Feature

How France soured on topless beaches

The nation that gave the world Brigitte Bardot suddenly prefers covering up.

France isn't what it used to be, said Eric Pape in The Daily Beast. The country that "gave the world Brigitte Bardot" and made topless beaches legendary has decided that bare-breasted sunbathing is passé. Young French women describe themselves as much more modest than older women—and even once "libertine" model-turned-first lady Carla Bruni Sarkozy now sports a two-piece bikini at the beach. The government is reinforcing the trend: Women who hit Paris' artificial summer "beach" along the Seine risk fines if they don't wear a top.

Going topless seemed like "a feminist breakthrough," said BBC News, when the trend caught fire after the first women decided they wanted to hit the beach bare-breasted, "just like men." But a lot has happened since those days in St. Tropez back in 1964. Skin cancer dented the popularity of sunbathing, and "'being able' to go topless gradually evolved into feeling obliged to do so," turning a new freedom into just another source of "the endless pressure to flaunt a 'perfect' body."

It's hard to figure out the French, said Angelique Chrisafis in Britain's Guardian. Just as they decide that women must cover up, they start ordering men to wear Speedos instead of baggy swim shorts at public pools. But this might be just the thing to swing the pendulum back. As news broke of the "enforced parading of Frenchmen's bulges," a feminist group staged a protest demanding the right for women to wear nothing but bikini bottoms, just like the men. "And so the debate continues."

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