The Power of Peaceful Bare-Chestedness

Blog Mirror DC FC
Georgetown, Washington D.C. December 2015. Consider the imperfections of the tools you use to assess yourself. The opinions of others reflect their perception of how you affect their fears, not your actual worth.

 

I walk bare-chested because I enjoy the feeling of freedom I experience while doing so.  Secondarily, I am working to normalize female bare-chestedness so others have the opportunity to feel the same if they so choose.

Normalizing something doesn’t take much time.  About two weeks, psychologists tell us, if the new stimulus is constant.  That’s about how long it takes us to begin moving on after a house fire or the loss of a job or a break up.  That’s also about how long it takes us to lose the fluttery puppy dog feelings of new love.  Normalization, after all, works in all directions.

Some normalization of course takes much less time, seconds or minutes, and some takes much longer.

But my strong opinion is that normalization will always take much longer if the thing we are trying to normalize scares people.  Fear is a survival mechanism, seated in the brain stem, and doesn’t listen to constitutional arguments about equality.  Fear gets us through lion attacks.  The other stuff is pointless if the lion kills us.

The definition of confrontation is, “a hostile or argumentative meeting or situation between opposing parties.”

So if I am confronted by someone I can assume that I’ve scared that person in some way (hostility = anger = fear) and that person sees us as opposing parties.

It’s like the fire tetrahedron, the formula for putting out a fire by eliminating one of the four essential elements fire needs to survive; heat, oxygen, fuel and a chemical reaction.  Remove any one of those elements, the fire goes out.

It’s the same with confrontation, right?  A confrontation requires 1) hostility (fear) and 2) opposing parties.  If a person is not afraid of me, and I am not afraid of that person, we have no reason to confront one another.  Similarly, when that person stops perceiving us as opposing parties, the confrontation dies.

Fear can certainly be an effective tool for temporary change, but the change is not lasting.  If a mugger walks up to me and I pull a gun out, the mugger is afraid and leaves.  So I survived that, but has the interaction created a change in the mugger that would prevent a future mugging?  Doubtful.

Fearful people only change to survive, and when the fearful stimulus disappears, their behavior reverts.  So carrying signs, yelling, protesting, all of that is designed to scare people into the appearance of change.  As long as the protesters are yelling, they will behave in the way the protesters are pressuring them to behave.  Remove the protesters and those original opinions return, possibly stronger, bolstered now by the aftertaste of fear.  Protest is a tool.  If used correctly it can be very effective.  If used incorrectly it can do damage.

I obviously feel passionate about body pride, human compassion, civility and equality.  The thing is, I feel passionate enough to be effective.  It’s one thing to ask for change.  It’s another to make it happen.

Gandhi taught that violent people are betraying their fear.  He urged his followers to eliminate their fears so they would not be violent themselves, which had the reciprocal effect of reducing the fear in their opposition.  Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. both unapologetically considered nonviolence to be a weapon.

So I have spent a lot of time considering potential sources of fear in my observers, in an effort to reduce or eliminate those fears before they ever see me.  Primarily, this means I get right with myself so I project calm and peace.  Yelling just doesn’t work.  Shouting slogans through bullhorns is not conventional behavior.  Playing Frisbee in a park is.  Walking a dog is.

And if after all that preplanning someone still confronts me, I stand my ground with as neutral an energy as I can manifest, to communicate I am not afraid of you and you need not be afraid of me.

Hate is fear.  Anger is fear.  Violence is self-protective, survival behavior borne of fear.  The most violent among us are the most afraid.

I have walked and ridden bare-chested all around the eastern United States, in crowded places.  I have never been arrested and have had very few negative interactions.  When I do have a negative interaction, I check my fears, calm myself, and project that calm into the person confronting me.

Don’t get me wrong.  I feel strongly about all this.  It’s not always easy to neutralize someone’s anger or to control my own, but it’s important enough to me to be successful and make real change.

The vast majority of my interactions are neutral or positive, but I have on one occasion been called garbage and a harlot, and on another a mother of three called me a whore in front of her daughters.  It was more important to me that her daughters see me stay calm in the face of their mother’s fear, than to vent my anger (which would have been, after all, nothing but my own fear reacting to hers.)  I listened until she spoke herself into silence.  What else could I do?  Yelling would only have made it worse, and proven her right.

T’ai Chi Ch’uan, the “soft” Chinese martial art, teaches us to dissipate the energy in an attack by guiding a punch to its farthest point, at which point the punch is no longer dangerous.  T’ai Chi Ch’uan also teaches us that the first type of warrior overcomes an oppontent  with force, the next level of warrior overcomes an opponent without hurting the opponent, and the highest level of warrior never gets in the fight at all.

Non-confrontation does not mean submission.  It means communicating that you are neither threatened, nor a threat.

And it works.

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35 thoughts on “The Power of Peaceful Bare-Chestedness

  1. You are a smart person!
    I think a slightly different dynamic works when it is a male, but you are proving YOUR point very successfully!
    AND that is a great photo of you and your fiance!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the word is spreading… I can feel a difference in the conversation. I’m very happy to have all of these mature and respectful commenters interacting here and on other blogs. I think the whole issue as grown in collective maturity especially since 2013. These last two years I have definitely seen and felt growth.

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  2. I especially love your focus on helping others accept change. At times, I’ve expressed my anger, and I know that this never encourages change. It just gives others a bigger reason to entrench in an opposing belief. They can then add, “She’s just crazy,” to their list of justifications. I no longer want to give others that excuse. I’m following your blog to help me focus on being in healthy balanced power in all I do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Do you go by Premshakti? Lark? Either way, thank you again. It’s so hard, because as women we feel stuck between complete passivity and over-reacting and sometimes it feels like there is no balanced way (from a societal perspective) to voice our strongly held opinions. But maybe in a way that is a testament to the inherent power of the female human. Doing it AND saying it? That’s bound to overwhelm some timid souls out there. I have to say, I’ve never felt more empowered than when I am walking quietly. There really isn’t much to say after that is there? I’m here, I’m doing this thing, no apologies. I feel strong and free. Healthy balanced power. That is a beautiful way to say it. If I may adopt this term, that describes it exactly. Thank you.

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      1. I go by both names, or either. Thank you for asking.

        After taking a man’s surname 3 times and reverting to my father’s surname twice, I am now ready to give myself a surname. My name is Lark Premshakti now, but I made an error changing it on FB, so it shows up in the reverse. This in not a problem though. Premshakti is Hindi/Sanskrit for Power of Love.

        Shakti is also one of the names of the goddess, as Hindus give many names for the many aspects of each deity. Shakti specifically means feminine power, so it’s a name I love. I also love my given name of Lark, and finally found the combination of the 2 works best for me.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading and asking a question.
      I would wager it is somewhat easier for them to wrap their minds around it because the ability to look at things from different perspectives is vital to their craft. That of course doesn’t apply to everyone, but I could see how it might be beneficial to those that it does. That being said, many of my most ardent supporters are devoutly religious, business people, and parents. I think it’s important, for me, to allow each individual person with whom I interact to show me their capacity before I try to guess what it may be.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome.

        Very good point. It is dependent vastly on the individual. I know I see the art in the human form, regardless of its state most times. But I don’t push my interactions beyond admiration. Are others like that as well?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Well, the vast majority of my interactions are neutral (either no real reaction or ignoring me completely) or positive, which ranges from a nod, little smile, to thumbs up to vocal gestures of support or full meaningful conversation. My articles titled, “How Men Can Help Normalize Public Bare-Chestedness”touch on some of the ways men react and how those reactions land. Complimenting a bare-chested woman’s breasts, for example, is risky. It depends on the woman and how the compliment is delivered and the dynamic etc. Think to yourself, would I tell a bare-chested guy jogging by he has nice breasts? How would that land? When I have someone tell me he supports what I’m doing and then tells me I have nice breasts, which has happened a few times, I thank him for the compliment. It’s a genuine thank you, because I choose to believe that in his mind he is making an actual gesture of support, even though it’s not getting too far into “what I’m doing.” But it means a lot more to me if someone tells me they support body pride or freedom or anti-shaming or equality, or if I feel a compliment about my appearance is celebrating the reflection of strength and confidence inside me more than just my physical shape. I am not offended at all if someone compliments my appearance. It doesn’t even insult me when a guy yells “Titties!” from a passing car. It just makes me think that person is not very evolved or sophisticated. For the record, I don’t pretend that the guy yelling “Titties” cares what I think of his character, either. Those moments do give me a chance to show any observers that that type of bully behavior cannot shame me, so I use them to my advantage when I can. Back to simple compliments though, I think it’s about the motivation behind the compliment. If a man (in this example) compliments me for my appearance because it pleases him (nice breasts/you’re hot/damn girl!) etc, it lands as a neutral thing to me. It’s neither insulting nor actually complimentary, because the man is still prioritizing his needs. He gained something from my appearance and that makes it a good thing to him. If I get the sense that a compliment, even one about my appearance, is motivated by an appreciation for how my appearance reflects values we share, and the compliment is intended to support that value system and offer a vote of confidence for an action or attitude, it lands in a much more positive way. That’s a lot of thinking about a small gesture, but it is important. Women know when a guy is sincere and when he is insincere. It’s kind of funny sometimes when a guy doesn’t realize how transparent he is being. If you are presenting one thing while thinking another, you are lying. And we know it. And we make a decision about that. If a man is sincere and is respectful in his core and values women as strong, capable creatures, and his words reflect those genuine beliefs, it registers, and matters. To me anyway. I don’t claim to speak for all women. All in all, a thumbs up, a nod, a high five, all those things land a lot better than telling me I have nice breasts. Long reply. I’m not even sure that was answering your question, but it’s what came to mind 🙂 Come to think of it, complimenting someone’s appearance, the art of it, the art of the human form, is really complimenting “God,” right? I mean, what do we really have to do with the way we look beyond our ability to comb our hair and stay healthy through diet and exercise? So all one needs to do to voice appreciation of the art of a beautiful human (and I share that appreciation) is whisper a thank you to whatever celestial magic gave rise to that form, right? We don’t compliment flowers for being beautiful… that’s an interesting thought. Something to ponder on Christmas Day. Maybe that’s getting closer to what I’m trying to say. A compliment about something I can claim credit for, my character, values, strength, decisions, attitude, etc, those mean something. A compliment about my appearance, I mean, I’m glad the person likes the way I appear, but how is that my fault? What’s to compliment? That’s as much my problem as the person complimenting me. If I only feel whole when my appearance pleases people, I’ve got something missing inside me. I’m thinking out loud here. Any thoughts on what I just said? Thanks again. This is a future blog article for sure.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Wow, no worries on how long it was. I enjoyed what you had to share and appreciate the time you took to say it. “Genuineness” for lack of a better word, is the underlying feeling I was going for and you addressed it perfectly. Came away more informed on that area, for sure.

            The work you do is incredible, as I’ve said before.

            It’s something that I’ve only (relatively) recently come to support, as part of my own growth and journey. It’s a process for sure. Took a couple hurdles to get me to translate my feminism into this side of support as well (honestly because I just didn’t even know/realize/know how to approach things)

            I’ll be checking out that article you mentioned, and I hope as many people (guys especially) as possible.

            Thanks for taking the time out to explain all that. I will definitely be commenting on more of your articles.

            Keep up the great work. It’s much needed.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. As I’ve said before, I’ve been a naturist almost all my life. I’ve noticed that some naked people (both genders) wear their birthday suits proudly and, therefore, in a very attracting manner. Others simply are without clothing and their low sense of beauty shows. We both know which person we initially want to compliment.
            But a genuine compliment and a smiling friendly face can do wonders for EITHER one. 🙂
            You’re looking good, inside and outside!

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Yep. Careful, mature, respectful observers can tell when a person is receptive to a compliment and not. I would hate to see the world get so scared of offending each other we stopped saying nice things, complimentary things to each other. I would, however, like to see us stop making insincere, ungenuine (is that a word?), manipulative “compliments.” I think most people understand this though. It’s a minority of people who chronically get this wrong. We shouldn’t make laws limiting the freedoms of a responsible majority because of the behavior of an irresponsible minority.

              Liked by 2 people

  3. I love long winded, composing-at-the-keyboard, free-form comments like this. My guess is that you pressed the button on this only about eight minutes ago (it says 2:17 p.m. But it isn’t even 9:30 a.m. yet, and we’re in the same time zone, so that must be UTC so back up five hours and that makes it just a few minutes ago, at this typing). Anyways…

    Boiling that down to one line, I would rework the above and title it “The Art of a Beautiful Human”. How did we get the shape we are, and how much of that is our doing and how much of it {genetic | celestial | divine}(pick one, as befits your beliefs)? I also like your choice of “human” rather than “woman” because the same applies to males.

    As a male, I’ve run into the situations you described above, both in complimenting someone on their appearance and also not doing so, and having it land badly, so many times, that I’ve chosen to get out of the business altogether. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even notice when my wife gets her hair done and so taken some flak in that department. That aside, I really don’t care what people look like. I don’t care if they’re overweight, if their hair is uncombed, if they ladled on $15 of cosmetics before they left the house, or are dressed in a revealing outfit — or nothing above the waist at all. It really doesn’t matter anymore. I used to drool looking at the passing ladies like every other guy, and now realize that was a learned behavior. I’ve since unlearned it. It’s taken me decades to come around to that, and really only in the last five to 10, since I happened upon this whole concept of normalized female bare-chestedness.

    All that to say, yes, I think this is a deep enough topic to warrant a blog post of its own. My only worry is that it’s so deep a topic, it might be tl;dr’d by too many people. So maybe pair it up with reminiscing with another roses-and-thorns post. Those are fun,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Stu. I am totally okay with people being attracted to people. I enjoy looking at attractive bodies and I am comfortable with people looking at my body. I just would like to see more people of all genders able to decouple a persons inherent worth and right to be treated well and with respect from their physical appearance or attire. We can be kind to people regardless of their physical attributes. We can judge people by the content of their character first, so said the great poet.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I discovered this blog a few days ago and I’ve really, really liked what I see here. I’ve thought and written a lot about nonconfrontation on my own blog (though the actual theme couldn’t be more different), and the importance of looking at what really makes a difference as opposed to what feels righteous or satisfying in the moment, and this post in particular echoes my own findings thoroughly and perfectly. Here’s hoping your mindset keeps making inroads over here in Pittsburgh, where we don’t have the best track record thus far. Keep it up!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Mike,
      Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I believe non-confrontation is important in all facets of life, and one of the ways in which we learn and communicate best. I am in mid conversation with some of the PGH police about female bare-chestedness, and have found the officers to be amicable and willing to speak with me. Fingers crossed. I will be keeping everyone updated on the situation. I appreciate your support!

      Like

  5. Hi.

    I think that what you’re doing in this blog is amazing!

    I have read most of your posts here, and find lot to admire about how you do your work, enjoy it and share about it.

    You express strong principles of compassion and peacebuilding that guide your work to promote equality and freedom. You convey this in your blog in extremely simple terms. More importantly, you model for others how to do it, via your videos and your consistently patient and non-confronting responses to comments both here and on youtube.

    One thing that has strung a powerful chord for me is how you refer to your dynamic of “pushing back” – on rare occasions- in ways that are not intimidating but that show that you are not intimidated. You mention a few examples of this throughout your posts, and often reference Tai Chi or the soft martial arts. I am glad that the number of examples where you have to do this “pushing back” seem to be few, and I gather this is not something you want to emphasize. I know it reflects more the extreme scenarios than the normalized ones that are really the ones to be most celebrated. Still, I for one would welcome reading more of your thoughts behind this in future posts.

    I have been an environmental and human rights activist in my early life. I somewhat distanced myself from that activism work about two decades ago, and became involved for many years in mediation and dialogue facilitation. I have also done different forms of martial arts, gradually evolving towards the inner/softer traditions, and of violence de-escalation training. Integrating all these things has been difficult, and it has often felt isolating too. So I greatly admire the way you bring these things together. And I am happy you are there, not just doing it but also reflecting about it “out loud”, promoting for others to draw on this and reflect as well.

    The reflective role of activism seems to be where my thoughts are centered these days. The way you reflect, get clear on what you want to achieve, reflect more, prepare for your interactions when you go out barechested, go out in public (reflecting while you’re doing it but also being mindful of how the way you interact with others can influence the way they reflect), then come back, reflect more, share about it on your blog, and this invites more interaction and more reflection. This is an ingredient I have not found to be very strong in many social movements organizations with which I have interacted. And I really appreciate the view your blog offers on this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for this wonderful comment. Your recognition and support of those soft techniques is very encouraging. You’re right that I have chosen to focus on the positive aspects of my experiences where possible, while still being open and frank about the negative interactions. I have been mentally compiling a list of negative things bare-chested women will hear from time to time and how I have reacted to them and how it turned out. It will be an important article for me to write so I have been letting it mature at its own pace. Before I started the blog, I had been enjoying bare-chestedness for quite some time, so I had a lot of the early, steep part of the learning curve behind me by the time I decided to begin my activism. My fiance and I thought long and hard about the details and how I should approach this. We even role-played conversations and interactions, and still do now. I wanted to add something to the topfreedom movement that wasn’t already being said, that was vital and that was missing. I also promised myself that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it effectively. I am careful with my energy and had no intention of wasting my effort. I find myself drawing lessons from all these different areas, martial arts, mediation, psychology, religion, philosophy, gut instinct, past experiences and I still feel like a dry sponge as far as wanting to absorb information I am receiving from people for and against topfreedom. Right now I am doing some heavy pondering about shame, as that has become a common theme in the comments section this week. I find it so fascinating when people start out so violently negative, but then after a few comments soften, even sometimes coming around to be supporters. Not all do, some speak their minds and disappear forever, but the ones who stay engaged have taught me a lot. What an amazing experience this has all been. Please keep in touch. I would appreciate your help and guidance. If you would like to correspond with me on email, I’m at breastsarehealthy@gmail.com. Comments are fine too. That way others get to read them. Up to you. Thank you.

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      1. Hi. Thanks for your prompt and kind response. I would certainly enjoy corresponding, (even though I’m generally quite terrible at time management, and therefore at being consistent with things such as email. — This right here, is me procrastinating!). Also, thank you for sharing more about how this process of deliberation and reflection, and especially about the ways in which you get support from your fiance. (I am male, and really admire his tacit and powerful way of supporting you, so not in the patriarchal “you the man” way… but please pass on that he is awesome, which I am sure he knows. ). All the best.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Cool. We shall promise to not be offended when the other one leaves the thread unanswered for awhile then. As for my fiance being awesome, yes I happen to agree. And he is sitting next to me grinning lol. I do appreciate his support as I do all the men who are backing the cause. So yeah, if random thoughts strike you and emailing me is more palatable than whatever you’re supposed to be working on, fire away. Until then, get to work. Go.

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  6. About the mother of three who called you derogatory names and as you said, eventually “spoke herself into silence” as you simply listened to her without reacting… once she was silent, did you at that point respond with any words? Maybe just a “have a nice day” or other? Did she just say her piece and then leave without giving you opportunity to respond?

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    1. Hi Bart: That particular conversation did not resolve in a positive way, I’m afraid. It’s the one conversation that nags at me, but I realize that she was deep in a panic and I wasn’t getting her back. I realized it at the time of the conversation. Yelling at her was only going to make her fear reaction worse. I kept my voice calm, kept my demeanor non-threatening but non-threatened, held my ground without pushing her, etc, hoping that she would settle down and talk it out with me. She did stop yelling, and her volume decreased, but she remained upset and told me I had ruined her day and that they were leaving the beach because of me. I remained bare-chested, there were many people on the beach that day and I had no other negative interactions for the entirety of my three hour stay, and she and her family did in fact leave the beach, but they apparently did not call the police. I actually invited her to call the police, and showed her the legal language proving that female bare-chestedness was legal where we were, which she at first claimed was untrue, but then I think she realized it was true and just shut down and left. When I realized she was in a panic and I wasn’t getting through, I shifted my focus to making sure her children saw the difference in our demeanor, so that someday, hopefully, they would not carry on their mother’s fears.

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      1. Sounds like you handled that situation the absolute best possible way, nothing different could have been done. As you say, at least her children had the opportunity to think about what they saw with the reactions of their parents vs. your calm demeanor, and maybe the parents will think it over for the next several days too.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Chelsea, I got to meet your fiancé today while we were testifying against the proposed legislation which would ban female toplessness in NH. Its nice to be able to connect one of the people in this picture to someone I’ve met in person now. Hopefully I’ll get to meet you too someday.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello! I was very disappointed that I could not attend myself, but I am blessed to have a partner who is completely supportive and who was already so before we met. I appreciate that you testified as well. Thank you for reaching out!

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  8. I found your blog today and spent a good deal of time reading your posts.

    I don’t know how else to say this (without it seeming shallow – because someone with your strength does not need the approval of others), but the world needs more people like you. As a middle aged man raising a teen aged daughter, I hope that she grows up to have a fraction of the confidence, gumption and positive attitude that you have.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! Hearing from parents of girls and young women expressing support for topfreedom and gender equality is the most encouraging thing that ever happens to me, without hyperbole. It’s the biggest thing. So thank you. Keep up the good work!

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