I’m not gonna lie: when I wrote up that item about Topless Bowery Lady a few weeks ago, I got a bit jealous. To be able to walk around New York City all careless and fancy free like that, breasts unfettered, the cool breeze rushing across your chest…it all seemed so wonderful, yet unattainable. I would never have the gall to do that, I thought. Social conventions being what they are, there’s no way I could possibly carry that off without attracting an incredible amount of unwanted attention, making people mad, scarring children for life, potentially getting harassed by the cops, etc. Why, oh why, can’t I just air my tits out like it ain’t no thang? STUPID AMERICA.
And then I was like, well, why the hell not? What’s the point of having toplessness be legal in New York City if you can’t taste of its sweet nectars? Social mores don’t just change overnight; someone has to go first and make it look like fun, and then, with any luck, the rest will follow, and someday it becomes normal, right? In the name of being the change I want to see (as well as anecdotal sociology), I decided to swallow my fears and hang out topless in Central Park Sunday afternoon.
I figured I should start out with the relatively normal activity of topless sunbathing and work my way up to more brazen endeavors. I was kind of nervous about taking my shirt off initially, but it turned out to be like ripping off a band-aid; once I’d done it without anything bad happening, I relaxed. I reclined. I read my book. I chatted with Jennifer. Nobody was even looking at me! At one point I thought a guy was giving me the thumbs up, but it turned out it was directed at a baby. The sun and air felt nice on my skin. I would tentatively say from this experience that it’s possible to toplessly sunbathe in the park without causing a commotion.
Next, it was time to get up and walk around. I instinctively clutched my book to my chest at first, but I stopped myself. Naked time wasn’t over yet. I donned a hat and sunglasses so as to feel less exposed. A little bit dehydrated from lying in the sun, I bought a bottle of water and a popsicle. The concession stand guy didn’t bat an eyelash at me. He’s probably seen weirder.
(Visit the next page, where things start to get NSFW…)
Popsicle in hand, I made my way towards Rumsey playfield, where a pleasant jazz concert was going on. “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?” one of the security guards asked his coworker as I approached, but neither of them made eye contact with me. I continued gaily onwards, stopping to pet a couple of cute dogs, whose owners were all very obliging in discussing the merits of various breeds with me. (Did you know that French bulldogs are good apartment dogs? Now you do.) I also stopped to smell some pretty flowers, and began to feel at one with nature.
(This woman was trying to keep her dog from eating a cigarette butt.)
As I came upon one of the park’s main thoroughfares, a nice tourist from California asked if she could take my picture. “Sure,” I replied cheerfully. After I posed for her vacation scrapbook, Jennifer took a picture of us together. The things you see in New York City!
The first random comment from a dude I received was surprisingly respectful. “You look nice!” one of the horse-drawn carriage drivers said, “God bless you!” I waved at him. Another one stopped so I could pet his horse. (Which seemed a little annoyed…perhaps it had had a conservative upbringing). Equestrian gentlemen of Central Park, I salute you.
At this point, I was starting to feel pretty confident. Everyone loves a weirdo with no shirt! And/or ignores her! Oh, the hubris. It was then that I heard the whir of a golf cart behind me. “Miss! Miss! Miss!” someone was saying. I turned around. It was a park employee.
“I know you’re doing your thing or whatever, but there are kids around and I don’t think this is appropriate,” she said.
“Why not?” I asked, curious.
“It should be their decision whether or not they see…that.”
“But kids drink out of boobs. That’s what they’re for.”
“I know, I know, I’m just saying.” She looked like she was about to crack up. Boobs make everything funnier. “I’m just saying,” she repeated again, and was gone. Okay then.
As I continued on my merry way (avoiding the playground), I noticed something: as good as it felt to be topless in the great outdoors, I had more under-boob sweat than usual. I might’ve been sweating a little extra because I was nervous, but I’m pretty sure absorbent cotton clothes are better than being totally topless if you’re concerned about boob sweat. The more you know.
About an hour into my walk, one of New York’s finest pulled up alongside me in one of those little ticketmobiles they drive.
“Hey!” he yelled.
“I know the law says you’re allowed to do this or whatever, but there are kids around.”
The word “law” was dripping with contempt. He clearly hated this “law,” and wished he could ticket me.
“Is there a part of the park where kids aren’t allowed?”
“Just use your brain. This isn’t appropriate. I don’t know what you think you’re doing–”
“Hanging out in the park?”
“[blah blah blah I’m scolding you] …and I know you’re only doing it for attention.”
“Wow, it’s so cool that you can read my mind,” I wanted to say, but I stopped myself. Cops can fuck your shit up if they feel like it.
“Okay,” I deadpanned, and walked away ticketless. Sorry, cop bro. I’m sure you’ll catch someone having a wine picnic or something soon.
As I neared the end of my topless journey, someone yelled “happy pride!” at me. I’m not sure what’s inherently gay-prideful about having your tits out, but I gave a “yay!” anyway, because I support the concept. Perhaps he thought Jennifer and I were lovers? (In which case, I’d be flattered, as she is quite the catch.) Anyway, it was at this point that I felt enough time had elapsed since being yelled at by the cop that I wouldn’t be obeying him if I put my shirt back on.
All in all, it was a pretty positive, if somewhat anticlimactic, experience. I tried to act as normal as possible, but it’s hard not to smile when you’re doing something so obviously goofy. I don’t think it’s yet possible for a woman to walk around topless without having people assume she’s pulling some sort of stunt, which is a shame. Granted, I was doing a social experiment of sorts, but it would be nice to be able to do it just because it feels good. (Also granted, many people ignored me. Kudos to them, for they are the future.)[tagbox tag=”toplessness”]
As for the parents and children Central Park’s authority figures were so vocally concerned about, not one single parent so much as shot me a dirty look. The thing is, topless ladies are allowed to walk around in public, and most public places contain children. The way the law is now, the right to be topless in public trumps the right to not have to see a stranger’s boobs. If people don’t like it, they should lobby to change that law. Personally, I think that viewing a bare breast as inherently sexual and hence corrupting of innocence is silly; I’d much rather my hypothetical kid see women of all shapes enjoying the outdoors and being comfortable with their bodies than, say, two fully clothed people dry humping on a bench. One would think such an enlightened place as New York would understand this. I like to think the New York City of the future will be a joyful place full of free-swinging breasts, billowing marijuana smoke, and copious jaywalking. (We’ll also be grilling rat meat in the bombed out remains of condo developments, so we’ll need boobs around to cheer us up.) Until then, though, I think I’ll confine my public boobsploits to more socially acceptable arenas. Like the Internet.