Breasts, race and diversity

Epic Insta
Anthony teaching me to drum, DuPont Circle, Washington D.C., Summer 2015


I walk bare-chested because it makes me feel free, happy and empowered.

I want people to see this in my demeanor so they associate bare breasts with health and contentment.

I’ve been having a fascinating, on-going conversation with a multiracial social group about race and language.  It has me thinking a lot about race and breasts.  Equality, after all, means equality.  All forms.  All fronts.

Thinking back, I have had a far stronger positive response from people of color than from white people.  A Pakistani couple in D.C. once stopped me to take pictures and ask questions.  They were very nice and highly intelligent.  They voiced strong support and we had a fascinating conversation about freedom.

African-American men have universally been polite, respectful and supportive.  They have also expressed a lot of curiosity about how I have been treated both by the public and the police.

African-American women have seemed to either really love or really hate what I am doing, and haven’t been afraid to say so.

I once had an African-American woman follow me, heckle me, tell me I should be ashamed of myself and call the police.  Same walk, another African-American woman crossed a busy street with her teenage daughters to congratulate me and to ask if I would pose for a picture with her.  The younger daughter took the photo.  All three were positive, kind and supportive.

I’ve also had a lot of supportive honks and shouts from cars from African-American women, and one woman even circled the block when she saw me talking to George Washington Law School Police, park her car (stopping traffic), step out and tell them it was legal for me to be bare-chested!  She gave me a hug, got in her car and drove away.

The support is great, of course, but diversity of thought is more important.  I want to hear support and dissent. I mean, of course I’m hoping the world normalizes to the sight of female breasts, but if every single one of us has a voice and feels free to use it, we will get somewhere.  (Civility always makes me listen more closely.  Incivility allows me to show observers how to respectfully deescalate people.)

So, with this said, I’ve been thinking about how white the topfreedom movement looks right now, judging by the pictures on the Internet.

What is most troubling to me about this is that I know there are women of all races who believe in topfreedom as an expression of gender equality and as an act of freedom and self-love, because they stop me on the street and tell me so repeatedly.

So where are they?

I don’t pretend to understand all the nuanced social factors impinging on women in our society, but I would love to learn, specifically as it relates to appearing bare-chested in public.

So, anyone out there willing to share her thoughts with me on this topic, either through the comment section here or privately by email at  Please be civil.  This is a charged topic in several directions.

Also I would like to invite women of diverse race, ethnicity and age to join me on a quiet walk in D.C. this Friday, November 27.   The weather is forecast to be in the high 60’s.  No chants, no signs, no bull horns, no photos if you don’t want them.  Just you and me going for a walk.  See what happens…

If anyone is interested, or is interested in doing this at a different place and time, email me.  Thank you!


13 thoughts on “Breasts, race and diversity

  1. Some background on Pittsburgh and non-Caucasian topfreedom. In May 2013, one woman tried it. It did not end well. While I cannot locate the Post-Gazette story on it (stupid paywall to the archive site and useless search engine on the free one), here is one TV station’s coverage that is still available, from KDKA. No name given other than “Sparkle”.

    TERA mentioned the story, too. Go to, scroll to “2013 May 23”. It mentions a private video, but the account is no longer functioning.

    If any charges were filed and/or other action taken, there should be public record of it. If we wanted to try to find her, that is where I would start.

    Three months later, a group of racially diverse women gathered in Point State Park to observe Go Topless Day (August 25), but were met with police there, too. The women kept their shirts on and nothing happened but a few tense moments. In Point State Park, park rangers patrol as well, and adhere to a different (and stricter) set of rules. The showdown was mentioned on the same TERA page; scroll to “2013 September 03” for the story. I was there, but not involved. I talked to a couple of them afterward and we exchanged contact info, but I have (drat!) since lost it.

    If I run across that info or anyone else of a like mind, I will be sure to put you in touch.


    1. Hey Stu:

      Thanks for the comment. I’ve seen the cell phone footage of that incident actually. If it’s the one I’m thinking about I believe she and the police officer struggled physically for a spell. I wonder what became of her case and what her motivations for walking bare-chested were. Regarding the GoTopless day three weeks later though, that’s a lot more compelling. Yes, if you come across their contact information I would love it if you would ask them if I can contact them, or if they would contact me.

      A lot has changed since 2013. It’s amazing. We were just talking about how differently police departments are behaving on this topic from just a couple years ago. For example, I rode my bicycle through Philadelphia this week without any incidents. Totally normal. Police passed me a couple times but didn’t even slow down. I had received email confirmation that I was within legal bounds to be bare-chested from the police department’s legal department and sure enough, no worries. So I’m hopeful that in the near future we will have a similar experience in Pittsburgh. We are working on it right now in fact. Or trying to. We had a very civil and promising email conversation going with the Pittsburgh police that has dried up a bit, but I’m still hopeful it’s just the holidays.

      Thanks again…


  2. I totally support your efforts here but I don’t see it as a feminist or issue of equality. To me this is an issue of societies’ unhealthy need to objectify and sexualize the human body. Society uses shame and sexuality to demonize a nude human body in order to control and regulate behavior for centuries. It doesn’t matter whether you are bare chested or totally nude, they reasons are the same. Society needs to have a healthier perspective of nudity, and when the objectification of women’s bodies will decrease as well. This is why I support efforts like #freethenipple because every little effort will help breakdown these barriers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment. The act of going bare-chested for me is a multi-layered thing. Fundamentally, it is an act of living. I just enjoy being free and natural. It has nothing to do with protesting or advocating. If I’m in the woods on a warm day, a hundred miles from the next human, I’m bare-chested. Well, I’m nude haha, but you get my point. I like the sensation of freedom I feel without clothing. So yes, in that regard I absolutely agree that bare-chestedness is a human issue, not a feminist issue. Body shame is a human issue. I know that boys can receive as much body shaming as adolescents as girls do. I went skinny dipping with old college friends this summer, males, and it was their first time. The first thing they did was started making fun of each other’s bodies — so they got a good old big sister Gingerbread lecture on how to behave like adults. People say oh they were just joking around, lighten up. No. Bullying is never fun. Ever. If the intent is to harm, as theirs was, it’s wrong. Period. That’s an absolute to me. Anyway, yes, I agree. Topfreedom is a human issue.

      However, breast exposure is one of the few places in the law where it is actually codified that men and women are to be treated differently. I mean, men and women are treated differently by society 24/7. But this is written in law! And even in society, beyond the law, expectations of how we cover our bodies is one of the blatant ways we treat the genders differently. I’m not saying its the most damaging, or the most grievous, or the most urgent. I’m saying it’s closest to the surface. I watch young girls, three, four, five years old, being forced to wear bikini tops over non-existent breasts when their brothers aren’t and I remember how that felt to me at that age, asking myself what was wrong with my body compared to boys. And it settled in. If I wasn’t bad, I wouldn’t have had to cover up. It’s true that both boys and girls are taught their genitals are shameful, but it’s a different thing that boys chests are okay where girls’ aren’t. Fast forward twenty years to the young mother trying to breastfeed in public, amid disapproving looks from people who were never exposed to the sight of breasts before. Treating women as inferiors in this regard hurts boys and girls, because, as you rightly say, we raise generation after generation of people who can’t navigate non-sexual nudity and therefore can barely navigate sexuality at all. We are basically stuck in a big collective pre-adolescence, giggling at each other while trying to rip each other’s towels off to see what everybody else looks like. It’s ridiculous.

      But I’m hopeful. I wouldn’t be doing this if I weren’t.

      I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog and comment. Every little effort helps indeed. Be well.


      1. Thanks for your detailed reply and I concur with all of your statements. I will give you one example where men are discriminated more than women, and that is the case of full nudity. If a woman was nude in public, say at the beach, she’d be ask to cover up 9 times out of 10, but if a man was naked, he’d be arrested and most likely charged with a sexual offense. I point this out only to support your point about society’s immaturity when dealing with nudity.

        I could elaborate on a local woman that prefered to garden topless but neighbors kept calling the cops on her even though it is legal, but I won’t because we are in total agreement.

        I know that you and I would like to take the position that we are not protesting or advocating, but the truth is that we are and have to. I know that we consider all of this natural and normal, but we have to be truthful to ourselves and admit that society thinks the opposite and we need to educate them. For those of us that are comfortable being topless and even nude, we have to stand up for common sense and point out the hypocrisy. I find myself talking more about respect and body-positiveness than toplessness or nudity because those topics are at the root of the issue. This change is going to happen gradually with topless equality coming first to break down the major barrier around the female breast.

        I am delighted that I found your blog, and I look forward to reading more of your articles. I will be sharing your site with our social nudity group too.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I do agree about the full nudity claim you make, that a publicly naked man would be treated more harshly than a woman. Male genitals are definitely considered more dangerous and harmful than female genitals I think. As long as rape is used as a terror tactic, penises will be associated with weapons. No one was ever tortured with female breasts. It’s a similar argument isn’t it? If the only time we EVER see bare breasts is some sexual context, of course we will only ever associate breasts with sex. And if we see penises used to harm people, but never see benign penises, we will have a strong fear reaction to penises.

    I want to be clear that I consider the vast, vast majority of men to not be rapists, latent rapists or misogynists. The men I experience every day, all day, are respectful and mature. But there exist some dark souls out there who do hate women for being women, or just don’t consider them to be humans at all, and it’s hard to tell a friendly penis from a dangerous one just by looking at it. I think bare-chested equality is much lower hanging fruit (pun?) than full nudity, because we’ve basically decided long ago that male breasts are not dangerous, so our brains can make the leap to female breasts being safe as well.

    I personally love the vibe of a respectful co-ed nudist crowd, but the men who troll the beaches are going to make it very hard for women to ever feel comfortable there. Their presence feels threatening. I know this is an important issue to nude advocates. One of the things I’m working very hard to do is show other women that bullies (and I consider gawkers, Internet trolls and female and male misogynists all to be bullies) can’t hurt us if we don’t let them. I’ve had people call me garbage to my face. I’ve had trolls make rude and demeaning comments on the Internet. They can’t touch me, not the part of me that determines my self-worth. It’s an incredible feeling. I think bullies can sense this too, somewhere in their little animal brains, because they back down quickly. They make a jab, but when they see how little it will hurt me they slink away. Wouldn’t that be a legacy, if we can be part of the recipe for silencing bullies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would say that the naked human body is non-threatening in general because it exposes our vulnerability, but that is my opinion. I could see how some women may feel that the penis is threatening. It is the man behind the penis that has the potential for threat not the object itself.

      Your education and support by showing other women not to be intimidated by these “creepers” is to be commended. You are correct that these guys are cowards and will back down when confronted. I have witnessed this many times, and love seeing it. Unfortunately there aren’t as many strong women like you comfortable and willing to stand up to them so we need to empower them to ignore or confront these idiots. It helps when those around them when this happen support them as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. An idea that pops into my head from time to time, on the topic of making inroads in the African-American communities, particularly in urban areas, is to get a creative writing effort started. I wish I knew more about how the K-12 education system worked, particularly in urban areas. Seems, though, that it would be within the realm of feasibility to have a creative writing teacher assign students to write about a current social issue of their choice, possibly giving them a set of subject matter choices to pick from, females appearing bare-chested in public in non-sexual situations being one of the choices.

    I myself had an elective course like this in high school. The idea of having to do some research (gee, I wonder if there’s a blog on the subject somewhere…), then write an essay or one-act play or set of poems, exploring the topic, would get teens on the verge of adulthood to examine their own feelings and apprehensions and curiosity. All without actually taking action, of course, though what they do to do that research is rather unscripted.

    I suppose there would be limits. For example, my topic for that course was prostitution, but I didn’t go looking for a hooker. Another wrote about systemic poverty on Native American reservations, and in doing so learned that they can’t get bank loans because banks couldn’t foreclose on Natives’ houses. Thus leading to intergenerational subsistence living, i.e., poverty. We each presented our research to the class, so we all learned from one another.

    Or maybe this is college level stuff, maybe part of a Women’s Studies or Urban Studies course. I don’t know; it’s not my field of expertise. But I’m throwing it out there in hopes that someone closer to the action can pick up the ball and run with it.


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