All Posts By

Meagan

All posts by Meagan

Shining a Light of Thanks on Women Who’ve Changed the Way We Live Today

By | Blog | No Comments

‘Tis the season for coming together in celebration and thanksgiving!  Lately I’ve been reflecting on the people and blessings for which I am most grateful. So many things come to mind; a large and warm family, the blessings of good health, and the locally grown food I’ve come to rely on… my freedom…

As I’ve made my journey with The Breast Archives project, I’ve begun discovering the pivotal role of certain determined and brave women. Through their daring enlightenment, they have paved the way for me, and for all of us to live lives that are independent, purposeful, and powerful. I’ve referenced just a few of these women; models for courage and character, below.

Lucretia Mott

A Suffragist, Lucretia Mott traveled to upstate New York in 1848 to address the first Conference to Address Women’s Rights and Issues. Using the US Declaration of Independence’s proclamation, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…” as a model for the Conference, the aim for delegates and attendees was “to forthrightly demanded that the rights of women as right-bearing individuals be acknowledged and respected by society.”

Out of this gathering of The Women of Seneca Falls, came the Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances, one of the earliest and most influential statements of Feminism. The culminating Treatise was signed by sixty-eight women and thirty-two men, and marked the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement in America. The passions-and frustrations-expressed at the gathering are encapsulated by the following (selected) bullet points:

  • After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government, which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.
  • He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration.
  • He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction, which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known.
  • He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education—all colleges being closed against her.
  • He allows her in church, as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church.
  • He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated but deemed of little account in man.
  • He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God.
  • He has endeavored, in every way that he could to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.

At the Conferences’ close, its Leaders declared,“This entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation--in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States.”

Thank you, Lucretia Mott, for your leadership and vision.

Simone de Beauvoir

One hundred years later, in 1949, France’s Simone de Beauvoir published her book The Second Sex, which detailed the “unethical” treatment of women throughout history and which sought to understand femininity from a philosophical perspective.  Simone de Beauvoir analyzed the male rationale, which postulated that “the man of the human species was the norm,” and women, “an inferior, less-desirable model,” and developed a philosophical and intellectual platform arguing, among other things, against the institution of marriage and for the right of women to obtain an abortion. Her well-reasoned, much-admired book was condemned, and even “prohibited” by the Vatican immediately upon its publication.

The Second Sex has influenced the platforms and writings of many feminist thought-leaders since, and continues to be a model for those who dare to confront the duplicitous social systems in which women are undeniably embedded.

Thank you, Simone de Beauvoir, for your clarity and intelligence.

bell hooks

bell hooks was a philosopher, poet, and scholar. Born Gloria Jean Watkins in 1952, she took the name (and lower case spelling) of her Kentuckian great-grandmother as homage, and to compel readers to prioritize her words and ideas over her personal identity. Her first book, Ain't I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism, was published in 1981, and called out the feminist movement as one incapable of addressing “the needs of lower income women of color,” and criticized feminist organizations as “comprised of affluent white women.” From this point, she began a lifelong exploration of the intersectionality of race, gender, money and social inequality.

Thank you, bell hooks, for your demand for truth and real equality.

Madonna

When Madonna Ciccone first burst onto the scene in the early 80’s she knew what she wanted, where she was headed, and the required calculations involved with the process. "When I lost my virginity, I considered it a career move.” When she arrived in NYC in 1978, she famously told a cab driver to, "Take me to the center of everything." She was “insanely jealous” of her brothers, who could take off their shirts in summer."

Madonna’s catchy pop tunes were initially underestimated (more noticed were her lace, rubber bracelets and penchant for hiccupping), several astute journalists, notably Rolling Stone’s Debby Miller, sensed the undercurrent of ambition and knew she was after more; much more.

Through the years, Madonna’s work has been bolder and more cunning. “It's as if she recognizes the discomfort we feel when sensing the human character of a woman whose function is purely sexual,” said Arion Berger, (who probably missed several key points in his review of her Erotica Tour). A lot can be explained by this quote, from the Queen of Pop: "I take what I need and then I move on."

Thank you, Madonna, for your sensuality, creative vitality – and endurance.

Emma Watson

Plucky Hermoine Granger waved her wand and cast a spell on us all in the Harry Potter series.  After earning 13 million for her award-winning portrayal of a feisty young wizard, Emma enrolled in Brown University and graduated with a bachelor's degree in English literature.

In 2014, she was awarded British Artist of the Year, and later that year was appointed as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. She immediately pushed to launch the UN Women campaign, an initiative to call men to advocate for equal rights and opportunities for both men and women and making them feel comfortable calling themselves feminists. Characterizing the feminist movement as “an unstoppable current,” Emma has globalized the project; aimed at challenging gender stereotypes “from the ground up.” She has also established the Emma Watson Scholarship, and now selects budding activists from around the world, including Jordan, Angola and Albania.

Yet the road hasn’t been easy. In launching her HeForShe gender equality solidarity movement she said, “My best hopes and my worst fears were confirmed all at once. I had opened a Pandora's Box to a standing ovation and almost simultaneously to a level of critique I had never experienced in my life and the beginning of a series of threats.”

At the One Young World summit in 2016 Emma was philosophical, and offered audiences a clue in how she has navigated her work to secure real progress towards a gender equal world.

“Take a moment,” she said. “You can keep your eyes closed or keep them open, and ask yourself if these have any truth for you in them:

I am willing to be seen.
I am willing to speak up.
I am willing to keep going.
I am willing to listen to what others have to say.
I am willing to go forward even when I feel alone.
I am willing to go to bed each night, at peace with myself.
I am willing to be my biggest, best-est, most powerful self.”

Continuing, she explained, “These seven statements scare the absolute shit out of me. But I know that they are at the crux of it all. At the end of the day, and when all is said and done, I know that these are the ways that I want to have lived my life.”

Thank you, Emma Watson, for your mix of spunk and grace, and for your willingness to lead.

What about you? Who are the people whose lives and works have influenced and inspired you?

Please let us know, and from everyone at The Breast Archives, Happy Thanksgiving!

PAINTING THE INHERENT BEAUTY OF THE DIVINE FEMININE: ARTIST PATRICIA M. BOWERS

By | Blog | No Comments

One ordinary day Meagan Murphy was sitting at her desk at WGBY-TV, where she worked as a television producer. As she surfed the ‘Net and munched on a salad an image embedded in an article caught her eye. She clicked it, and was re-directed to the website of Patricia M. Bowers.

The site was filled with captivating and hauntingly beautiful art, and Meagan ordered several prints. Later the two struck up a friendship, and Meagan learned about Patricia’s distinctive artistic process as well as her impassioned connection with the land of Egypt. When a proposed itinerary for a trip down the Nile arrived from Patricia a few weeks later, Meagan signed on. It would be a fateful voyage, and an impetus for the documentary, The Breast Archives.

 Patricia’s life as an artist began as a young child in a one-room schoolhouse in rural Canada. She didn’t know it then, but she had dyslexia and dyscalculia. Her teacher called her stupid. But there was one area in which she excelled: Patricia could draw anything. She didn’t know how she did it; she just knew that she could. She was often called upon to decorate the bulletin boards and enjoyed the validation and praise she received for her art. At 17, with no portfolio but some drawings on scraps of paper, Patricia was admitted to community college, where she found herself valued in a community of like-minded peers. She was finally able to express herself through art.

When Patricia moved to California in 1993, it was a difficult and challenging time to live in the Golden State. Plagued by earthquakes and wildfires, there were also racial tensions culminating in the trial of OJ Simpson. And then Patricia had a revelation that she was surrounded by an energy that protected her. When she felt a message from the Energy that told her to leave California, she listened and headed for Florida (where she now happily resides).

Shortly after arriving in St. Petersburg, and influenced by her new passion for drum circles, meditation and Reiki, Patricia painted her first mandala. She began to see herself as a conduit as she painted - not from her mind, but from her heart and her soul. Now, when she left paintings unfinished, everything needed to complete the canvases would come to her as visions in her dreams. She began to paint fairies, and the simple stick figures she remembered drawing as a child. She began to paint women.

These images are what filmmaker Meagan Murphy saw, and what attracted her to Patricia’s work. They are also what called Meagan to travel to Egypt, and what would lead her to a particular temple in that ancient land. It was in that hallowed site called “Philae;” a place that had borne witness to millennia, that Meagan heard a mysterious voice say, “Within the breasts there is contained an ancient wisdom.”

That experience left Meagan forever changed. “Patricia was a lynchpin for an enormous transformation in my life. And when I set out to make the film, I knew I wanted her artwork, and those otherworldly women in her paintings, to somehow be part of the film.”

Patricia immediately agreed to the collaboration and provided the beautiful images that viewers now see throughout The Breast Archives. “I am proud to be a part of the film,” Patricia says, “and happy to help in any way.”

“Patricia’s very feminine images within the film are profound, because they provide an oasis for viewers to reflect on their own humanity,” says Meagan.

“Because I am a woman, I celebrate women,” Patricia says. “I see beauty in their forms. Their breasts are intriguing, interesting curves that bring proportion and dimension to their bodies. They create light and space.” Now a mature artist, Patricia creates pieces that celebrate the sacred geometry in all things. She believes that tapping into this ancient wisdom awakens our humanity and that it helps activate an ancient knowledge and memory that we all carry in the hearts of our being.

We agree.

See more of the intuitive and visionary art of Patricia M. Bowers in The Breast Archives and at patriciambowers.com.

SEXUAL HARRASSMENT & SISTERHOOD

By | Blog | No Comments

What a week it’s been! With the non-stop coverage of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, news about women has managed to push Washington, DC off the front page. In case you haven’t caught up yet, here’s a recap:

  • The New York Times and the New Yorker both published articles containing decades of allegations of sexual harassment against Hollywood super-mogul Harvey Weinstein from multiple sources.
  • Within days, Weinstein had been fired from the company he founded, his wife announced her intention to file for divorce, and he fled the country, ostensibly to enter treatment for sex addiction.

As the story grew, more and more people weighed in. Female celebrities, including Lupita Nyong'o, Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Mira Sorvino began to share their stories of sexual harassment and abuse at Weinstein’s hands. The men of Hollywood expressed their outrage and support. They were applauded for their feminism, although some caught backlash for the patriarchal way they did so at the same time that the women were upbraided, as if their silence were complicity.

Women’s silence around sexual assault and harassment is a byproduct of the oppressive patriarchy they are subjected to. It was born centuries ago in a society in which women’s virginity was a prized possession of their fathers. Rape was a weapon that men wielded against other men, both in society and in war. Women were routinely to make them unmarriageable and to render the paternity of their children suspect. Of course women learned to keep their violations secret.

As we moved into professional spaces, a new kind of violation occurred: sexual harassment became commonplace. Women learned to accept it as part of the cost of their new place in society. We were taught that it was about our desirability, but it never was. Women of every age and physical time were vicitimized.

In a facebook post on October 11, the writer Ijeoma Oluo summed it up well, writing, “So Harvey Weinstein is apparently leaving the country for treatment for sex addiction. Please understand this: it's not sex he's addicted to. Weinstein is addicted to abusing women, to humiliating women, to violating women. Weinstein is addicted to power and his ability to abuse it. Just because Weinstein uses sexual acts to inflict abuse upon women, does not mean that it has anything to do with sex. Don't allow the dialogue around Weinstein to perpetrate the harmful belief that sexual assault is about sex. It never is.” The actress Emma Thomson spoke of this to the BBC, stating, “He’s not a sex addict. He’s a predator.”

Sexual harassment has always been about men’s power over women. It’s been about keeping us in our place and ensuring our vulnerability. It was a new, less invasive kind of rape and, with centuries of practice under our belts, women learned once again to keep men’s ugly secrets. We didn’t tell our bosses, who were often the perpetrators. We didn’t even tell each other.

Finally, that’s beginning to change. A tremendous ripple has been created and women are speaking out. Across the internet, women are beginning to share their own stories on social media. Many are using the twitter hashtags #MeToo, #sexualharassment, #NOTokay, and #WeinsteinMoment.

Women know that when we stand alone we are vulnerable to attack and criticism. Together however, we are formidable indeed.

And in our diversity of age, race, religion, sexual identity and political ideology, we transcend further into Sisterhood. How does Sisterhood form? By sharing honestly, taking risks, supporting one another and claiming/re-claiming OUR OWN FORM OF POWER.

What’s your deepest story? Who else knows it? Do you know your mother’s stories? Your sister’s? Your friend’s? If not, the time is now to share and to ask!

Host an evening! Invite other women to bare their souls and, if your intuition green-lights it, make it ‘top optional.’ Our breasts are a powerful portal for bonding, so ask the women you love to join you in cultivating an environment of trust and community. And know deeply that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Of Sexual Harassment and Sisterhood

By | News & Press | No Comments

Of Sexual Harassment and Sisterhood

What a week it’s been! With the non-stop coverage of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, news about women has managed to push Washington, DC off the front page. In case you haven’t caught up yet, here’s a recap:

  • The New York Times and the New Yorker both published articles containing decades of allegations of sexual harassment against Hollywood super-mogul Harvey Weinstein from multiple sources.
  • Within days, Weinstein had been fired from the company he founded, his wife announced her intention to file for divorce, and he fled the country, ostensibly to enter treatment for sex addiction.

As the story grew, more and more people weighed in. Female celebrities, including Lupita Nyong'o, Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Mira Sorvino began to share their stories of sexual harassment and abuse at Weinstein’s hands. The men of Hollywood expressed their outrage and support. They were applauded for their feminism, although some caught backlash for the patriarchal way they did so at the same time that the women were upbraided, as if their silence were complicity.

Women’s silence around sexual assault and harassment is a byproduct of the oppressive patriarchy they are subjected to. It was born centuries ago in a society in which women’s virginity was a prized possession of their fathers. Rape was a weapon that men wielded against other men, both in society and in war. Women were routinely to make them unmarriageable and to render the paternity of their children suspect. Of course women learned to keep their violations secret.

As we moved into professional spaces, a new kind of violation occurred: sexual harassment became commonplace. Women learned to accept it as part of the cost of their new place in society. We were taught that it was about our desirability, but it never was. Women of every age and physical time were vicitimized.

In a facebook post on October 11, the writer Ijeoma Oluo summed it up well, writing, “So Harvey Weinstein is apparently leaving the country for treatment for sex addiction. Please understand this: it's not sex he's addicted to. Weinstein is addicted to abusing women, to humiliating women, to violating women. Weinstein is addicted to power and his ability to abuse it. Just because Weinstein uses sexual acts to inflict abuse upon women, does not mean that it has anything to do with sex. Don't allow the dialogue around Weinstein to perpetrate the harmful belief that sexual assault is about sex. It never is.” The actress Emma Thomson spoke of this to the BBC, stating, “He’s not a sex addict. He’s a predator.”

Sexual harassment has always been about men’s power over women. It’s been about keeping us in our place and ensuring our vulnerability. It was a new, less invasive kind of rape and, with centuries of practice under our belts, women learned once again to keep men’s ugly secrets. We didn’t tell our bosses, who were often the perpetrators. We didn’t even tell each other.

Finally, that’s beginning to change. A tremendous ripple has been created and women are speaking out. Across the internet, women are beginning to share their own stories on social media. Many are using the twitter hashtags #MeToo, #sexualharassment, #NOTokay, and #WeinsteinMoment.

Women know that when we stand alone we are vulnerable to attack and criticism. Together however, we are formidable indeed.

And in our diversity of age, race, religion, sexual identity and political ideology, we transcend further into Sisterhood. How does Sisterhood form? By sharing honestly, taking risks, supporting one another and claiming/re-claiming OUR OWN FORM OF POWER.

What’s your deepest story? Who else knows it? Do you know your mother’s stories? Your sister’s? Your friend’s? If not, the time is now to share and to ask!

Host an evening! Invite other women to bare their souls and, if your intuition green-lights it, make it ‘top optional.’ Our breasts are a powerful portal for bonding, so ask the women you love to join you in cultivating an environment of trust and community. And know deeply that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

 

Uncovering Our True Selves: It’s Time to Get Naked

By | Blog | No Comments

The Breast Archives’ debut screening at Northampton’s beautiful and historic Academy of Music was a magical event. The evening was the culmination of four years of hard work and dedication, not only to the project, but also to the community of women it serves.

Of course, it was exciting to sit in the theater surrounded by the love and support of hundreds of women and their companions, but it was even more thrilling to watch those same women love and support each other. The women of The Breast Archives took the stage for a panel discussion at the film’s conclusion, fielding questions and sharing their experiences. Their candor was inspiring to all in attendance, especially to the women who were moved to remove their tops and bare their breasts as the conversation took place.

This got me to thinking:

  • What happens when we spend time with other women?
  • What is it like to really see each other?
  • What changes when we take our tops off and spend time together, naked and vulnerable, but without being sexualized?

Whether alone, with an intimate partner, or in the company of other women, there are many proven benefits to spending time undressed:

  • We become more comfortable with ourselves. So many women struggle with body image issues and hide behind their clothes, even from themselves. Being naked forces us to confront ourselves as we truly are, and to learn to love what we see.
  • Naked time outside promotes physical health. While the weather is still warm, spend a few minutes in the woods or on the deck without clothes. Soak in the sun’s warm rays and the vitamins A and D.
  • Being naked encourages intimacy. When we’re naked, we become vulnerable. Our true selves are uncovered. We allow our authentic selves to be revealed.
  • Our happiness increases when we are naked. Although it may take a little while to get there, there is a correlation between the amount of time that women spend undressed and their levels of self-esteem.
  • Nakedness makes us brave. Even in a supportive, non-restrictive environment like the one we created together at the debut, can you imagine the courage it takes for a woman to take her top off in front of over a thousand strangers?

When we combine those experiences with the strength generated by women coming together in community, something really powerful happens. Alex*, a writer living in Vermont, says that spending time with other women, “helps [her] understand how similar we all are -- how life, time, and experience soften us, and how vulnerable we actually are under our everyday armor.”

Being naked with other women helps us see what we have in common, rather than focusing on what makes us different from one another. We feel less competition, more sisterhood.

So, how about it? Invite your friends over this weekend, and ask them to check their t-shirts at the door. It might feel a bit awkward for a few minutes but it’s going to become increasingly comfortable as time moves on. Soon, it’ll feel natural…as it should!

Breast Care Tips for Women

By | Blog | No Comments

Breast Care Tips for Women

When it comes to breast care, most of us aren’t taught much beyond Breast Self-Exam for cancer detection. But what happens when the only time we spend interacting with our breasts is a few minutes each month making sure that they’re not trying to kill us? We become disconnected. We learn to see our breasts as something other than the source of our power and beauty, separate from ourselves. We see our breasts as the enemy.

Breast Massage

How about trying something new this month? How about treating yourself and your breasts with love? Breast massage, which allows you to feel a new depth of love and appreciation for yourself, is a great place to start.

  • According to Japanese tradition, regular care of the breast fosters lymph drainage, which is important for immunity and tumor prevention.
  • Regular nipple and breast massage releases oxytocin, also known as the “love molecule,” which is believed to be highly critical in human pair-bonding.
  • Developing a strong connection with your breasts can lead to a better understanding of the organs, glands, meridians, and chakras.
  • Use a dedicated cream for moisturizing your breasts while sending visions of wellbeing across your heart center.
  • Incorporating tender breast care in your self-care regimen can become a spiritual practice.
  • Massage your nipples regularly. Healthy nipples are associated with a healthier vagina.
  • Rub your hands together vigorously to generate positive energy before you massage and care for your breasts.
  • Remember to massage the muscles around your breasts. Well-toned pectoral muscles allow deep breathing, reduce depression, and support vibrant, healthy breasts.

Choose Unrestrictive Clothing

Are you wearing clothing that loves your breasts? Avoid constricting bras and clothing that can block the flow of energy. Stagnation can lead to cyst formation. Further, the jury’s still out on a possible link between bras and breast cancer. In Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras, researchers conclude that there is a correlation between the number of hours a day women wear bras and their risk of developing cancer. Underwires, which can conduct radiation, may exacerbate the situation. Choose the bra that is most comfortable and least restrictive, and wear it only when you need to.

Resist Unnecessary Mammograms

You can do more than breast self-exam to stay healthy. In A Challenging Second Opinion, John McDougall M.D. writes, “The human organ most sensitive to the cancer causing effects of radiation is the female breast. The softer the tissue, the more susceptible it is to the effects of radiation.” If your doctor recommends a diagnostic mammogram, make sure you understand why it’s appropriate and necessary. Consider thermography as an alternative for routine care.

Talk About Your Breasts

Our society teaches women to be ashamed of our breasts. We’re taught to cover ourselves and silence our voices. Resist! Talk about your breasts. Share your breast stories with the people you love.

 

 

Topless Beaches

By | Blog | No Comments

TOPLESS BEACHES

In The Breast Archives, Petra Roelofs, one of the nine women who so boldly share their stories, tells us of her first visit to the beach after moving to the United States from the Netherlands as a young woman:

"My sister and I … I believe I was… my early 20’s, she was 3 years younger… we came to America for the first time on vacation and went to L.A., and we were so happy to see the beach and be out of the plane… like a 12 hour ride… and so we were ready to go in the ocean and so we took everything off except our bikini underwear, so to speak, and… topless. I mean, that’s what we were used to in Holland and other places in Europe where we would go on vacation -- But before we could even reach the water, there was a lifeguard running after us, right away. And we’re like, “What’s going on?” And he realized that we were visiting, and were from Europe, and so he took us back to our parents and explained to them: “I could have arrested them, I could have fined them; this is big deal. Can you please tell your daughters to put on their tops?” And I remember this feeling that we had done something wrong."images-1

This summer, Ocean City, Maryland is playing host to a Battle of the Breasts, but it’s not a wet t-shirt contest at one of the local bars. Rather, it’s a legal fight over whether or not women can sunbathe topless on the city’s famed white sand beaches. On one side is Mayor Rick Meehan, who says, “We will not allow women to be topless on our beach or on any public property within city limits.” On the other is Chelsea Covington, an activist who has submitted a 78-page legal brief that pressed the county and state on women's right to sunbathe bare-chested. Currently, police are looking the other way when women go topless at the beach, but that could change.

As we enjoy the beautiful New England summer, this got us thinking about women going topless on the beach. Who does it? Where? How do they feel about it? We reached out to some friends to learn more about their experiences.

-----------------------------------------------

Many women take advantage of the anonymity afforded by travel to enjoy topless sunbathing. The first to speak up was Debra, a massage therapist living in Maryland. She said, “I’ve been to topless/nude beaches in Majorca, St. Martin, and Anguilla. I didn't go totally nude but did go topless. It appears that it’s just the U.S. with the hang up on nudity.”

Jenn is a lesbian from Brooklyn. She has been to many topless and nude beaches, especially during trips to Fire Island, home to a vibrant gay summer vacation community. In reflecting on her experiences, she was interested to note that, while she has been to gay women’s beaches and mixed queer beaches, she’s been most comfortable disrobing on straight beaches. She says, “I am a larger woman with a short, masculine haircut, three tattoos, and hairy legs and armpits. Although my breasts are very large, on a straight beach, I am ‘other,’ and not part of then men’s gaze. I have no relationship with being sexualized. I am much more cognizant of my body shape, size, and everything else among my queer peers.”

Some women make their choices about going topless based on who is with them. Sharon is a working mother from Seattle. She once went to a topless beach on a vacation with her best friend. “I could only be comfortable taking my top off either in front of someone I knew intimately or a bunch of strangers,” she said, “Never someone I knew casually!” Debra tells of a trip to Europe on which she and her husband were joined by another couple. The group went together to a nude spa in Czechoslovakia. When asked if she was uncomfortable with a male acquaintance seeing her breasts, she replied, “He sees mine, I see his…what’s the big deal?” On the other hand, Jenn says that, while New York City law makes it entirely legal for women to be topless on the beach, she avoids the one where she is most likely to encounter co-workers. She doesn’t so much care that they are topless but she feels that, because her breasts are large, she is “more topless” than others and that it’s awkward to share that with co-workers, especially those who report to her.

Sometimes, a visit to a topless beach is a life-changing experience. One of our favorite stories comes from Jackie, a writer who lives in Connecticut. When Jackie was 20, she spent a year living in Paris. Her French boyfriend Alex spoke Spanish, and the two of them took a trip to Barcelona. Jackie says, “I have always had particularly severe body issues. Alex was such a kind soul. Others invalidated my body issues. They said, ‘You have a beautiful body!’ but he said, ‘What if you just start loving your body the way it is and go from there?’” When Jackie and Alex got to Barcelona, they went straight to the beach. Jackie says, “I realized that not everyone on the beach was gorgeous. There were old people, fat people, women with saggy breasts, and I thought, ‘Ok! I can do this.’ First I took off my top and lay on my stomach so just my back was showing but, after a while, we were playing cards and hanging out and it was no big deal.” Jackie had such a good time that she didn’t realize how much sun she was getting. “Suddenly,” she says, “ I had a feeling like every cell in my body was cooking, like I was in a microwave!” By the time we got back to the hotel, I was turning purple and my eyes were swelling shut. I had to spend the whole next day or two inside. But it’s a sign of how comfortable I had become that I lost all track of time. Not only did I go for it, I forgot that I was going for it. I lost all sense of body consciousness, to the point that I literally let myself catch on fire!”

This year, Petra moved back to her home in Holland after many years in the U.S. She and her boyfriend too his daughters, aged 12 and 14, to the beach this summer. The first thing that Petra noticed was that fewer women were choosing to go topless than she remembered from beach trips years ago. A 2014 Guardian article backs up her observation. For reasons including fashion, cancer concerns, and social media, fewer European women are taking their tops off than did years ago. Holly, of Portland, Oregon, agrees. “In this era of a camera in every hand, and the Internet, no way.” Petra offers one more possible cause for the change: “If they don’t have a mother or another women to show them that this is ok, then they choose the other image.”

On their excursion, Petra removed her top after swimming, as she prefers to do. She says she just likes the way it feels. “I feel it’s natural when I go into the ocean and I put on the top and when it’s wet I take it off and I’m exposed to the sun topless.” The girls are used to going to the beach with their mother, who prefers not to be topless, but were very interested in what Petra was doing. The younger girl, who is not yet developed, took off her top, saying, “Dad takes his off, and I am equal!” The older daughter, whose breasts have grown, declined to do so, but Petra was pleased nonetheless. “I am just happy that she knows that she is allowed, that she has a choice.”