I’ve been appearing peacefully and publicly bare-chested now for more than two years. I have walked, ridden my bicycle, swum, kayaked and sunbathed in cities, towns and beaches around the mid-Atlantic and northeastern United States.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say I have been seen bare-chested in person in public by hundreds of thousands of people.
I have never been arrested or touched inappropriately, and up until I started my blog and posted my own pictures, I had never seen a single photograph of me bare-chested on the Internet.
I’ve alluded to parts of my process in other blog articles, but this is the first time I have put the whole thing together.
I do NOT guarantee my recipe will work for others, but it has worked for me so far. I also only really do this the first time I go somewhere. New York City, Washington D.C., Philadephia, etc have more or less established themselves as places women can appear bare-chested in public. This recipe is for when I go to places I have never been or that seem unresolved on the issue.
Step 1. Get right with myself.
I can’t overstate the importance of this. Before I started going bare-chested, I studied why I wanted to go topfree. Not why Scout Willis or Miley Cyrus want to go topfree, but me. The more I understood my own body image, confidence, anger, anxieties, the paradoxically more normal I began to appear to my observers. People are going to look. I knew I wold be doing something new and different and unusual and in some places, radical.
I also know my observers are going to associate my demeanor with my attire and form an instant opinion. I have seen the entire range of human emotion reacting to my breasts. People have been moved to tears by “my courage.” Most people ignore me completely. Others have shown contempt, fear and anger. (By far the majority of people react neutrally or positively. See my videos for proof.)
Now that I have done the work inside myself, I know bullies can’t hurt me, even though I am open and free.
Step 2. Know the applicable laws and prepare to prove it
I’ve written four articles breaking down the basics of understanding how American law generally works regarding female bare-chestedness. You can find the first one here.
In a nutshell, I have prioritized places where the law already allows bare-chestedness even if few or no people are actually aware of this. (I will write on the topic of overcoming unequal laws later.)
I first look at the state’s indecent exposure language, which is available online. I always make sure I am looking at the state’s actual code, and not someone just claiming to know what the code says.
Google searching Pennsylvania Indecent Exposure, for example, brings up a lot of advertisements for lawyers who represent indecent exposure cases but a careful look reveals the language they use in those ads is often canned (re-used from other bad sources) and not reflective of the actual laws in a given state.
Once I’ve found the actual code, which I know because I am looking at a government website, I search the code for “indecent exposure,” “open lewdness,” “public indecency” and “breast.” Generally these searches will show me whatever laws a police officer might throw at me on the street.
I then copy this language with the code and section numbers for easy reference and e-mail them to myself with a clearly worded title like, “Philadelphia exposure laws.” If I have to cite my sources on the street, I want to do so confidently without scrolling haphazardly through my phone. A quick search of my e-mail brings it up.
Jumping ahead, I do the same thing once I receive an e-mail confirmation of the legality of bare-chestedness from a police department’s senior staff or legal department.
Step 3. Plan my trip. Sort of.
Whether I am riding my bike or walking, I learn something about where I am going and look for places that will provide me an enjoyable experience, just like any normal tourist, right? I do want to allow for spontaneity though.
Jumping ahead again, once I receive a confirmation from the police, I sometimes tell them exactly when and where I will be. This allows whoever has confirmed the legality to also give a quick heads up to the officers in that sector that I will be there doing this new thing and that it is okay per (insert superior officer’s name here.) It also shows them that I am supremely confident that I am within the bounds of the law and that I am comfortable interacting with the police.
Step 4. Figure out who to contact at the police department.
It can be surprisingly hard to find good e-mail addresses for police department superiors. But if you are creative, you can usually find the e-mail address to someone. Sometimes I even look at other city websites, like public works, and look for the formula the city uses for e-mail addresses. For example, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or whatever. From there I make some educated guesses and send off a couple e-mails. If I don’t get them back as rejected or as bad addresses, bingo.
I have also saved myself some time by just calling the precinct or sector station for the area of the city I plan to visit. This is a savvy tip! After all, this is the lieutenant or captain that is about to be dealing with me. He or she is going to want to answer this question quickly. Most big police departments have contact information for the neighborhood precincts or substations. I’m always ready for a dismissive initial response. I stick to my guns. I know that I know more about this than whoever answers the phone. He or she just doesn’t know that yet!
Generally with a first contact, if I am trying to make quick work of a conversation, I have found it is easier to find a lieutenant or captain. These are the officers in the streets, so to speak, the officers to whom patrol officers report directly.
Important note. While operations officers are easier to find, they will not feel they have the authority to declare bare-chestedness legal unless the department has already talked about it. Philadelphia for example gave me a quick confirmation from multiple sources, indicating they had already asked and answered the question.
Departments that have not had to answer this question before will end up referring me up the food chain until I find an officer with the authority to make a department-wide declaration, usually a lawyer, commander, chief or commissioner. This can take awhile, weeks or months sometimes. I don’t give up. Once departments realize this I end up speaking civilly and professionally to someone with actual decision-making ability.
Step 5. Craft a masterpiece.
Once I have found the person to whom I need to be addressing my message, I tailor an e-mail to that person’s specific situation, meaning I cite that department’s applicable laws, beginning with the state, then county, then city or town ordinances. I state my assumption that she or he already knows these laws. To do otherwise would be insulting to her or his professionalism. But I want my reader to know that I know the law too. Also, secretly, I assume she or he does not know these laws. Police officers spend their whole lives dealing with real crime and violence. They cannot be expected to know what their local ordinance says about breast exposure.
Note: This is not the time to argue the merits of female bare-chestedness. Police don’t care. They care only about a thing’s legality or illegality, or should. They do not have to agree with a thing to protect a thing. That’s how freedom works. So the job here is to establish bare-chestedness’ legality, not its validity. I don’t waste their time with philosophy.
Step 6. Do it!
Armed with my sources and my confirmation from a departmental superior officer, I am free and comfortable to enjoy my walk.
It bears repeating, the work of normalizing female bare-chestedness is going to be slow and patient at times. I resolve when I walk to remain quiet, peaceful and as non-confrontational as a situation will allow. I only push as hard as I have to to meet the energy coming at me, no harder. Ideally, I just walk, and let the world normalize to this new reality.
Step 7. Follow up with the police.
It has been a very important step to e-mail all the police officers in the original e-mail chain after I actually go take my walk to let them know how it went. That could be anything from “It was completely uneventful. Thank you!” to “Officer so and so needs some training.”
But it’s vital they know 1) I actually went out bare-chested 2) the world didn’t end 3) they didn’t lose their jobs 4) I’m not going away 5) how their police officers performed.
Step 8. Share the news
In the movement to normalize bare-chestedness, my mission has become to secure confirmations of legality from the police directly and to prove it by first doing it, then posting articles, photographs and videos of me doing it, as well as making available the information to other women to use themselves.
As always, please let me know your thoughts, opinions and experiences. I’m constantly updating my toolbox.