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Will Topless Tanning Become a Relic of France’s Past?

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Hair SplashThat classic French pastime, topless sunbathing, is apparently on the way out as millions of younger French women reconsider the wisdom of prancing around near-naked on the nation’s beaches.

Citing fears of skin cancer and shifting feminist priorities, more and more women are supposedly ditching the so-called “mono-kini” (the bottom half of a bikini only) and shifting to traditional bikinis and one-piece swimsuits.

Retailers notes that sales of both are higher than ever this year.

The mayor of St. Tropez, the famous Cote d’Azur beach resort town, said recently that the city’s image as a hotbed of gorgeous topless bathing beauties is somewhat outdated, since fewer and fewer women are doffing their tops these days.

And at Paris Plages, the new “urban beach” in the heart of Paris, topless sunbathing by women is explicity prohibited and can be punished with a fine. Many other public pools in Paris outlaw it as well.

Yellow bikiniIn a recent poll, 24 percent of French women said that they were annoyed by toplessness on beaches. (Incidentally, no men were polled.)

In his new book, Corps d’Été, author Christopher Granger hypothesizes that toplessness reached its heyday during the “return to nature” movement of the 1960s and early 1970s, an era when the women’s liberation movement considered toplessness a political statement that showed that women have control over their own bodies.

However, he says that nudity has now lost its feminist underpinnings and has taken on a purely sexualized connotation, which furthermore places too much emphasis on perfection. In addition, women’s priorities have shifted to more pressing issues such as equal pay and work-family balance.

So will France soon lose its cachet as a bastion of carefree seaside nudity, exempt from the body self-consciousness of more prudish nations like the U.S. and the U.K.?

Not if certain groups of women can help it. Some journalists claim that plenty of 60-something women, those who grew up during women’s lib era, still let it all hang out. And a group of young militant feminists called Les Tumultueses are actively staging “topless commando raids” at public pools in Paris to try to force them to change their rules.

By Karen Elowitt for

Related links: New York magazine, The Guardian (UK)

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