French Beaches Have Lost Their Breasts

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Au revoir, bare breasts. Bonjour, conservatism. According to an Elle magazine poll, the new generation of French women are rejecting going topless while sunbathing.

Only 2 percent of French women under 35 surveyed said they would want to go topless on beaches. The rest? They see it as "vulgar," 60-year-old Muriel Trazie told the Associated Press. "People are more prudish these days," she added.

The history of toplessness in France began with the feminist movement. French women removed their tops in the 1960s as a risque act, demanding that if men could go topless, women could as well. Naturally, the movement attracted global attention, in part thanks to icons like Brigitte Bardot, who often posed topless on beaches in the south of France for photographs.

So why, after more than five decades, has toplessness left the beach scene? The Associated Press presents several possibilities.

First, French fashion has changed. A recent trend for full swimsuits has brought fewer topless women to French shores. Second, the middling French economy has encouraged a more conservative mindset — one that's less revolutionary, more discreet. Third, health concerns have encouraged beach-goers to cover up, as skin cancer rates have been on the rise. And finally, there are privacy concerns — with almost everyone heading to the beach with their phones in their pockets, it's become easy for anyone to snap photos of topless women and post the images on social media.

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"I see lots of old men loitering around here," Nathan Assouline, a beach monitor at Paris Plages told the AP. "I have to stop them from taking photos on their phones. It happens all the time."

Ultimately, sociologists said the trend suggests French women have largely abandoned that side of the feminism fight because it doesn't carry the same shock value, opting instead for less naked tactics. 

"French young women today are more conformist," Jean-Claude Kauffman, author of Women's Bodies, Men's Gaze. Sociology of Naked Breasts, told the AP. "They've already attained freedom ... So they've gotten lazy and taken it for granted."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.