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Topfreedom is a social movement seeking the recognition of a right of women and girls to be topless in public where men and boys have that right. The topfreedom movement objects to the risqué connotations of the term "topless" and usually prefers the term "topfree." Examples of public spaces at which topfreedom might be exercised include beaches, swimming pools and parks, although the principles of the movement admit to no restriction in location. The reason for topfreedom include enabling nursing mothers to openly breastfeed in public where it is now seen to be inappropriate, sun tanning, comfort, and gender equality.

Cultural arguments

Western culture generally tends to oppose public female toplessness because of the idea that females' breasts are sexual organs, and thus indecent. In contrast, the male chest is not commonly considered to be sexual to the same extent.

Biologically there is no direct connection between female breasts and copulation, but some cultures have regarded the exhibition of breasts as sexually arousing (others have also so regarded the exhibition of the chests of men). Some zoologists (notably Desmond Morris) believe that through human evolution, female breasts have acquired secondary sexual characteristics as a counterpart of the buttocks in other primates. For more information, see breast.

Some courts in North America have ruled that mammary glands are nurturing organs, not sexual organs, a relevant distinction in light of laws in certain jurisdictions that specifically restrict the public display of sexual organs.

Topfree around the world

Europe, the Mediterranean, and other western countries

Sun bathers in Ibiza, Spain.
Europe and Australia, toplessness of some women at public beaches has long been the norm. In some instances it is legally permitted and in a few instances toplessness has grown to be accepted by common consent, with the law simply not being applied. At the Kenwood Ladies' Bathing Pond in London's Hampstead Heathmarker, the Greater London Council has permitted topless sunbathing and swimming since 1976, although men are not allowed to enter the bathing area. International hotel chains with properties in multiple locations have evolved a tolerant policy. Many resort hotels and condominium complexes now allow topless sunbathing at their swimming pools, and some cruise ships offer adults-only decks on which women may remove their tops.

Among youthful cultures in most parts of the South Pacific, Europe, Australia, and South America, female toplessness is the norm. In some regions, female toplessness has become acceptable in specific locations, like Guadeloupemarker in French Guianamarker; St. Bartsmarker, Martiniquemarker, and St. Martinmarker in the Caribbeanmarker; Cape Townmarker, South Africa; Tabah, Tel Aviv, and Eilat, Israel; and Ibizamarker and Formenteramarker, Spain. This is also true in certain parts of Greece, Mexico, Venezuela, and Brazil. Virtually every beach on the Adriatic coast of Croatia and along Europe's long Mediterranean coast permits toplessness.

A protest movement called "Bara Bröst" (a pun meaning both "Just Breasts" and "Bare Breasts") appeared in Sweden in September 2007 to promote women's right to be topless in places where men could also be topless. Several events were staged in public swim baths in September and October. While toplessness is not illegal, several private or public establishments in Sweden have a dress code which requires everyone to wear tops: topless individuals can be denied access or removed. The group scored a significant victory in June 2009 when the Malmömarker city's sports and recreation committee approved new rules that, while requiring everybody to wear bathing suits at indoor public swimming pools, did not require women to cover their breasts.In Poland, a predominantly conservative Catholic country, two women, including topless model Dorota Krzysztofek, were reprimanded in court and fined for sunbathing topless after refusing to pay the original citation. In Australia, a conservative member of Parliament of the public submitted a bill in late 2008 that would have banned public toplessness to avoid offending visitors from Middle Eastern or Asian countries.

Asian countries

In many Asian and Southwest Asia countries with more conservative social norms, women are prohibited from being topfree in any public place. However, they sometimes make exceptions for Western visitors at locations like Phuket, Samui, and Samet, Thailand. In China, a female visitor from Bulgaria caused a commotion in August, 2009 when she went topless at Number 1 Seaside Bathing Club in Qingdaomarker. While local citizens were upset, no law prohibiting toplessness existed, and the woman was allowed to continue sunbathing topless.

Middle-east countries

In July 2008, police in the Muslim city-state of Dubaimarker cracked down on foreign visitors who were "indecent" at local beaches, detaining 79 people during the arrests. While tourists in Dubai can wear bikinis on the emirate's beaches and walk its streets in shorts, toplessness is not permitted. In Tunisia, where 80% of the population is Muslim, European tourists may sunbathe topless at the hotel's private beaches and pools, while traditional Muslim women wear full chadorah at public beaches. Multilingual signs have now been erected on Dubai's beaches warning that women who remove their tops can face criminal prosecution and sentences of up to six months' imprisonment. However, topless bathing is permitted at some beaches in tourist cities in Muslim countries like Egyptmarker , specifically Sharm El Sheikhmarker and Hurghadamarker, as well as other Red Seamarker Province cities.

United States

Topless and nude participants in the San Francisco Street Parade.
Toplessness in public by women is illegal in many states of the United Statesmarker. Some states do not have laws against toplessness, but permit local governments to write laws appropriate to their local standards. In the United States, resistance to female toplessness is much greater than in mainland Europe or Australia, even extending to controversy over breastfeeding in public.
Topfreedom is tolerated during specific events in a few limited locations, like the San Francisco Bay to Breakers race and the Oregon Country Fairmarker.

In February 2005 in Californiamarker, attorney Liana Johnsson contended that under Megan's Law, women convicted of indecent exposure (for breastfeeding or sunbathing) could find themselves listed as sex offenders alongside rapists and child molesters. The Rochester Topfree Seven were charged in 1986 in Rochester, New Yorkmarker but acquitted in 1992.

In December, 2007, 50 residents of Pittsfield, Massachusettsmarker submitted a petition to the City requesting a segregated beach specifically for top-free sunbathing by both men and women. The petition was rejected by the City Council by a vote of 9-2, with the Mayor calling it "unacceptable and unnecessary". Residents have vowed to continue their fight for equality.

Because of the public resistance to female toplessness, a small topfree equality movement has grown. The term "topfree" is used as an alternative to "topless", which may carry negative connotations. Some women prefer the term "shirtfree rights". claims that women have the same constitutional right to be bare chested in public places as men. They further claim constitutional equality between men and women on being topless in public. In 2009, they chose August 26, (Women's Equality Day) as a day of national protest.

The organization also aims to inform and educate the public about topfreedom. They campaign to change laws against topfreedom which exist in most North American jurisdictions, which laws they see as sex discrimination and inhibiting to breastfeeding.

Some places in North America have passed laws permitting females to forgo tops in public, although women to not necessarily take advantage of the equality that the law permits. Locations permitting topfreedom include:


Even where topfree is legal, police might still arrest those practicing it for disorderly conduct or similar charges.


In 1991, Gwen Jacob was arrested for walking down a street in Guelphmarker, Ontariomarker while topless. She was acquitted in 1996 by the highest court in Ontariomarker.

The Topfree Equal Rights Association (TERA) is a Canadian organization with an interest in helping women in both Canada and the United States who have legal troubles exercising their rights to go 'topfree' where men are able to.

See also



  • Judy E. Williams: NAC board member, chief advisor of TERA, chair of Wreck Beach Preservation Society (WBPS) in Vancouver, BC
  • Gwen Jacob: test case for topfreedom who won in Ontario, Canada.
  • Linda Meyer: test case for topfreedom for British Columbia. On June 8, 2000, she won in court against Maple Ridge, BC. She had been arrested at the District of Maple Ridge's indoor public swimming pool. That was after she had provoked arrests for many years, and had gone to jail, in order to win in court and thereby stop official harassment for her topfree public activities.
  • Paul Rapoport: topfree activist, writer, editor of Going Natural, a publication of FCN.
  • Sue Richards: Publisher of the topfree, breast health calendar Breast of Canada.
  • Morley Schloss: NAC board member, topfree activist.
  • Nikki Craft: feminist, past shirtfree rights activist, now disaffiliated from the movement.


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