After a lovely day at the beach, I realized that after about 3 years here now, topless sunbathing has no shock affect on my anymore. In fact, I participate the majority of the time! Depending on who I am at the beach with. Friends (certain ones) - yes. Joseba - yes. A big group (no way José). If you would have told me during my first week here that I'd sometimes go to the beach without even bringing my bikini top, I sure wouldn't have believed you, but alas it is the truth. I guess that classifies me as a European?
While in the States, topless suntanning is 1) illegal and 2) looked at super sexually, here in Spain, it is completely normal beach-going behavior. And there is no beauty code for who can go topless - tall, short, fall, skinny - its everyone here. But how did that happen on this continent and not on ours? As is now accepted, tanned skin is more beautiful than a pasty white color. This happened after the 1920s when magazines started advertising women with bronzed skin. This was only helped with the release of the scandalous bikini in 1946 - now all of a sudden women could cover themselves but still get a great tan. But bikinis were quite risque for that time - think 'itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini' style - and women were still quite modest. But that went out the window when women, who by the mid 50s had learned the secret of silver reflectors and baby oil to maximize thier tans, realized how much they didn't like tan lines. Solution? The monokini. Developed by a man named Rudi Gernreich, this design was basically a one-piece swimsuit, but from the belly-button upwards, it was held up by two straps that exposed the breasts completely. Easily unlatchable, the straps made 'no tan lines' very attainable. The summer it was released, the monokini sold like crazy and even hit the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle. But this liberal boob business was of course met with some opposition. Fines, condemming and bans were all part of the reaction to this strange swimsuit. But with the women's movement of the time, French cities like Saint Tropez and Cannes, were made popular when stars either wore a monokini or took off thier bikini tops to women's liberation. For many years after, these places are still well-known for beautiful women...topless!
Once popular in France, the topless movement caught momentum and now in many European countries is very acceptable. Spain is one of those countries. Now though, it is not about women's rights or anything like that. In fact, women in France, the famous topless instigators are staring to cover up. In Spain though, it lives on.
Don't worry, I would never throw off my top in the States, where I'd get a 'indecent exposure' fine. Curiously enough though, women have been granted the right to be topless at the same places where men can be topless (pools, beaches, parks) in DC, New York, Hawaii, Maine, Ohio and in Austin, Texas. So, if you want to feel oh-so-European, head to one fo these places...or come and visit me - but remember, your top is optional!