Turquoise waves of the Mediterranean lap up the Spanish coast, tickling my feet. I take those first, big, glorious, high-summer steps into the water. As I envelop myself in this aqua sea, a thought shoots through me. Gotta make sure that bikini top is strapped on nice and tight so it doesn’t come off while I body surf.
One of my self-growth projects this summer has been to go unabashedly topless on the beach. I didn’t expect to make a feminist stance this summer, that’s for sure. (Maybe a light accompaniment of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own has wiggled its way into my mind.) If anything, I’d played with going topless here in Europe from time to time when I was feeling capricious, but often the embarrassment, the shame of feeling like I was attracting a certain gaze, would overcome me; embarrassment over what would be running through the minds of others. It’s no easy feat going topless, at least it wasn’t for me initially, but at the same time, it’s the easiest thing in the world to not get dressed.
But, you know what? To feel that cool water rolling over my body in places usually tightly bound feels like such freedom, liberating me just to be a person, not to apologize for my body. Apart from form and function, I mean, we all have a chest and we all have nipples, so, what’s the big deal? Is it an instinct thing? Is it a faux pas against decency? Is it social conditioning that makes my breasts so taboo? Does it matter?
I can tell you one thing: The beach here in Cullera is full of feminists. My boobs form a part of a sea of so many other bigger, smaller, wider, paler, and burnt boobs that I could just float on by in relative comfort. As for moving through this discomfort—At the beginning, the name of the game was anonymity. For example, my favorite spot to drop my towel just happens to be next to the lifeguard chair. Since I was there basically every day, the lifeguards and I would chat a little here and there. Oh, did I mention this was when I was making sure everything was tied nice and tight? I distinctly remember coming out of the water topless for the first time right in their line of sight. I wasn’t going for “sex bomb,” and I didn’t feel like a sex bomb. I had just jumped and played in ocean spray. I felt like a kid again. Funny enough though, I don’t think I mustered up the comfort-level courage to talk to them even once since going topless. What a change in dynamic…That’s okay though, step by imperfect step, a classic sign of progress.
Now, at the end of the high season, I’ve eased into this whole Hey-this-is-my-body vibe to the point where I bound into and glide out of the sea just to then pick up a paddle and start a round of beach ball, all sans top. I don’t have to talk to any lifeguard to do that. What I’ve learned is that the longer I live in my courageous space and stand my topless ground, the more readily I see others’ courage too. Sure, the señor with the barrel belly and Speedo may look nonchalant strolling along the beach with his arms behind his back, but I imagine that takes some courage for him, too. It’s not like he goes to the grocery store like that. And we women, women existing as people, not necessarily as mothers, or best friends, or economists, or whatever, but as topless people standing with no shirt on, just like a man except with the distinction that anyone who wants to go topless can. Fabulous. And, conveniently, if I’m feeling a bit too exposed, there’s always the nude beach about ten minutes down the coast.
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Photo: Brooke Schmidt