Everyone’s got ’em. So what’s the big deal with a little flaunting here and there?



Written by Tara Dalbow, edited by Amelia Diamond

With the impending approach of National Go Topless Day on August 25th, we thought it was high time to start the conversation on boobs. So, boobs:

I was scanning my local newsstand two days ago debating which magazine would be my next September issue purchase when I spotted it: the fall fashion issue of New York Magazine featuring Lake Bell in all her topless D-cup glory.

The newsstand was fairly crowded yet I seemed to be the only one gaping at the naked body confronting me from the cover. Sure, we’re used to seeing pictures of breasts, titties, tatas, jugs, melons on the covers of gentlemen’s magazines and other less-than-upstanding-publications. But these boobs were featured on the cover of an award-winning publication with a highbrow-brilliant audience.

I loved the cover and assumed fellow fashion enthusiasts would “get” the cover. But where were the guys going crazy, fawning over her slim torso and robust chest? In the middle of this newsstand located on the corner of a bustling yet decidedly unfashionable block, only one male was staring at Lake Bell. But it wasn’t for her body. As he reached for the magazine I heard him comment to his friend about a featured story that had absolutely nothing to do with the Bell boobs.

This got me thinking. Have boobs finally becoming less of a taboo in our culture? Are men starting to recognize the two masses on our chests as something more than mysterious weapons designed solely to distract and amuse? Are they being viewed as breasts, rather than “tits,” replete with milk ducts and lobules and areolas? Lets not forget all that fatty tissue. With boobs perking up in all sorts of un-sexy places, we are starting to believe so.

Everyone seems to be talking about Elizabeth Siematkowski, a founder of Toplessblading™ who recently rollerbladed across the Williamsburg Bridge sans-top during rush hour traffic. She said she was paid very little attention, much less hollered-at or harassed .

And is it just me or has the Hudson River Park become quite the hotspot for bare-chested tanners? During a recent run through said park I almost forgot I was in the US. Between the piles of discarded bikinis tops and unbearable summer heat, I found myself half-tempted to take it all off and continue my jog as a free bird, boobs swinging happily unbound in the breeze.

Let’s not forget fashion’s contribution to this notion. Models are being sent down the runways with perky little chests showing through barely-there pieces of mesh. It’s not a photo shoot unless there’s nipple and it’s not an outfit without some sideboob. Crop tops are making the transition into fall despite impending cold weather and it kind of seems like they’re getting shorter?

By this time next year if the trend continues its upward climb, bras may become modest blouses.

The appeal of boobs essentially follows the supply and demand format. If we withhold the supply, boobs retain their mystery and inherent sexuality. But what we’re currently doing — and by “we” I mean the topless tanners and rollerbladers of New York, the fashion enthusiasts who view nipple-itis as an accessory and the magazine consumers unafraid to reach for a cover featuring full-frontal nudity — is oversaturating the market. And if we oversaturate the market (and you paid attention in econ class), boobs lose their value as sexual entities. They simply become a chest.

But is that necessarily a good thing? Should we eschew shirts in hopes of feeling more “equal” to man? — If he can go topless, why can’t I? — Or is the desexualization of our breasts something we want to avoid? Aren’t boobs something to be celebrated? Something that makes us special because men don’t have them?

Whatever your stance is — bra, no bra, full frontal or turtleneck in summer –the notion of progression and change is what’s important.  Breaking this type of social norm has a lot less to do with feminism or antifeminism, empowerment or degradation, and a lot more to do with freedom and choice and acceptance.

To be honest, though, we’re still not entirely sure where we stand, so please, impart your wisdom. But before you run wild in the comments (go crazy, it’s Friday!) we leave you with this final thought:

How would this entire conversation change if the body part in question was a penis?

Get more Brain Massage ?
  • So far, I haven’t seen any penises flying across the Williamsburg Bridge…thankfully. Perhaps the cover of NY Mag wasn’t as sexy as what would be on the cover of, say, Maxim. Remember the TIME cover of the breastfeeding mom? That was fairly recent and sparked more controversy…and not just because of the topic. We have yet to complain about a naked man on a cover…yet.
    Your Friend, Jess

    • Amelia Diamond

      That’s actually a really interesting point. A naked photo of a woman named Amy breastfeeding her baby (while in a HEAD STAND!!! so I give her immediate props) sparked a similar controversy. The media – or people responding to it – almost seem more weirded out when they see breasts in a non-sexual context…


      • Hanne

        “The media – or people responding to it – almost seem more weirded out when they see breasts in a non-sexual context…”

        such a good point!

        • elle maar

          Exactly, remember the fuss about Andrej Pejic topless cover… Naked breast(or the lack of) was a reason enough to censor a upstanding magazine(cover).

          • Hanne

            yes right, they said it had to be censored because he could be mistaken for a naked woman!

  • shelley

    I don’t think people being exposed to bare breasts will desexualize them or make them any less celebrated. It would actually be quite the opposite!

    Men would be able to be gentlemen about seeing women breastfeeding, sunbathing, or being comfortable in their own skin instead of giggling like little boys.

    Breasts would still be just as fun and sexy in the privacy of the bedroom (or wherever you choose to do your sexing ;))

    If anything, we would finally be truly celebrating breasts for all their glory, nonsexual and sexual alike.

  • She

    Hey. Good thoughts.. I am reminded of the Robin Thicke video and I guess the thing that bothers me is the double standard. I think he and Pharrell should also shore up their goods if they are going to have the ladies parading around showcasing theirs. You know? Let’s see what you’ve got boys..
    I think it’s the mysterious nature of sex and intimacy that evokes passion, but maybe that is old school. and maybe, in today’s world it’s all about showing your goods and figuring out for yourself if that’s empowered or degrading.
    I’ve had so many discussions about Rihanna and her “pussy” outfits and “slutz” tees. It’s very tongue and cheek, but when juxtaposed against the reality of being seen solely as a sex object, does the glamour still lure you? does Miley’s glossy video still fuel you after you’ve done everything you want to with your body and soul? I really don’t know. We are changing in so many ways, as a society. Not sure where it’s heading–liberation or not. Hopefully, but I guess we’re figuring it as we go..

    • Hanne

      yes i agree, and i think rihanna or miley are just not sensual, they are just naked, but not really in a sexual turning on way. i think a sensual person could be naked and still be hot and exciting to be with, but if it is anyway just a game, and so planned through like with rihanna and miley, it just gets boring and on a sexual level confusing. they both seem to think they are so sexy and desired, but exactly that attitude and honestly the faces they make thinking it would be suggestive are such turn offs. i don’t think their glamour still lures in, quite the opposite, but when someone like jane birkin wears a mesh sweater without a bra, it seems so unmindful and natural, so sensual and so sexy.
      and as for where society is headed; i do think people who are naked in public make it more accepted for everybody to follow them. but for me personally, because everybody seems to be so exposed a lot of the time, i sometimes think it is the more original and surprising choice to be covered up at the right occasion. but everything gets boring if everybody does it…

  • I think breasts will always have some mystery about them. I don’t even want to get started on penises.

  • Jessie

    I live in Barcelona where being topless isn´t that unusual of a thing. Depending where you are of course…

    On the beach? Sure, no problem, completely normal, nothing sexual, just a topless woman on the beach. However, walking on the street wearing a shirt that shows mild cleavage and the heads turn and men are gawking. The thing is it´s not just men that are looking, I`ve noticed that I will get very disapproving looks from MANY women, and let´s get real, I´m not wearing a crop top that barely covers me or Sofia Vergara-esque dress…

    It´s become so confusing… is it just me? I find it hard to wear something I think is just a mild pinch of sexy because of the reactions I will get from men and women on the street, but no problem being topless in front of either on the beach….

  • Penis? No. No no no.

    The right to bare boobs? Well … it takes two to decide whether the boobs in question are just natural and nothing to stare at or sexual and to stare at.

    I mean, by exposing them, women (men?) still automatically invite other people to react (though a surprising number of us may not) but cannot expect everyone to react as if something totally normal/natural/omnipresent just walked their way … Someone somewhere might react in a sexual way, maybe even spontaneously, and in my book, our bare chester (chest barer) would have to feel responsible for that. No? If someone goes weak in the presence of beauty? 🙂

    And when the humanity has finally reached a point where bare boobs are just boobs – wouldn’t we lose a … first class sexual toy? Or would we switch between contexts just like that? (boobs on the street = boobs on the street / boobs in bedroom = sexual stimulants)

    Penis? No. It is something to pee with!

    • LadyLuv

      ” Someone somewhere might react in a sexual way, maybe even spontaneously, and in my book, our bare chester (chest barer) would have to feel responsible for that. No? If someone goes weak in the presence of beauty? :-)”

      – to me that seems like a conditioning of rape culture my dear… we’re trying to push away from the idea that the victim is responsible.. no matter what she wears (or doesn’t). I was raised in a Hassidic temple, and it always baffled me how the women were forced to sit behind a sheet while the men could enjoy the teachings of the rabi, because a women is a “distraction” based on something she cannot control. it should be about people controlling themselves and understanding the nature of the individuals choice to appear topless.. which in many cultures isn’t sexualized whatsoever. The fact many women fear breastfeeding now… due to the sag it naturally adds to the breast… is one perfect example of why we should desexualize them. We should be proud of them for what they are… not the beauty they behold or the sexualization of them, because it only adds to the fear and self consciousness woman have been conditioned to feel with aging.

      • Obviously I agree with you – of course a rape victim shouldn’t even have to think about her responsibility.

        But that was not the level of my thinking and questioning – I was trying to think about everyday situations. Some time ago, I was discussing women’s appearance and men’s reactions with a blogger from Egypt (she’s from Slovenia but moved there and became a Muslim) – since she’s good to talk to, I thought I’d ask her why she thought covering her head was necessary. I told her I often felt the need to hide and be treated only as a fellow human being (which is really not the problem in Germany :-)) which is why I put on jeans, loose clothes and sneakers and (think) no one cares about me. She told me in Egypt everything’s sexual and women get sexually assaulted if showing too much. That also goes for hair – I still lack the imagination to think of hair as sexual stimulant but then, I have a pixie.

        So: everyday situations was what I meant. The fact that we are able to learn to take bare boobs to be simple body parts, but at the same time the fact that we are also animals and might react sexually (courtesy of our hormones) to them. Boobs are sensitive to touch, we all know that, so they play a prominent role in our sexual acts. For example knees seldom do that. It is not only that boobs sell things and nourish people, it is also that they take a huge part in garnering sexual thrills to all people involved :-). So why should everyone be required to forget their good sexual experience the moment the situation is cultural but should not be sexual? What if the hormones remember boobs are good for sex? And by that I mean we still might hold boobs as sexually dear, even if our culture wasn’t imposing them on us so much. They are not solely a cultural construct. They are the Nature’s toy to play with towards climaxing. No?

        This is what I meant – that we cannot control everything by claiming culture is everything and nature should and can be suppressed.

  • Celeste Storay

    In regards to the lack of ogling at the Lake Bell cover I would like to quote a wise and always relevant tome (read: excellent film.. alright it’s mean girls)

    “It only counts if you saw a nipple.”

  • Dikotomous

    arnt you glad you dont have a huge iranian nose?

  • Holly Wist

    If your art can’t go beyond “boobs are sexy, I wanna look at them.” You’re just making the stupidest kind of porn disguised as art.

  • EC

    I think it’s silly to compare a penis with breasts. It’s not like women are walking around NYC with their vaginas out.
    Breasts are (mostly) for feeding babies. After living in the US for 10 yrs I’m still surprised at how conservative Americans are about boobs. I can understand why they aren’t appropriate to be shown off in the office but I don’t know why it’s offensive to see them at the beach. It blows my mind that people are shocked by a woman breast feeding in public. I think it would be great if everyone was more relaxed about them

  • How does one form a concrete opinion on the right amount of boobage to show, the right time to show it, etc.? It’s hard for me to give a definitive answer here. I think that while most things lose their novelty over time, the human body does not. Penises and breasts will always be symbols of eroticism, of sexuality, sacred in a sense. I don’t think a man could ever look at a boob indifferently, even if he saw them by the gaggle every day. Now, that being said–does that mean it’s okay to traipse about town essentially naked, confident that your reproductive organs will retain their shock value? To be honest, the thought still makes me uncomfortable. I revere the human body and have no problem with letting its natural state manifest itself in the way I dress (i.e., going braless), but I still find beauty in artfully concealing it. Call it a product of the culture I grew up in, but going topless or completely pants-less seems too much like sexual wholesale for me to “accept” it.

    • Amelia Diamond

      Well said.

  • Victoria

    Having had complex for my breasts since I got them – around 9 years old – I find this new trend to be rather conflicting. On one hand I think it is extremely hard and a big pressure that topless is becoming a norm. I have a rather large bust and without a bra I have no support and well my boobs look like sad dog ears, or tennis balls in socks despite my tender age of 23. When seeing all these women on the beach on magazine covers it makes me feel even worse. Why don’t I look like that? On the other hand this is naturally my own issue and I think it is great that women can be so comfortable in their own body and self that they can show their puppies off. However it might be worth mentioning the new kind of complexities these kind of baring trends might bring forth.

  • Well, I don’t think “Boobs” are a taboo subject anymore because female sexuality has been used to sell everything from pens to magazines for ages! I think as a society we’ve become so jaded that the sight of Lake Bell on a magazine cover topless is nothing new or anything to get excited about.

  • Lindsay

    This post totally resonates with me. I’m a lingerie blogger and have tons of feelings on this issue.

    I guess it’s a good thing that no pair of boobs is truly the same. I could look at editorials, art, photography (erotic, high fashion or otherwise) and lingerie all day and still be enthralled by the human form. This includes photos of men and penises, too. We may have a topless rollerblader and a handful of brave sunbathers, but I don’t think that going topless will ever truly be the norm.

    Unfortunately, I think there will always be some sort of taboo around daring dressing in our culture. As a lingerie blogger and a career woman (at least for now), I’ve had to face that issue head on. I worry whether any images I release now, no matter how artistic, will prompt colleagues to take me less seriously. It’s a shame, because I think that many, many people want to see the human form, want to experiment with wearing lingerie, bondage, or the like (hello, why else would 50 Shades be so successful?) but so many people are afraid to.

    I love the fact that fashion is moving in this direction, though, and that it’s coming from the ground up. Personally, I think if you want to wear a “bra top” as a blouse, or show off the back of your bondage bra, or wear a leather harness as outerwear, why not? I find it empowering, and I love the revolution that’s happening in lingerie + fashion right now: interchangeability and layering of innerwear as outerwear. I think many an editor would be behind me on that one.

  • LoJamm

    Only taboo when there a baby clinging to them…

  • Are boobs special? In a word, no. Seems like they try to kill about half the people who bear them. I’d gladly cut them off to avoid cancer later down the line. Mine are small and they even hurt when I try to work out. About the only “use” they have is filling out a sexy dress, and even that leaves a lot to be desired. Ha!

    • Leandra Medine

      I really like this point. Speaking from the perspective of a woman who is more than likely BRCA 1 and 2 positive (there are few women in my family who are not), stopping to fetishize a female’s chest might actually make the decision to have a necessary double-masectomy slightly easier.

      • That’s how I feel about it too. I often wish breast cancer campaigns were less about “save the boobies” and more about “screw the boobies, save women”. [I wondered if maybe my comment came off as too negative- while I truly endorse body positive thinking, for ME personally having boobs is just a pain.]

  • Ash

    As a member of the itty bitty titty committee I’d bare my mosquito bites under a sheer blouse any day, but I feel as though I would be a little more coy if I had fuller breasts..

    • I agree. (am also VERY coy 🙂

  • Lacey Kremer

    I think breasts should be desexualized. They are not inherently a sexual part of our bodies. Don’t get me wrong, they can be very sexy. But I’m more of the “if he can go topless, why can’t I” school.

    • I’d agree with the principle (very much so) but can’t because boobs can be too sensitive (to touch, even accidental, breeze, water, whatever) and that can lead to sensual reactions (the owner’s) and I don’t want to feel all quirky when outside, because outside means Business 🙂

  • RPrin

    I, for one, am happy to see any trend that makes boob jobs and padded bras become less of a cultural norm.

  • Sophia

    Well the penis is part of the male sexual reproductive organ, whilst breasts are as you said – made up of milk ducts, loubles, acerloas and fatty tissue. And nothing more! There is siomething so freeing about sunbathing topless or going without a bra that I think it would be a releif to have the breasts not be so sexualized and taboo.

  • gina

    Here in Barcelona everybody -young ladies to grandmas- does topless at the beach (since many years ago) and it’s seen as a very normal thing and nobody pays you any attention. I didn’t remember the last time I wore a bikini bra. For me it’s so natural and feels so comfy to be semi-naked… Not a feminist issue, just want the minimum amount of cloth covering myself while enjoying the sun and the sea. We also have a nudist beach here at the city (the most beautiful one) and everybody there feels free and comfy being or not nudey. I think that here in España, specially in Catalunya and Illes Balears everybody does topless and everybody accepts it as a normal thing. And most of people accepts nudism even when a beach is not tagged as nudist. We don’t care a little about penis and vaginas, just some narrow-minded people. Also in magazines or tv or cinema. I’m an actress and in España every film or tv serie shows nudity -boobs and bottoms the most exhibited, but also genitals- and nobody cares and if you want to work you will have to be naked at some point. I don’t know any actor or actress here that haven’t been totally or parcial naked. Very different from the States. I think that nudity it’s completely ok and natural and it should be everywhere. But of course I think that not showing is more sensual and misterious and I never wear transparencies that allow to see my nipples cause I don’t find this sexy and even I don’t show my belly button in public if dressed (beach is just another context. It’s all about context). This is my opinion.

  • Mojo

    How would this whole conversation change if breast implants weren’t a reality for so many American women?

  • Gabi

    I’m really happy that so many people are writing about this and opening up the conversation about topless equality for all, which i am 100% FOR. I ditched bras for good about 3 months ago, as i find them incredibly uncomfortable and unnecessary for my little boobs, opting instead for bandeaus when shirts were too sheer, and soon working up the nerve to go out in public in tanks and camis with nips that were “ready to cut glass” as my husband so cleverly puts it. It’s taken some time to get comfortable with myself, but I truly believe it should be my choice whether or not i wear a bra, free of pressure from society or religious zealots, and i choose not to wear them for comfort and as a way to show people that i think boobs are NOT a big deal. That said, hopefully soon female toplessness will also be legal here in California. Like many have said, they are not a reproductive organ, nor are they lewd in any way.

    • liv

      I agree – it should be your choice to wear a bra or not. I’m a 36D and I rarely wear a bra, usually only when necessary, i.e. at the gym or during other vigorous activities. I don’t know what all the fuss is about regarding wearing bras. They’re meant for support, and if you find yourself in a situation or with a body type that doesn’t need the support, why bother? My boyfriend, however, always likes to comment when my nipples are noticeable. Why? They’re just nipples and they aren’t even that noticeable, in my opinion. I’m in California too, and topless equality would be nice.

  • Sharon

    oh heck we should all just go naked!
    after all, we were born that way anyways …

  • Katrina

    Boobs, penises, and vaginas alike are a common find in the halls and class of an art building during figure-drawing hours. The understanding of this reason for seeing and explicitly looking at the naked body eliminates all sexual context. If we can do strip this context in one crowded all male and female, old and young, mature and maybe not so much classroom why not outside? And leave the sexual attachments for the bedroom (or chosen destination of activity)?

  • Ali

    barbara kruger inspired?

    • Leandra Medine

      Supreme, actually. JK!!! Yes, of course.

  • Dalmat

    I think now that people have the ability to gawk in total privacy, boobs galore online, they need not do it at the newstand anymore. And yes, its a context thing, so unless its on a TIME cover its mostly acceptable! And for the better-travelled, we all know how topless on european beaches is commonplace, also wearing ANY clothing at a german spa / sauna is typically forbidden. Penises, hmm I think that will be a little more problematic. Think of it this way, it doesnt bother most women visually (not principally) to see boobs, try showing a man a picture of another guys penis!

  • Sara Dinkin

    Amen! Please check out and find out more on my blog

  • isadora

    Woman are sexualized everywhere nowadays, and this changes that may be happening seem to be pretty good.Breasts are meant to feed children, and nothing more than that, so why all the sexualization?Why the comparision to a penis?
    Perhaps, this can contribute to the end of “Oh, look at that slut in that barely-there dress, she’s totally asking for it”, the end of relating a woman’s personality, knowledge, and ethos to her clothes or sexual life.
    Topless equality is a part of equality between genders.

  • Lily

    Just a month later, the subject is still so fresh.
    Wonder how men see this picture.. Naked, gorgeous but so far away from the naked women we see on the cover of gentlemen’s magazines…

  • NadFor

    I don’t know what the big fuzz is about.. boobs, penises, …. and so on its part of us. Sometimes is better to keep them private, but nothing wrong with showing them if anybody wants to seem them.. 🙂