The beaches where Brigitte Bardot first introduced the world to topless sunbathing are undergoing a mass cover up as French women ditch their penchant for a little harmless nudity.
It was here that Brigitte Bardot arrived in the 1950s and introduced the world to topless sunbathing and St Tropez became the epitome of the fast living, fast women lifestyle According to reports coming from France, sunbathers on the Cote d’Azur, who once adopted a “laissez faire” attitude to nakedness, have turned against displaying too much bare flesh. Even regulars at La Voile Rouge beach club on Pampelonne’s Beach, in St. Tropez, where it all started shortly after the actress’ film “And God Created Woman,” prefer to keep their top on.
For decades, France has prided itself on being the world capital of seaside semi-nudity, a place where women could sunbathe on the beach topless. So it comes as a surprise that now the nation is facing a bikini-top backlash. The Guardian UK is reporting that the younger generation of women are covering up, citing new feminist priorities, skin cancer fears and a rebellion against the cult of the fetished body beautiful.
Since the 1970s, when the French state refused to ban “le topless” on beaches, women’s semi-nudity has become a symbol of summer in France. It was a point of national pride that the same freedom to strip off in public was off-limits in other more prudish nations such as the US. But modern French 18- to 30-year-olds are rejecting toplessness, boosting the sales of two-piece bikinis and old-fashioned bathing suits Huh?
A poll found 24% of women were perturbed by toplessness on beaches, while 57% said it was OK in a private garden. Along the artificial summer beach Paris Plages, which opens on the Seine during the summer season, topless sunbathing is punishable with a fine. Even the mayor of Saint Tropez has argued that the postcard image of topless sunbathing in the elite southern hotspot is outdated as fewer women go topless. French media insist that it tends to be the over 60s who dispense tops, the women who were involved in the initial women’s lib struggle.
In the past La Voile Rouge, or Red Sail, was described a seaside sanctuary of “French aristocracy that has no qualms seating a grandmother in a Chanel pantsuit next to a topless woman having Chandon sipped from her belly button”. It was here that Princess Grace and Brigette Bardot would arrive by yacht in the 1950s when it was little more than a fishing shack. Now it is lined with beach clubs and bars and known for its gorgeous women and Mediterranean playboys. There is even a makeshift catwalk for them to sashay down in the middle of the space.
The famous French resort town of Cannes has actually instituted a ban on naturism. Nude sunbathing has been tolerated for years on Palm Beach where the exclusive Cannes Yacht Club is located, but the club owners say in recent years people began exposing themselves more visibly to club members, including in front of the restaurant’s windows. Naturists in Cannes risk fines of $15 for first-time offenders to as much as $21,135 and jail time for more serious cases if they continue to bathe naked on the beach.
Historian Christophe Granger, whose new book “Corps d’été” details the social history of the beach and the body in France said: “In the 1960s and 1970s, toplessness was linked to the women’s liberation movement, sexual liberation and a return to nature. Historical feminist writing details how the row over toplessness was a struggle for women to do what they liked with their bodies. What has been projected on to it today are different values, identified, not with equality but desire, sexualisation of the body, voluptuousness and the body perfect. It’s less about women feeling at ease and free. It has been linked to the harsh cult of the body beautiful, where no imperfection is tolerated.”
But a spokesman for the health ministry put the cover up down to cancer concerns. “Whereas people once thought nothing of exposing their flesh to the sun for many hours, people are generally a lot more sensible nowadays. This is certainly the case as regards women who are very conscious of the risks of exposure to bright sunshine.”
Don’t give up on French sunbathing yet. Les Tumultueuses, a group of young militant feminists, are still fighting for topless bathing rights in public swimming pools. Two months ago, when a group of them removed their tops and dived in to Les Halles public pool in Paris, pool assistants tried in vain to get them to cover up. Previous topless commando raids on public pools have seen police intervene to stop them. Attendants at Paris’s notoriously strict public pools have argued that if toplessness was allowed, swimmers would take more and more liberties such as arriving with no swimming hat or trunks.
To be continued…