How to Go Bare-Chested Without Creating a Stir

Phil SRT FC 1
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 2016. Normalizing the sight of female bare-chestedness will be a patient process. But as Philadelphia has proven to me twice now, it is possible. Beyond noticing me, few people paid me much mind. As it should be. No one made a big deal about the dozens of bare-chested males jogging that day either.

I have received several requests from women this month to share my thoughts on how to start going bare-chested where it is established as legal, but still socially new, when all you want to do is have a quiet day free of attention and fuss.

Normalizing female bare-chestedness means reducing the psychological and emotional reaction people have when seeing the female breast.  My life goal for topfreedom is to normalize bare-chestedness to the point where women can comfortably go bare-chested at family picnics and pool parties as easily as men can if they so choose.  Realistically, that is probably decades away in places and will be a generational process.  All normalization is.  Bare-chested men created a stir at first too, but as people became accustomed to seeing the male chest, its effect has fallen to nil.

In order for that process to occur with female bare-chestedness, at least some women will have to go bare-chested in public on a regular basis.  But it is important that the choice to go bare-chested rest with the woman herself, and that she does so when and only when she is ready and willing to do so.  

With that said, there are already many places and settings where certain types of bare-chestedness are already virtually normalized.

I am obviously comfortable going bare-chested in crowded places with people watching and reacting.  As I emphasize often, I enjoy the feeling of freedom bare-chestedness gives me, and I make most of my bare-chested outings simply for my enjoyment, but at times I am also clearly walking in places aimed at prompting conversation and raising awareness.  Those outings are the ones that tend to get viewed on social media the most, which is fine, that’s part of the goal, but through all of this I have also learned how to pretty much avoid attention while bare-chested too, and that is what I want to share with the women who have written to me recently asking me how to do this without becoming a topic of conversation on social media.

So here are some ideas for getting started. This presumes female bare-chestedness is legal where you will be and the police know it is legal.

  1. Start alone or with family, friends, roommates, in and around the house.  In theory at least, our families are who we trust the most.  If bare-chestedness is important to you, talk to them about it.  Neighbors too, if you can. My neighbors are awesome.  Explain why it is important, connect the dots for them regarding topfreedom, body shame, victim blaming, body pride, bullying, freedom, equality, etc.  Whatever your reasons are, share them.  Explain them.  And answer questions.  Respect your family’s concerns and address them.  They will almost certainly react by wanting to ensure your safety.  Mine did.  I wouldn’t roll your eyes at this.  They are genuinely concerned for you.  When I first started, honestly, I really didn’t care much about what the “public” thought of me, but I did feel anxiety about what my close family would think of my bare-chestedness.   But the conversations I’ve had on this topic with my family members, female and male (Happy Father’s Day, dad!), have been some of the most beautiful of my life.  And now armed with the confidence that my family understand and for the most part support what I am doing (I didn’t expect everyone to get it), it translates into a calm demeanor when I go into public.  And that calm, confident demeanor I’m convinced keeps most of the few people who might try to bully me from doing so.  Which allows for quiet, enjoyable experiences in return.  A friend of ours just went bare-chested on a beach for the first time last week in the company of her four children, ages 2-15, three girls, one boy.  She didn’t even tell me she did this.  Her 15-year-old son did.  I asked how he felt about it.  He said, “I was incredibly impressed, actually.  It was amazing.  She’s so strong.”  And then he said something even more beautiful, in my opinion.  He said, “It inspired me to go bare-chested myself, for the first time in my whole life.”
  2. Go braless in public. I have found public bralessness to be a similar but less “wow” experience to going completely bare-chested.  One of the “visuals” our society has to normalize is breast movement.  Nipple erection also.  I don’t wear bras ever, (well, for bumpy sports I do) so people see my breasts moving in the grocery story and at soccer games.  Maybe more people notice than let on, but the range of reaction feels a lot like going bare-chested in the street.  The vast majority of people ignore me, as in don’t even notice at all, a few show some signs of confusion or disapproval, and a few show support.  The difference to my public bare-chestedness is that the ones who show support are pretty much universally other braless women, and it is just a nod and a smile.  Public bare-chestedness can be seen as so bold as to be an invitation to conversation, which I am comfortable with.  Others may not be as comfortable.  But I have never in my life had someone approach me to talk about me being braless, even when I am wearing something like in the following picture, which I do quite often, and pretty much anywhere I go.

    OC Pier
    Ocean City, Maryland, Fall 2014. Going braless in public is a way to normalize yourself to the sensations of your breasts moving where people can see them moving. I’ve had dozens of people stop and talk to me when bare-chested. I’ve never had anyone talk to me while braless under even a thin shirt.
  3. Act normal.  Easier said than done, I know, but I’ve found that the more I go bare-chested, the easier it is to act like it’s the most normal thing in the world, which honestly it is beginning to feel like to me.  As a direct result, fewer and fewer people react to me.  And when they do react, I’m able to stay that much more calm, which communicates more effectively than anything else I can say or do that this is perfectly okay and all will be well.  If I don’t believe it’s normal and healthy, others won’t either.
  4. Blend in.  Choose somewhere bare-chested men or barely-clad women will already be.  For my activism, I often choose to walk through urban areas, but I also often find places where my bare-chestedness is just an expansion of what is already being done, rather than a complete departure.  Last month in D.C. for example we set our blanket in front of three volleyball courts full of bare-chested men and women in sports bras.  Some people noticed us, most failed to, and no one interacted with us at all.
  5. Use the buddy system. Humans are herd animals.  If a friend or family member will join you in your bare-chestedness, awesome.  Strength in numbers.  Even if your friends don’t wish to go bare-chested, ask them to come along and act normally in the presence of your bare-chestedness.  This is a powerful visual model for others.  I have seen observers thinking, well, that person seems okay with it, so it must be okay.  And even if they aren’t okay with it themselves, it is psychologically difficult to overcome the sensation that one is going against the herd to object to something other people accept.  (Group think works in both directions, after all.)  I would suggest preplanning reactions to confrontations though, because “sheepdogs” (i.e. protective friends) can cause unintentional harm by trying to protect you.  It’s important that we deescalate peoples’ fears about female breasts, not strengthen them with hostile confrontation.
  6. Pick your spot.  The most likely negative interaction, I have found, will come from the mothers of pre-teens.  I don’t poke them if I can help it.  I have written about this here.  It’s a scary world for these souls and I don’t begrudge them their anxieties.  I do reject the idea that they feel their anxieties should be honored to the point we would limit another persons’ civil liberties, but psychologically, I give them space.  It’s not the children I navigate.  It’s the mothers.  Children don’t care about bare-chestedness, and this in itself terrifies mothers because mothers naturally want to protect their children from all possible threats, including at times their own bodies.  If their preteens get the idea that the female breast is healthy and normal, they could go bare-chested themselves, and with an anxious-mother worldview, this makes their daughters feel like targets in all sorts of terrifying ways.  But I hate to say it, we are already targets.  Topfreedom does not make us more of a target.  Topfreedom is about pushing back with confidence, strength and ownership.  But if that message hasn’t arrived in mom’s consciousness yet, it’s just plain scary.  In other words, I look around before I set my blanket down.
  7. Be overtly non-sexual.  I make special efforts to present myself with neutral sexual energy.  Because some in society associate breasts with sex, the mere appearance of my breasts will create the impression in some that I am being sexual.  So it is vitally important to me that I counteract that by doing things that would not normally be seen as sexual, like tossing a Frisbee, reading a book, eating a sandwich, riding a bike, chatting with a friend, simple sunbathing, swimming.  I stay out of my phone, though.  Something about scrolling down a phone screen screams I don’t care about your feelings.  It does to me anyway.  So no selfies.  No obvious posing for photographs.  No Facebooking about look at me I’m topless in the park.  If I dance, which I sometimes do, I dance for myself, not for others.  Reading an actual book is anachronistic and messes with people’s associations.  If people talk to me or greet me in some way, (a wave, head nod, middle finger), I am polite, but I don’t flirt.  A woman doing bare-chested yoga was cited in Laconia, New Hampshire last week (where the police chief is openly defying a 2016 court ruling and state law that allows females to go bare-chested).  The person who called in the complaint apparently said she didn’t have a problem with the bare-chestedness.  She said she actually considered the yoga to be “indecent.”  Ponder that.  Anyway, in conversation I use a confident but non-confrontational voice that says I am not threatening, nor threatened.  I also don’t cover my breasts when I interact with people, even children, with my arms or hair or hands or a towel.  I feel this would imply embarrassment and modesty and wrong-doing.  If a male-female couple walks by, and the woman takes the man’s arm or makes some gesture that she is feeling insecure because his attention might be on my breasts, I make eye contact with her and greet her in a way that says it’s not about that.  I’m not after your man’s eyes.  She may still react negatively, but it’s important to me that I give her something to ponder later when she remembers the interaction.
  8. Give people a choice.  If you want to increase the chances that people leave you in peace, give them a choice to interact with you or not.  In Pittsburgh for example, we set up close enough to the trail that people could see us, and openly enough that they could see us from a distance, but far enough away from the trail that they could either choose another direction or keep some distance.  They also had another trail option.  If people feel forced to deal with bare-chestedness some will react negatively.  I accept this when I make my walks through city centers and such, but when I just want to sit quietly somewhere, I leave people room.
    Frick 3
    Frick Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, March 2016. We set our blanket where people could see us but also choose to avoid us if they wished. We had only positive interactions in this two-hour outing.

    Frick Dog
    Making Friends. Frick Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, March 2016.
  9. Go somewhere public. Ironically, the more public, the less confrontation.  Sunbathe in Central Park and no one will notice.  Try to hide in a small local park and it will look all the more out of place.  It might even look like you are being furtive and trying to hide illicit behavior.  Beach blankets can create a zone of ownership in some people’s minds.  So at beaches, I usually set up somewhere with some space around me and remove my top while sitting up so people can see it.  I also apply my sunscreen while sitting up.  Standing can be a bit too much for people, right at the start.  This all allows neighbors to make a choice or adjust their expectations.  Sometimes, depending on the crowd, and my mood, I lay on my front for awhile, but I don’t make any special efforts to cover my breasts.  Then when I eventually turn over, the people around me have had some time to adjust.  The families who put their blankets down close to mine after I am bare-chested presumably are okay with bare-chestedness.  This happens a lot, and makes me all the more hopeful we can evolve.
    Blog OC 8
    Ocean City, Maryland. Summer 2015. Plenty of families nearby… no drama.

    Blog OC Summer
    Ocean City, Maryland. Summer 2015. Same day, about an hour later. This group of adult women set their blanket right next to mine, after I was already clearly and visibly bare-chested. Again, no drama.
  10. Trust your guts.  I personally do not cover up if someone asks me to cover up, which in all this time has only happened twice, and both more than a year ago.  But I say trust your guts on this one.  If you feel uncomfortable and want to cover up, by all means do so.  This entire process is your choice, and dictated by your comfort level and decision-making.  There is no requirement to be an activist.  The whole idea is to live and experience joy and freedom.  Deescalating a panicking mother through patient conversation may not accomplish these things for you.  Or they may.  Or it may change from day to day.  It’s your call.
  11. Eat and hydrate.  I should have put this higher on the list, but self-care is huge.  Keeping myself calm, hydrated, fueled up, free of anxiety, clearly creates a quieter energy in the people around me.  I learned early that if I feel comfortable in myself, strong, confident…people react accordingly.  If I have doubts, bullies will sense that and aggress.  It’s what bullies do.  I think this is why the last year of outings has been so quiet for me.  Whatever doubts I had three years ago about my body, my right to be treated equally, the importance of body-pride, those doubts have dissipated.  I believe in this.  And it effects how people react to me.

64 thoughts on “How to Go Bare-Chested Without Creating a Stir

  1. Great ideas and well-thought out. We are having a Free The Nipple event in Raleigh, NC next Saturday, June 25 in Raleigh. Let us know if you are interested in coming to it Have no way to sent you link to event on FB

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s awesome. I would love to come down but I’m afraid I can’t make it this weekend. Can you either email me a bit of information or share it here? I’ve been pondering North Carolina’s situation. I understand at the state level bare-chestedness is legal but there are some local ordinances to navigate? Is that an accurate assessment? I’ve heard of some events in Asheville and Jeff met a woman who had been bare-chested for an entire week in South Nags Head a few years ago. What will the event in Raleigh involve? Thanks so much for reaching out to me. It’s so exciting to know people are taking on the cause in these meaningful ways.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. We stopped by the Raleigh event today. There were a few young ladies participating ,male companions showing support as well. We watch the activities from across the road. After a few minutes, Hannah got out of the car, and waved in support. We have them a “thumbs up” as we left. Would like to see their group in Asheville in August. We plan to be there this year. It would be nice to have a few like minded folks gather at a hotel, or other venue.
        Maybe share a meal along with some stories and ideas. Keep up the good work in Carolina.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s awesome. Thank you for sharing this with me. I couldn’t make it to Raleigh, unfortunately. I would have loved to be there. I can’t wait to learn more about how the event went over. Thanks again for letting me know.


  2. Having read your blog for a while, I have to say that to do what you are doing takes a rare combination of talents, maturity, stubbornness, judgement, diplomacy and other things I haven’t noticed yet. I have to say, you were made for this job.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you. I also have the support of wonderful people in my personal life who are also well suited for the task at hand. We collectively recognized an opportunity a couple years ago and decided to go for it. Their support has made it much easier to be public about all of this and to have this big open conversation. In so doing, I have met some amazing people who have taught and inspired me in return. And around and around it goes. Thanks for following the blog and taking the time to write. And for the support. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  3. A few lifetimes ago it was very common for women to go bra-less. The sheer numbers made it almost universally acceptable. So, whether it’s bralessness or bare-chestedness, the influence of numbers cannot be underestimated. Use conformity to create diversity!! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. My husband and I were just watching the movie Carrie, which came out in the late seventies. We both commented on the fact that so many women in that movie happened to be bra-less; not as a plot point or a sexualizing costume decision, but because (I think) that was a common way for women to dress at the time it was made. We compared that to today and the last couple of decades, and pondered what had changed. I opined that I think it has something to do with the relatively easy accessibility of breast augmentations and online porn, and women’s desire to keep up with and emulate the shape of “enhanced” breasts. But who knows. I think our insistence on not only forcing women to wear bras but to cover up at times when men are allowed to be without shirts is a complicated and multi-factorial problem. As someone who lives in Arizona, I’ve sworn off bras in the summer. It was just 117 degrees here yesterday, and the thought of wearing a bra – even to work – is heinous. I almost never wear one, and have received comments from teachers and classmates (I’m in nursing school). They almost never flatly state that they disapprove, but often make a joking question out of their confusion and discomfort. Almost as if to say, “Wait, don’t you know that’s against the rules?!” It’s always interesting, but I hope it helps some of the younger women in my program to realize that there’s not some life-ending punishment that will occur if we leave the house without our societally-imposed nipple-obscuring modesty garments. Plus, it’s WAY more comfortable.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. When something is more comfortable, you’re not fighting your body’s normal, intended state. Could we all agree that nobody wore bras until someone invented them? Seems obvious that they’re a control device and women have been brainwashed to believe that their breasts must be controlled, kept hidden, kept motionless or kept in unnatural shapes. You can pin the blame for that on the advertising of the companies who make fortunes selling these things as “necessities”. The fact is that the detoxifying function of your sub-surface lymphatic system works best if your breasts are free to move. Their natural movements is your body doing what is healthy and good for you, and you shouldn’t be the least surprised that it feels so good. When bad diet and genetics are removed from the equation, women who don’t wear bras have roughly comparable rates of breast cancer as men. Stay in tune with your body. It’s always talking to you.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. The number of women going bra-less in the 1970s was influenced significantly by Carly Simon’s “No Secrets” album cover. If you went through any college girl’s record collection in a 1978 dorm room, chances were pretty good you’d find that LP. It was the work of a free-thinking woman, writing her own music, speaking her own mind to or for a female audience. And there she is, clearly bra-free, in a one-square-foot photograph.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That picture of Carly Simon was in many young men’s collections too. “No Secrets” in my opinion it’s THE single most sexy picture I’ve ever seen and it is also a really strong feminist image. I think it’s fair to say that, in interviews, Carly has acknowledged it herself as having both qualities and she has also said she chose that the nipples should not be airbrushed out. Somehow I feel it has to do with the way she makes eye contact and it says “I’m a strong sexy woman”, however I choose to rationalise it in my opinion it’s a beautiful, powerful and very very sexy image.

          There’s a couple of other really great female images from that era I love. The Carol King Tapestry album cover, so different but it’s just a beautiful picture (I don’t even like cats). And then the famous poster most boys wanted on their bedroom wall of the woman playing tennis with a bare bottom just because it’s so much fun.

          Three really very different I think positive images of women, in my opinion anyway.

          By the way the content is as good as the cover for both of the albums (I never got to see the tennis though).


      3. The 70s were a time of greater freedom and liberality. By the late 80s and early 90s our culture had shifted to a much more conservative/conforming style. I would think the addition of “enhancement” was a part of this conservative/conforming movement.
        Like another writer here, I’d love to see more responses by women who were in their 20s during the 70s…to get their comparison between these two watershed moments in our culture.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. So true! After cracking through the fifties and into the 60’s, the 70’s were easy. Being braless was normal in Australia, although the older generation was still in shock at this new liberty. I am now in the minority of women feeling normal and comfortable in their bodies and taking some active steps to try to ameliorate this. I’m running a weekly event where women can discuss body image, draw each other from life and also model. Our ages range from 19 to 58. It’s a small group but I sense a growing excitement at the chance to reclaim what is rightly ours… self esteem and apprreciation for the female form in all it’s beautiful diversity.

          Liked by 3 people

  4. I have also followed your wonderful blog for sometime and have always been impressed with your strength and your mature approach. I am disappointed that, so far all the comments to your awesome post, including mine, are from men. It would be fantastic to see more women joint in the conversation. Keep doing what you do!!


    1. Just reread Stagsa’s comment about the lack of women in the conversation. I can’t provide any meaningful reasoning for this, but I do know that most men love to share what interests them with women, be they interested in sports, art, science or being barechested. Since we know how great this feeling is, I think we feel women may do well to experience it as well. I love the different feelings of topfreedom in all weather conditions – hot, in a hard rain, below freezing, windy – you name it, it’s all good in my book.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I wish everyone could read these wonderful words and grow from the great sensitivities and wisdom contained here. Their writer was indeed made for this life mission. The spirits of women, men and children will soar when heeding her wise thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Very useful. Thanks for sharing these tips. Just reporting in that they’re working for me. I talked with family and the reaction was “if you feel like it, go for it.” Since extended family and friends anyway know that we are naturists, the issue was really about how other people would react.

    Anyway, without really changing anything in daily routines, I’ve been bare-chested on several occasions recently, either when others were, like at the park, or when it felt that it would be natural for my husband not to think twice about it.

    I’ve had only one related conversation, with a neighbor woman from down the street who I don’t know very well and who was walking by when I was puttering in the front garden. The usual neighborly greetings during which she remarked that it was great that I was comfortable “topless.” I just replied that, yes, its nice that in Canada we can now all be equally comfortable, and the conversation then turned to the pain of weeding.

    Otherwise, there haven’t really been any reactions and I’m already used to treating being bare-chested simply as one possible informal outfit. No activist pushing-the-envelop for me, but it really is pleasant to have gotten past worrying about it too much, thanks to your example and encouragement.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It’s so exciting to receive this message from you. Please keep in contact? Good bad or neutral, I would love to hear how your experiences evolve. Thank you and good luck. It really is an amazing feeling to get on the other side of those feelings of doubt, isn’t it?


  7. Love what you do! Enjoy reading about your topless activism along with your pictures and videos. Am looking forward for more of your adventures. It is a hot summer so you should have lots of opportunities. Keep up the good work!



  8. Hello Gingerbread,

    I enjoy reading this blog because you are open to discussion of all aspects of the top freedom movement. One topic I have not seen addressed is the under-eighteen question. I’m not a legal expert, but I do know that most governments take a legitimate stance with respect to protecting children. As a result, I can see that jurisdictions which allow top freedom for adult women might not extend this same philosophy to females under the age of 18. If it is illegal for that Subway guy to possess photographs of topless females under the age of 18 because they are classified as child pornography by definition, how can top freedom ever truly happen?

    I suppose one could compare this to laws pertaining to alcoholic beverages (under 18 = NO) on the basis that some measurable designation of maturity applies to the extension of the right or privilege, However, the issues are not exactly the same, are they? Under 18 males might not have the legal right to drink but they all can and do go shirtless under any number of circumstances. How do you see this playing out, especially in light of the body-image stresses that are already placed on girls by societal pressures? “Sure, top freedom is good and natural and fair and wonderful, and boys can do it right now, but you’ve got to wait until you’re 18.” Seems impossible to achieve parity with this limitation, and I don’t see a way around it. Or am I wearing blinders?


    1. Hi Anthony: I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to respond to your comment. I would like to write an article on this topic, so I was holding off to make a reasoned response, but I’ve been traveling a lot and haven’t been able to contribute any blog articles in a bit. In a nutshell, I think whatever standard applies to male bare-chestedness should apply to female, whatever age. But that’s just a nutshell, the question deserves and will eventually receive a more examined answer. Thank you for writing and visiting the blog. Bear with me while I catch up from my backlog please 🙂


  9. Here is my take on female toplessness:
    1. Any woman has the right to be bare chested in any environment where a man has that right. She does not owe anybody any explanation; she has the right to give no excuses or justifications.
    2. Any woman—or any man for that matter—who chooses to forgo that right, who says, “I know that this is an option, but I don’t like that option, I’d rather keep covered up,” also has that right. And they own nobody an explanation; they have the right to give no excuses or justifications.
    3. Anybody who tries to impose their standard on others on NOT within their rights. If they don’t want to go bare chested they don’t have to, but they must learn to live and let live.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Here is my take on female toplessness:
    1. Any woman has the right to be bare chested in any environment where a man has that right. She does not owe anybody any explanation; she has the right to give no excuses or justifications.
    2. Any woman—or any man for that matter—who chooses to forgo that right, who says, “I know that this is an option, but I don’t like that option, I’d rather keep covered up,” also has that right. And they own nobody an explanation; they have the right to give no excuses or justifications.
    3. Anybody who tries to impose their standards on others are NOT within their rights. If they don’t want to go bare chested they don’t have to, but they must learn to live and let live.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. As I was at work a couple of days ago, I overheard two women customers in agreement with each other over these issues, which I found most distressing:
    1 – that women must wear bras all the time, and 2 – that the sight of a shirtless man is disgusting. I was utterly blown away at both points. I hope that I had heard the only two women who held such beliefs, but that’s probably wishful thinking. Honestly, where do such opinions come from??


    1. No, I’m quite sure a lot of people hold those views. The thing for me is that even though they might consider it disgusting for a man to go shirtless, (which is their right, of course), they accept it’s legality and don’t bully or harass men into putting a shirt back on. Even people who find the act unappealing accept the act. That shows how powerful the act is, and that it should be extended to all genders. Thank you for writing. Be well!


        1. Right? But I don’t see that happening because men value their freedoms and have the voice and power to protect their freedoms. That idea is floated around, it was floated around in New Hampshire to keep women from going bare-chested, but it’s clear it won’t work anymore. Imagine the YMCA pool, for example. It’s just too normal for men to be bare-chested.


          1. On the subject of what’s normal for men, was it really that long ago when boys and men were required to swim in school pool classes and in certain public events without swimsuits of any sort – and this was sometimes same-sex, sometimes co-ed, even showing the swim team in school yearbooks nude? I experienced this at the tail end of this decades-long trend, which was much of North America. It was normal, proper and was not an issue in large part. But today we’re dealing with topfreedom, which should never have been a contentious issue in the first place. Anyone wanting photo proof can let me know at I got challenged on this at work by a bunch of co-workers who refused to believe it, but after seeing all the photos, they were stunned. But to me, it was absolutely normal, and it was nice too.

            Dear Abby – 1968
            (click on image to enlarge for reading)

            The earliest article we could find wherein Dear Abby discusses boys swimming in the nude was in 1968. In this article, a concerned mother wrote that the public school her son attended had just built a new swimming pool, and that the school was expecting all boys to swim in the raw. The mother also indicates her son was upset by having to swim in the nude. Van Buren responded as follows:

            “…But your “average 14-year-old lad” had better overcome his shyness about nudity in the presence of other boys or he is apt to be uncomfortable much of his life.”

            Adults of both gender simply expected boys to swim completely nude – it was customary, typical and boys that objected to the practice were ostracized. And when a mother voiced her concern to Van Buren, her response was less than sympathetic yet typical of the times

            Image result for nude school swimming
            Eight lifeguards

            Image result for nude school swimming

            Dear Abby – 1970 – Bare Boy Rule Not Same For Girls
            (click on image to enlarge for reading)

            In 1970, a woman wrote Van Buren about her sister who had a beach front summer place, and had concern that the woman would require her boys to swim in the nude while her daughters were present, even though she had the daughters wear swimsuits. What is poignant about this specific letter isn’t that it evidenced a situation wherein boys swam naked with clothed girls (as we know that was no so uncommon), but that the writer indicated the purpose this was done was to prevent the boys from keeping “secrets” from the girls. She also tells her sister writing the letter to Abby that she should do the same, that is, have her son be naked in front of her daughter to afford the daughter an opportunity to see his genitals as well. Yet the woman also believed the reverse was not proper, and that boys should not be afforded the same opportunity.

            This situation presented by the inquiring letter was found again and again in letters written by other women to Abby as well as other columnists. The scenarios differed, but usually included a woman asking the appropriateness of requiring her son to swim nude with girls his age be they cousins or girls in the neighborhood, and again, much of the time the stated intent of the women for requiring the boys to be naked in front of the girls was to allow the girls to look at the boys’ genitals and thus satisfy their natural curiosity. Yet in all situations it was concluded that the girls should never be nude around the boys.

            The response from Abby in this specific publication was inconsistent with others we found. The first variation was published in 1970, then, in 1980 it was again published, yet the latter version had slightly different text and the ages of the children were different. In fact, both Abigail Van Buren and Ann Landers were found to recycle letters and responses as many as three or four times, with different versions each time.

            Note: As noted, there are numerous versions of this column that was first published in 1970. The text differed slightly, and in some the ages of the kids varied or were not even indicated. However, we found one version that was significantly different insofar as Abby’s response. In that one, she clearly was in favor of the sister that required the boys to be nude stating “it certainly is a good way to satisfy the girl’s curiosity as to what boys look like while in the appropriate surroundings”, however, she felt that the sister was also correct in “not having the girls follow suit, or rather lack thereof”. The tenor of the letter written as well as Abby’s response was basically that it was better to allow the girls to satisfy their curiosity than to be concerned about the boys embarrassment or being upset it was unfair. This position would be consistent with other columns she authored chastising boys that were reluctant in stripping nude in gym for their swimming class, and that they should “get over it”. It is possible that she released the column, then had second thoughts and retracted it substituting it with the version to the left wherein she addresses the blatant double standard of the woman’s sister. Regardless of Abby’s true response, the letter that was written her in and of itself, which varies little between the first printing in 1970, is very telling of the culture of its time and evidences that were mothers that would stage opportunities to allow their daughters to see the genitals of boys by having the boys swim naked with the girls, and so believed it was the best way of doing it that they would encourage other mothers to also have their sons nude in front of girls. In 1970, Abby takes issue with it in the version shown; however, if it were, say, 20 or 30 years earlier, it is very possible that the columnist would agree that forcing the boys to be naked was a perfectly acceptable rule to follow.

            Dear Abby – 1971 “Don’t Wear Swim Suits”
            (click on image to enlarge for reading)

            Abigail Van Buren again encountered a similar letter from a mother that was asking weather she should let her boy swim nude at the neighbor’s pool. In the letter written, the mother indicates the neighbors believed it was good for boys to be naked when swimming with the girls as it was “proper” for the girls to see boys nude, but improper for boys to see girls nude. There were less variations in the actual printed columns of various news sources, but the facts and ages were consistent in all. This specific copy to the left was taken directly from page 43 of the August 8, 1971 edition of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. This particular version has the tag line “Don’t Wear Swim Suits” implying Abby is recommending that the son should also comply with the rule and swim naked. Indeed, in some variations of this article, Abby admits this was a double-standard, but ends up recommending that the boy should be allowed to comply with the rule anyway as all versions begins with DEAR READERS: Since your son already knows what boys look like, why not?


            “DEAR ABBY: Some neighbors of ours have a swimming pool behind their house. They also have a pair of 11-year-old twin boys and two
            daughters, 9 and 13. These neighbors allow their boys to swim in the raw at the same time their daughters use the pool, but the girls
            wear swim suits. That’s their business, but it presents a problem to us because the twin boys have invited our son to swim in their pool.
            Our son says swimming in the raw doesn’t bother him, girls or no girls. (Can this be?) He also says that the neighbor boys were raised to believe that it is proper for girls to see what boys look like, but it is not proper for boys to see what girls look like. How do you feel about this, Abby? And should we let our boy swim at the neighbors? -COLORADO READERS

            DEAR READERS: Since your son already knows what boys look like, why not? ”

            1951 Sheboygan Press
            (click on image to enlarge for reading)

            It seemed 1954 was not an anomaly, but that female instructors were also teaching the swim classes previously as documented in this 1951 article. As with all others, it states: “Swimming suits are furnished to girl swimmers. Swimming suits are not required for boys.”

            The article goes on to discuss the swimming program that year. This particular year boys and girls were not separated by time of day but instead different months of the year. Thus, in November through February, only boys used the pool, and girls then used it after February. It states that:

            “Afternoon swimming classes have been scheduled for junior high school students. However, if boys and girls are unable participate in recreational swimming during the morning sessions, they are privileged to attend at that time.”

            and then…

            “The 1:00 to 2:00 p. m. swimming class scheduled for boys November I7 to February 16 is specifically designed as a beginners’ swimming class and a period to test boys to pass the swimmers’ test. Starting February 23, this class will be scheduled as a girls’ beginner swimming class.”

            When reviewing the list of instructors that year, it states the following:

            “Swimming instruction for beginners and advanced boys and girls is provided under the supervision of Lester Wilke and Henry Rilling. The afternoon swimming program is under the supervision of Lloyd Melners and Miss Evelyn Horn.”

            “Miss Evelyn Horn” taught afternoon classes wherein junior high school boys attended those classes naked while under her instruction.Image result for nude school swimming

            1940 Sheboygan Press
            (click on image to enlarge for reading)

            The dichotomy in standards between boys and girls is emphasized in this 1940 edition of a Wisconsin newspaper. The large print photos, which took up nearly a quarter of the city’s daily newspaper, clearly showed nude boys in their swim class with one naked boy shown on the diving board Further, not only did the editors provide the boys name, but his street address. The girls are of course clothed in the photo.

            “There’s one striking difference between the boys and girls at the recreation department’s swimming classes in Central High on Saturday mornings. The girls wear suits. The two pictures above were taken at the classes last Saturday morning, the girls at 8:30, the boys at 10:30 o’clock. Instructor Howard Rich has Victor (Chink) Relnholtz, 1530 St. Clair avenue, demonstrate correct diving technique for his fellow swimmers in the picture of the boys. The girls on the diving board in the other picture are, left to right: Doris Dottel, 1603 N. Twelfth street; Marion Frantz, 1916 S. Fourteenth street, and Joan Mahnke, 1014 Cooper avenue. In the background are Howard Rich, instructor, and Harry Emtgh, recreation director, standing among the
            other girls, —Press photos.”

            1926 Ironwood Daily Globe
            (click on image to enlarge for reading)

            In this press release by the district’s superintendent, it is clear that the policy for boys to swim completely naked in many programs was not optional but mandatory, all the while girls always wore suits. It states:

            “Boys shall not be permitted to use suits while swimming. Girls must wear swimming suits preferably of cotton. All instructors in charge of classes consisting of either boys or girls shall wear swimming suits.”

            Reports from men that once attended such classes tell of stories wherein their normal instructor was unavailable, and the substitute teacher was the female instructor that typically taught the girls’ classes.

            1952 Sheboygan Press
            (click on image to enlarge for reading)

            The article to the left is typical of the advertisement for the Sheboygan Department of Public Recreations swimming program found from the early 1940s through the 1960s. This particular one indicates the swimming program is open to boys and girls from the fourth grade through the eighth grade, and specifically states:

            “Boys swim in the nude and are required to bring only a towel. Girls swim in suits provided by the Department of Public Recreation. However, they must bring a towel. Girls must provide themselves with a bathing cap.”

            Regardless of the year these advertisements were published, they always indicate that the boys would not wear swimsuits whereas girls would. Until well into the 1960s, we never found any exception to this, nor was it ever indicated that on certain days boys would be allowed to wear suits; rather, for reasons stated elsewhere, boys were never furnished swimsuits and always expected to swim nude during those years.


    1. Hi Bill: Yes, at least in theory, all of Pennsylvania would all bare-chestedness. The State Parks have a specific regulation banning female nipple exposure however we have neither challenged nor tested that language. The state constitution provides the highest protection for gender equality, which is how we confirmed the legality of bare-chestedness in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and women including me, have been going bare-chested in both cities for a year now. My suggestion for places outside Philadelphia and Pittsburgh would be to contact the police to confirm that they understand the legality and to discuss the topic to avoid an unnecessary interaction on the street. See my article called the making of a bare-chested bike ride for details on this issue. I also have an article about Pittsburgh on the blog too.


  12. I feel that once people get used of seeing a woman bra less or bare chested, it will not get noticed much after all the hype falls to the wayside. If it helps with their health than that’s even better.


  13. Reading this article and all the replies is great. My wife’s question is, could she be arrested or ticketed for going bare chested in public? But in addition to that, she had breast cancer, and had a bilateral mastectomy, with no rebuild. And currently she has a beautiful tattoo covering half her chest, with the other half being completed in Feb.

    She did take her top off once bike riding through the park and loved it. And that was before the tattoo even. But she was a wee bit nervous.

    I would post a photo here, but don’t know how to do it.


    1. That’s beautiful! Thank you for writing. Paulette (see the article on Power is Taken, not Given) walked bare-chested from Louisianna to Washington D.C. She had a bilateral mastectomy and she found widespread support along her entire journey. She was never arrested to my knowledge. Nor threatened with it. If she is willing to share her photo, I would love to post it. It would be best if she contact me herself please through email at If she would like to write a brief article about the experience, it doesn’t have to be long or perfect, I really like to post the experiences of other women. Thank you both for visiting and reaching out to me. It’s great that she had this positive experience.


  14. We hope all is well. Haven’t heard from you in a while. Looking forward to new adventures in the new year. Take Care, Happy New Year to all on the blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m well! Thank you for checking on me. I’ve been immersed in some pretty cool stuff and the weather is super cold right now and we are still waiting to hear from the Attorney General of Maryland so I’ve been in a holding pattern on the blog. But I feel a post brewing too, so maybe early in the new year… 🙂 Be well all.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I work retail, and my observation over the years is that most of the women who are braless are in the older age groups, even up into their eighties. It may be that these older ladies grew up in the era of a different normalcy than now. Perhaps their body-positivity developed 45-plus years ago when they shared swim classes with boys who were not allowed swimsuits. Maybe one or two of them taught these classes. I did know a few [then] girls who were resentful of being treated differently from the boys.
    Societies go through changes at differing rates. Some become rational early while others resist forever. Leaf through the pages of history and you’ll find regions and eras in which male toplessness was forbidden in public [an absurd thought to us today, whether male or female], yet male nudity was enforced in swim classes, co-ed or not. It was natural, normal and just seemed right. Girls were forced to wear full one-piece suits and never a two piece.
    A woman wearing a two-piece swimsuit was frowned upon, yet now it’s considered modest.
    Don’t try to figure out why people are repressed or go out of their way to impose their tunnel vision on you – just be respectful, courteous and don’t take the bait and get down to their level.
    I love not having a shirt on, in fact, the greatest feeling for me is to experience it in freezing temperatures in a wind. It makes me feel more alive.


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