphia, let me know…

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  1. This story touches my heart so much. I relate so much to the poor body image from early childhood and carrying it on, loving others and realizing how little you love yourself. Until the day you are freed from all, it takes removing (for me baring it all) your clothes and seeing yourself for the first time to learn to totally love and accept yourself. Now, to feel the freedom of being out in public barechested, how beautiful for you both.
    I’m so happy you had this opportunity and I wish you many more chances to do this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I cried when Raven sent it to me for posting. We are made from a very early age to feel shame about ourselves and our bodies. I can’t think of woman I’ve met *in my whole life* who hasn’t expressed some form of lower self-esteem or self-degradation, either through negative language about her appearance and weight or self-deprecation about her abilities or with silence. I have never heard a woman in my family (and there are many) say something nice or kind about the way she looks or about herself in general. It’s disturbing. Why do we do this to our children? Why do we do this to each other? Why do we do this to ourselves?

      It is extremely difficult for a woman to love and accept herself, and I am so glad that you do! I know how hard it is to get there and I respect the fight in you.

      What I want most out of this movement is for it to be a beacon to women (and all genders, really) against the self-hatred, shame, and poor body image that have plagued us for millennia. It is time to emerge from the darkness.

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  2. I have had infrequent dreams where I went bare chest or bare bottom. Always awoke feeling self-conscious. More power to you. It’s not for me.

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  3. Just found your Blog, I have a problem with self esteem and body acceptance I have found I am 70 years young now.
    When younger I was taken to the Cinema to see a film about sexual premuickey (Sorry about spelling). It was my father who took me as in the 60’s sex was not talked about. The film made me scared to associate with women at more than causal manner. in my twenties try to join a nudist group but as I was single group Stereo-typed as single male be a problem to women of the group. My thought of joining was that seeing nude women I might learn acceptance of their shape. So I am a closet nudist even though England and Wales allow nudity in public if not alarm or distress another; which seems to be the case of people I’ve meet. Sorry forgot an earlier issue while at school in Canada in 50’s (I’m Moved to England Canadian) was given an article to read about men swimwear of the 20’s. On one day it was very hot and some men removed their “T” top swimwear and where arrested taken to court where a New York judge thought 50 men too many to jail so dismissed the case; then wrote a clause for men to be allowed topless and I thought why did he stop there why not women be allowed as well.
    The Cat

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    1. Thank you for visiting the blog and for commenting. I am moved, as I have been by other male commenters doing the same, by your sharing of your own self esteem and body acceptance challenges. Body pride is a human issue. I appreciate your time. Be well 🙂

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