The Ocean City Lawsuit Explained, a Bit.

OC Blog photo 2018
Ocean City, Maryland, Spring 2017. This photo was taken just before the Town of Ocean City passed the emergency ordinance addressing the “panic” officials claim bare-chested women would create on the beach.

 

So after a summer of patient deliberation turned into an autumn of patient deliberation, we have finally filed our civil rights complaint against the Town of Ocean City’s unconstitutional ordinance banning female, but not male, bare-chestedness.

Rather than rehash the story, which is easy enough to find on this blog and through a simple Google search, I thought I would instead do an FAQ about topfreedom and what parts of this lawsuit I can speak to for the benefit of supporters and detractors checking in here as a result of the recent news coverage regarding our lawsuit.

Please understand that I cannot answer certain questions, mostly the ones that require me to make legal arguments.  Lawyers are involved now… finally.  Thank goodness.  So with that said, welcome, or welcome back.  I’m excited to have this underway.

Q:  There are so many bigger concerns in the world.  Why is topfreedom important and why are you putting so much effort into this?

A:  At first glance, there probably do seem to be many more important struggles going on in the world than women having the right to go bare-chested in public.  But in the broader sense, the topfreedom movement has arisen over decades as a response to a society that has continued to blame women for rape and assaults instead of holding their attackers wholly responsible for their crimes.  Decades of using a woman’s attire against her during rape trials led to some activists removing their shirts and declaring, “Not even now.”  Meaning, not even when completely unclothed does a woman bear responsibility for being assaulted or raped.  The fact that this criminal responsibility has been so difficult to establish has driven and emboldened the topfreedom movement.  Topfreedom now also addresses other areas such as body shaming, body positivity, bullying, forced modesty, entrenched prejudice and gender stereotypes, bias in women’s health and so on.  And what that all means is that at its core, our lawsuit against Ocean City is about the single most important challenge facing American society today broadly speaking, namely… are we a society in which all people are governed by one set of rules, no asterisks, no exceptions?  Is the United States a land of equality or inequality?  Nothing is more important to the future of the United States.  Nothing.

Q:  What has taken so long?  The ordinance was passed in May… it’s January.

A:  Right?  This blog exists primarily to help other topfreedom activists or potential activists and supporters, of all genders, by sharing information and experiences as I have them.  So in that vein, here’s what took so long.  First, unless everything goes exactly perfectly, the law is very, very slow.  But that in itself does not account for the time between Ocean City’s ordinance and our filing this complaint now, all these months later.  First, Ocean City made their ordinance in a panic over a social media frenzy they perceived to be a big deal but actually wasn’t.  As a result, they drafted an amateurish, vague and short-sighted ordinance.  Not wanting to panic in return, I set about drafting a thorough response and seeking a lawyer who actually believed in the case.  It took me awhile to find an attorney who would take the case and in fact, the one who eventually did, Devon M. Jacob, a civil rights attorney from Pennsylvania, actually found me.  I had already approached the ACLU who offered to potentially help another attorney but declined to take the case as the primary attorneys themselves.  That left me navigating between what ended up being six different attorneys all giving me wisdom and advice and tangible writing and research support, none of whom for various reasons could actually take the case officially, but all of whom ended up providing research and assistance which I provided to Devon for his research and writing.  Devon pitched the idea that we make a class action suit, which means a group of people objecting to the ordinance instead of just me, which I wholeheartedly agreed to.  But that meant tracking down a half-dozen women not just willing but able to join, and each time one joined, it meant giving that person the time and information needed to read, understand and ask questions about the complaint she was signing her name to.  We also went out bare-chested with each of them, to make sure they really believed in all this and to give them the opportunity to really know what they were getting into.  Six intelligent and earnest co-plaintiffs meant a lot of drafting and redrafting.  (It’s five now, one had to drop out for personal reasons.)  Then Devon received the drafts back and went to work on them and around we went again.  If it had just been me bringing this complaint, we would have been filed months ago.  But it was important to every one of us that we show this is not just one woman raising this concern, but that other women agree and feel the same.   Complicating matters was that Devon is licensed to practice in Pennsylvania, so he had to make arrangements with a local attorney to sponsor him for this one case in Maryland.  It is a normal thing for civil rights attorneys to do, but it takes time.  Long and short, finally, the complaint is filed.  It is well-written, contains accurate and thorough legal and social arguments, and gives us our best chance at success at the federal court level.

Q:  What happens if you win?  Or lose?

A:  This is one of the questions I can’t answer except to say we have asked for an injunction against the ordinance.  Whether it is granted or not will begin their respective chains of events, which basically both hopefully end up with equality in Ocean City and Maryland.  When it all washes out, I will try to make a definitive history of the thing.

Q: What about the children?

A: Exactly.  Each generation that grows up with the same entrenched stereotypes as the last further deepens the divides and inequalities.  Each generation of girls that grows up thinking they are inherently inferior to boys, and of boys that grows up with the belief they are inherently, legally superior to girls, deepens the divide.  Every image that sexualizes the female breast adds to the stigma that discourages mothers from breastfeeding and girls from feeling confident in their bodies.  Children are not upset by seeing female breasts.  I’ve been doing this long enough to assert that children are upset when their parents tell them to be upset, when they see their parents react with hostility, fear or anger toward a bare-chested woman.  Those children learn from their parents that men and women should be governed by different rules, laws and expectations.  I think about the children every time I do this work.

20170713_161431
Seen in the window of a community-based non-profit just outside Ocean City, 2017.  Superhero made stronger by being bare-chested, to the point he is literally wearing everything else except chest covering.  The bulging muscles, direct stare, crotch bulge, the hovering female head just above the bulge, the large and obvious nipples…this is an image a charity organization felt comfortable displaying in its front window, and why not?  It is perfectly normalized.  Put female looking breasts on it and see what happens…

Q: Why are you forcing your beliefs on me/my children/others?

A: We live in a pluralistic society, which means we live in a society of differences and compromises.  Our belief systems bump into each other constantly.  What I hear when someone objects to me “forcing” my opinion on them is, “Why aren’t you accepting my opinion of what your rights should or shouldn’t be without objection?”  People often only believe in free speech and open expression when the ideas expressed agree with their own.  When an opinion challenges or conflicts with their opinions, they feel it should be banned.  The Constitutions of the United States and of the individual states within the union guarantee me rights.  I am exercising them without apology.   I have a right to assert my equality in this country.  Women in many countries lack this right.  I do not take mine for granted and I do not intend to remain silent on the topic.  Treat men and women equally under the law.

Q: What gives you the right to go naked in public?

A: This is a one of those comments with multiple elements to unpack.  First of all, a bare-chested woman is no more or less “naked” than a bare-chested man.  But more than that, what I hear when someone asks me “what gives you the right to do” whatever, is that they are not making a legal query, but a moral one.  In other words, in places like New York and Washington D.C., what literally gives me the right to walk around bare-chested is the law.  But that’s not what they really mean.  They mean something more troubling.  They mean what gives me the agency, the power, the decision-making ability to make this act without considering the objector’s feelings?  But we never, ever ask this question of a bare-chested man jogging, mowing the lawn, hanging out at the pool.  Ever.  Men can make these decisions for themselves without being asked to consider the feelings of others.  It is not the same for a bare-chested woman.  It implies an expectation of modesty for women that does not exist for men.  And modesty can, among other things, keep a person from voicing other opinions too, like objections to harassment, assault, inequality and discrimination.  There’s a reason modesty is used against women.  And there’s a reason people fear immodest women.

Q: Don’t you see that by going bare-chested you are asking to be raped?

A: I’m not.  In fact, I’m not asking for anything.  I’m demanding that I not be raped, and that if I am, that my attacker is punished to the fullest extent of the law, as supported by a society that affirms gender equality in practice and principle.  I’m asserting that a woman’s attire, or lack thereof, shall not be used against her to explain why someone chose to attack her.

Q: How are you paying for this lawsuit?

A: Our attorney, Devon M. Jacob, is representing us on a contingency.  If we win, he will petition the court for legal fees, to be determined by a judge and paid by the defendant.  If we lose, he doesn’t make any money.  He believes in the cause, in our chances, in our legal standing, and stepped up and volunteered to take the case.

Q:  Admit it.  You’re just seeking attention. 

A:  Yes and no.  The attention-seeking that I am doing is represented by this blog, not in my walking bare-chested.  Ideally, I wait for a world in which anyone of any gender can be bare-chested without drawing attention.  There are places in the world like this now.  But yes, I made the conscious decision when I started the blog to seek attention for the cause.  I knew it would mean scrutiny and criticism, but I think that scrutiny is important to transitioning toward actual gender equality.  Each time a person sits with the idea of equality it becomes a little less shocking to the system.  My goal is to make my blog unnecessary.

Q:  What if Ocean City becomes a topless mecca?

A:  This is a humorous question to me, and is often uttered by officials in whatever city is trying to make female bare-chestedness illegal.  I understand what they are doing.  They are trying to incite panic by invoking this image of topless crowds to mobilize people to voice their objections. But if you really sit with the sentiment, what it really means if all of a sudden a place is crowded with bare-chested women is that a lot of women wanted this freedom, and Ocean City or whatever place was denying all those women equality all this time.  The reality is that the social transition will be very gradual.  But the effort to paint a picture of this sudden tidal change is really quite disturbing to me because it means that if women actually want this freedom in large numbers, that makes it even more scary!  I find that hard to swallow.

Q: If Ocean City becomes topless, what is to stop women from going topless at the Little League park or school functions?

A:  Whatever stops men from doing it.

Berlin LL 2 2017
Berlin, MD Little League, July 2017. Berlin is the neighboring town to Ocean City, through which travelers from the west enter the Maryland beaches. The players on the field are 9 and 10 years old. This gentleman spent the entire weekend bare-chested without complaint.
Berlin LL 2017
Berlin, MD Little League fields, July 2017. Likewise, this well-muscled, evenly tanned, statuesque man walked proudly bare-chested around the ball fields all weekend in a very visually pleasing way, if I may say so. No one asked him to think of the children. Certainly not the moms admiring his chest… or the dads.

 

Q: Why won’t you admit men and women are fundamentally different? 

A: I will.  Some men can’t lift heavy things and get emotional when they are upset.  Some women can lift cars and are stoic as stones.  Every individual on the planet has a unique skillset, regardless of gender.  Drawing the lines at gender feels arbitrary to me.  It’s just uncomfortable for some people to feel that line is not as sharp as they psychologically need it to be.  Men are men and women are women, they say.  Only, they aren’t.  I don’t deny that men and women can be different, but women and women are different, and men and men are different.  I don’t see where we should treat any of these differences, individually or generally, unequally under the law.  One set of rules for all.  Then we don’t have to worry about where we draw the line.

Q:  Why won’t you admit that men are just hardwired to view the female breast as sexual?

A: It’s not the attraction I object to.  I think breasts are pretty too.  It’s the next part… namely that because men are “hardwired,” they aren’t responsible for their behavior.  They are.  The vast majority of men control themselves every day.  The ones who don’t should be held accountable.  It should not be a woman’s job to control a man’s behavior and she should not bear the responsibility when he can’t.

Q:  How can I help with legal fees?

A:  I’ve had a lot of people offer to help with legal fees.  Right now, we don’t have any.  If that changes, and if they become untenable, I will consider reaching out.  But it is important to me that people understand we are not suing for money, only to stop the ordinance and others like it, and that we are not using this as an opportunity to raise money.  With that said, our heartfelt thanks to those who have offered.

Q:  How can I help?

A:  It has been very helpful having readers forward me news updates.  I can’t possibly keep track of it all, and having the collective eyes and ears of the blog’s readership helping me has been huge.  Words of encouragement have been wonderful, of course.  It is especially helpful to hear from women, no matter how able or willing that woman is to go bare-chested.  But I have to say I love hearing from women who have gone bare-chested or would like to.  Also, we have had a lot of very intelligent people offer opinions, thoughts and research through my email breastsarehealthy@gmail.com.  Please feel welcome to share your thoughts with me.  This is a pretty new area of law for our geographical area, and there are so many cases and precedents and arguments and perspectives that affect the final outcome, and they are changing all the time, that having an army of people pondering how to succeed can only help.  I can’t always make a meaningful response (though I do try to acknowledge at least) but please know I read carefully every email I receive.

 

 

159 thoughts on “The Ocean City Lawsuit Explained, a Bit.

  1. Looks like there has been some movement in the case. Washington Post article: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/legal-issues/is-women-going-bare-chested-in-this-resort-town-the-same-as-men-going-shirtless/2018/12/06/0a9437ae-f98d-11e8-8c9a-860ce2a8148f_story.html

    Doesn’t look like there is a decision yet, but something is going to happen.

    Also, 280 comments on the article, as of this writing. Don’t waste your time reading them. Here and there a glimmer of logic, and quite a few people asking “why is this an issue, get over it already”, but you can guess the rest.

    I eagerly await Chelsea weighing in with what she feels comfortable talking about, but I won’t rush matters.

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    1. This was just an injunction hearing. The judge will render a temporary decision soon and them the long process of building the cases for the “real” trial begins, with scheduling etc. This whole thing won’t resolve for years, I’m afraid… But spirits are up still.

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  2. So the judge ruled in favor of the ordinance because it “does not violate equal protection rights so long as it is consistent with public sensibilities toward female toplessness”. So I’ve got two comments on that:

    (1) I wonder how the LGBT community got around that hurdle regarding gay marriage since there were probably tens of millions of Christians whose “sensibilities” were opposed to the idea.

    (2) Sounds like you need to get a bona-fide consulting firm to conduct a scientific poll to find out exactly the prevailing attitude toward female toplessness. That way there’s no way the government can show that there’s an actual important interest that requires protection via ordinance (assuming the poll results come back in your favor).

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  3. I recently had a phone conversation with the organizer of SOUTH FLORIDA FREE BEACHES and he told me that there is testimony from Miami Beach authorities that said something like business has increased since toplessness was permitted and the public is ho/hum about it all…few or no complaints. It would help your cause to get the citations and bring them to Ocean City authorities. Contact the above organization for details or send me a private email so that I can give you additional details. I think you can get my email somehow from the blog records, right? I do not want to make it public.

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    1. That’s a cute story bro but last time I was in South Beach it’s not really known for being kid friendly several hotels have strict no children policy but there is certain areas that are most are not.While Ocean City is and has been since the beginning a family resort a place families come with their children I should know I’ve been Vacationing there since 1979 my father worked there every summer between 1968 to 1977. And before you say some dumb shit like Ocean City has a bar on every corner which is first wrong and second stupid.Ocean City is beach resort which all people are welcome not just families Ocean City has been hosting Spring Breakers and Senior weekers forever do they encourage underage drinking no.I’ve tried to tell Chelsea and her keyboard warriors before why this will not pass and they already took the first step by upholding the ordinance which before hand Mr.Jacobs said publicly was gonna be overturned and wasn’t then he changed the story and said he wasn’t surprised. I’m not surprised either hopefully we have a decision soon so I can come back and say told you so.

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      1. You come across as uninformed, narrow-minded, very mean-spirited and desperate for an audience and affirmation. Perhaps, one day, you’ll consider being kind instead.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m the one who wants an audience it’s not me filling frivolous lawsuits and parading around cities with my clothes off. I go to work and pay my taxes and just because you can’t take it that I’m 100% correct about this case and the outcome that’s why Chelsea is silent because she knows deep down the judge is gonna side with Ocean City but you resort to name calling my feeeling would be hurt if I cared what you or anyone else thinks. I will be back when an outcome is finally reached.

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  4. Delaware just passed their own Equal Rights Amendment to its constitution. I’m not a lawyer, but it looks like the state’s portion of the obscenity law directed specifically towards women is now superseded by the constitutional amendment. I’ve always been a supporter of women’s right to bare their breasts anywhere a man can. Hopefully this breaks down that barrier in Delaware. So maybe if you can’t go topless on Ocean City you can drive up to Rehoboth.

    https://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/2019/01/16/delaware-equal-rights-amendment-gets-final-approval/2597949002/

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      1. I have read what seems to be the Delaware law re IE. Supposedly men cannot show the genitals or butt if that would cause offense or alarm and supposedly women cannot show the genitals or butt or breasts if that would cause offense. Perhaps someone in Delaware will challenge the state in court on the basis that this constitutes disparate treatment on the basis of sex . . .

        Also, this almost would mean or maybe it means and maybe not that it is not legal for men or women to wear a thong at the beach or park. Is that right? That seems strange for a state which is not part of the Confederacy.

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      2. You’re welcome. The amendment is simple:

        Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex.

        I think you’d have an open and shut case in Delaware, I don’t know how they could continue to defend an obscenity statute with different rules for men and women.

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        1. While that would certainly seem to be the case from the plain language wording, it also seems that lawyers and especially politicians have a knack for, shall we say, creatively interpreting the statutes in a way that best fits their goals.

          For an example that hits close to home, Maryland has a constitution with an Article 46 which is functionally identical to Delaware’s, reading “Article 46: Equality of rights under the law shall not be abridged or denied because of sex. (1972, ch. 366, ratified Nov. 7, 1972; 1977, ch. 681, ratified Nov. 7, 1978.)”, and yet Chelsea and friends are still in their current mess.

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          1. Correct, with the clarification that our current suit against Ocean City is in federal Court, arguing the 14th amendment to the US Constitution might prohibit OC’s ordinance. Only if we ultimately lose that argument (and it will take years to find out) will we then take the issue up through the state courts of Maryland. But as a general rule, yes, courts all over the country have worked very hard and creatively to find exceptions to gender equality laws.

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        2. I agree, though I’ve felt that way before and been wrong. Still, we’ve been following Delaware’s annual failed attempts to pass an equal protection clause for years. I admit I had stopped hoping and therefore stopped watching for it. Thus my wow reaction. It will take me a bit to process what it means beyond even top freedom. I mean, I know what it means generally, but the ripples… Great news from Delaware.

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  5. Sadly, the SC case in NH was just lost. I can not understand how the justices here came to their conclusion when article 2 of NH’s constitution spells out the exact opposite. I, for one, am very disappointed.

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    1. John, I think I know that nh is new hampshire, but I am not sure about SC. Supreme court or Superior court? Also, Supreme court refers to at times the USSC and at times to various state Supreme courts.

      I can understand being sad about a loss in a court situation, but, in the long run, justice and right prevail. The battle moves to different arenas . . . or it is brought back to the courts in several years. Sometimes it comes back to the courts after the case and controversy is fought about in different areas with obviously bad and negative results for society based on a previous bad court ruling and a court steps in to reverse a host of problems its own rulings have been causing.

      The Jews and the Greeks and even the Romans to a lesser extent believed that Yahweh, Zeus and Jupiter enforced and brought about justice even when and where humans could not or would not.

      Several hundred years ago there was Puritan Boston and Puritan Boston did not like the Quakers. Some Quakers they whipped and some Quakers they killed.

      The story goes . . . that the guy most in charge of whipping or seeing to the whipping of the backs of the Quakers had his back rot till he was dead . . . and that the whole area became cursed in terms of growing crops. The area was cursed to a certain number of miles away and outside the area you could grow crops, and within, you were stuck.

      So testify descendants of dead Puritan Bostonians.

      I do not always know how God views or might view each situation and each topic . . . but there are a lot of topics on which it is very foolish for individuals or even public authorities to try to bully or dominate others . . . If and when there are situations of bullying and unjust domination, the vote of the people, laws and even court rulings will not prevail, when the cause is unjust or does evil.

      Evil fails and good triumphs, though it may take a few years . . .

      Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest.–But it is impossible to be temperate and to pursue this subject through the various considerations of policy, of morals, of history natural and civil. We must be contented to hope they will force their way into every one’s mind.
      –Thomas Jefferson, on the topic of America and slavery

      Oh, right now a similar but different topic battle is going on in Little Rock schools on the topic of the Little Rock schools dress code. Some of the young lady victims and friends of young lady victims have realized that the current dress code, as currently administered and enforced, is being enforced more against blacks and hispanics than against whites, that it is dramatically enforced more against females than boys/men, that it is enforced more against young women of a larger bust than a smaller bust or against young women with a more clear waist to hips ratio than those of a more boyish figure.

      So, they are upset and rightly so and the administration of the schools has been acting abominably.

      I pray. Others pray. At times God shows up and brings justice in various ways. My recommendation is to not be a bully, a slave-owner or a school admin guy who makes girls cry because of their skirt or cleavage. It is a very, very, very losing battle.

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    2. Today in foxnews it is being announced that the highest court in New Hampshire has ruled that the law of a city of Laconia in New Hampshire is constitutionally sound. The law forbids sex and nudity in public and the nudity in public part forbids a woman being in clothing, or a lack of clothing, showing nips. Probably other news sources are covering the story. I will check cnn and abc and cbs to see how they are covering the story!

      In 2016 there were 3 women arrested on some beach in Laconia, New Hampshire. The 3 women believed in equality for women in the topic of going topfree. One of them was doing some yoga and the 2 others were sunbathing. Very bad crime takes place in New Hampshire these days! Some women sunbathe on the beach without appropriate permissions granted!

      The New Hampshire court has 5 members. The high court was split 3 to 2. It was a close call and the woman who have been arrested, prosecuted and found guilty of being topless on the beach nearly prevailed.

      Where, oh where, is RBG? Oh, my favorite RBG, please come to the rescue!

      The dissenters say or agree that the law treats men and women differently without sound or just cause.

      The states AG helped defend the law in court, it appears from the news.

      The state AG says that the law forbids only not covering the nips of women and its purpose is to prevent “disturbances,” which, in the law of police, at times means, only, a phone call to 911 to check on things.

      Ha, ha. How funny. The city forbidding women going topless is Laconia, which is also a region of Greece with the capital of Sparta, but the city is acting foolishly, I believe.

      There are women and there are men and there are slim men and regular weighted men and there are overweight men with something like breasts and there are men who want to be women and there are women who want to be men.

      Which of these groups is forbidden from not wearing a top sufficient to cover the nips?

      The women?

      What about men who want to be women?

      What about a women who says she is or wants to be a man?

      I do not believe in violence, generally speaking, but if it were me, I would consider finding someone as a subject of being burned in effigy, and I would also encourage people to pray for justice and that God show some of the fools the right way. If you pray and if your cause is just, I believe your chances of victory go up.

      If you and others pray, wait and educate and request prayer, I believe that God will change the decision makers. Either God will help the decision makers to change their minds or God will replace them with others who are more caring and just.

      That is my theory.

      z

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  6. I’m sure you’ve heard about this case. I find it to be an appalling example of a violation of a woman’s rights on my levels:

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  7. Chelsea, I enjoy reading your blog, you have a logical argument. I never thought about it before, after reading your blog, I agree with you. Everyone has breasts, just that a man’s are normally flatter then a woman’s. I see no reason why a woman shouldn’t be able to go bare-chested. You’r right, this would become normal. It isn’t a breast that makes women a woman, it’s the ability to create new life that separates women from men. Two hundred years ago, Indian women went bare-chested during the summer because it was cooler. It was common. No one cared or paid attention. White men and women have some Puritan ideas about the human body that should be changed. I wish you the best in your endeavor to change things. Please keep posting to your blog.
    Thank you

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    1. Chelsea you should lower your goals a
      and just seek to have the government Establish top free zones on beaches, much like the clothes free zones that nudists established.

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  8. Hi Chelsea. Is it restrictions on what you can say because of the lawsuit or your just too busy that means we’re not hearing from you?

    It’s a shame I’m sure I’m not alone in missing your posts. I’ve really enjoyed reading them and hope to hear more from you in the near future.

    Hope you are well.

    Like

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