It’s a question women – including me – are asking when sitting on the beach the world over. Can I go topless?
If you are Muslim and wear a burkini, you’re not asking to go topless of course, but rather, “Can I leave my top on, please?”
This great contradiction in what to wear on the beach sums up the colossal global confusion there is understanding each other’s cultures, religious expectations and differences at this moment in time.
“Don’t go topless and flash your boobs in Bondi, but get the Burkini off in France,” one Englishman joked to me at a dinner party in London’s Chelsea last week. “Even you supposedly free-minded Aussies with all of those beaches and sunshine haven’t got it right,” he smirked.
Seriously though, we’ve all gone a bit mad – globally. Who has the right to tell any woman what she can or can’t wear anywhere let alone on the beach? Isn’t beachwear a fundamental freedom? If a woman wants to go topless in the Western world, why isn’t that ok?
In France, the majority of mayors are refusing to lift the controversial bans they imposed on wearing the burkini despite the highest administrative French court ruling the bans are illegal.
Any woman will tell you it is one of the most confronting areas of fashion. Whether it’s Elle Macpherson or Magda Subanski, a 12 year old girl or 70 year old woman, it’s scary territory.
I’m writing this from the Greek island of Patmos & I have 4 swimsuits with me, such is the pressure to look ok – and I’m feeling fairly ok with my body right now. I just want to be sure my options are covered, so to speak.
And then there’s breast feeding. In Australia, women breast feed, and most do it in public – I didn’t as I had twins, and that was just, well awkward, as I would have had to have no top on at all, and be totally exposed, but one baby can be shielded under a muslin cloth.
But even then, showing the top part of your breast in order to feed your child can be the subject of debate in Australia and the UK – and let’s not even mention social media when it comes to these issues.
But at the big name beaches in Oz – no nipples please. We’re told to cover up at mainstream beaches like Bondi, although many women don’t and largely get away with it. I was on beaches in Italy, France and Greece this summer, and saw topless women at all of them – and the majority of the women on the beaches were over 40. The nipple stigma doesn’t seem to be the same in Europe, but the same cannot be said for the burkini.
If I want to wear an all in one cover up (i.e. a burkini) at any beach in the world, that should be ok. If alternatively, I’m having a “one night in Rio” moment & want to pull out my skimpiest bikini in my collection, and go topless, that too should be ok, shouldn’t it?
But it’s not you see – there’s double standards everywhere & that is my problem. How on earth can a woman possibly know how to do the ‘right thing’? And this is sitting on the beach – one of the most natural, simplest things in life to do.
The contradictions even exist at the Vatican in Rome, which I visited recently. There, women were scrambling to buy scarves to cover legs below the knee as well as exposed shoulders to get in. Security on every door were turning women away. Even an elegant skirt and tank top in 37 degree celsius weather was deemed as inappropriate. Again, I was surprised.
But doesn’t the Bible say God forgives and accepts all people? Jesus was born and wrapped in swaddling clothes.
I’m confused – but who isn’t?
I could go on, but this isn’t about one religion, it’s about all of them and it is really about people – with cultural and local expectations thrown on top. I’ve lived in Muslim and Christian countries, I managed a magazine in Malaysia with Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim staff and we all got along. It was tough at times, but we made it work.
The only answer is acceptance, but I don’t know how to get there other than starting with myself and my relationships with the people around me. I have a lot of questions, and it seems I am not the only one.