They are almost inevitable on our beaches. The carts donut-skirts (which we regret in the beginning), toddlers tied to their sand castles, but also topless. If the first two still kisses our coast, the monokini, it becomes more and more discreet. Symbolic act of emancipating women in the 60s and 70s, to reach the high, had become almost banal at the beginning of the 90s. Main goal: avoiding the dreaded traces of tanning. Since then, the practice of topless terrain is losing, especially among younger generations. The number of followers has been halved in thirty years. According to a study published by Ifop in August 2017, French women younger than 50 who were practicing topless were only 22% in 2017 against 43% in 1984. The sign of a return of modesty? Not necessary. For François Kraus, director of the news section at Ifop, the research mainly shows that the government of "Cult of appearance" feeds the "Fear not to respond to beauty canons in vogue". And this, even under the umbrella. Janine Mossuz-Lavau, research director at Cévipof (CNRS, Sciences-Po) (1) sees in this observation the mutation of a symbol.
How do you explain the decline in topless practice?
There are several reasons. For the women of the 60s and 70s, going to the topless beach was a way to show that they were liberated from patriarchy, sexual harassment. For current generations, women consider themselves to be sufficiently released to no longer have to prove it. It is integrated into the usual operation without having to make a demonstration. Moreover, I have found in my surveys, but also by observing people on the beach and on the edge of swimming pools, that teen girls do not want to show their bodies. They sometimes wear one-piece swimsuits more than older generations. Fashion tends to this kind of thing.
Are the risks associated with sun exposure also a barrier for women?
Medical reasons are of course mentioned. Dermatologists have been very alert to the risks, especially skin cancer, in this particularly vulnerable area. They also warned of the aesthetic consequences of this exhibition. The skin can wrinkle faster, have spots. Moreover, the pioneers in the field are out of date and sometimes they have left the topless, because they are no longer in top form. And even if it does not affect more than the other reasons I just mentioned, some women do not dare to go to the beach because they are ashamed of men's eyes and afraid to be harassed. But this has always been the case since the 60s and 70s.
What was once considered banal, is it another militant act for those who still practice it?
Exposure to her breasts is probably more noticeable than when more women did. But those who practice it are usually regulars who like to feel the caress of the sun on their skin. It is more a matter of fun. They do not see why they would give up because it is forbidden in some swimming pools or is no longer in fashion. In addition to generational differences, it should also be noted that there is a greater reluctance to practice topless in popular circles than in so-called skilled women. Surveys show that the higher the education level of women, the more they have sex partners, feel legitimate to free themselves and go topless to the beach. In popular circles, daily morality is stricter on what can be shown of itself.
Nowadays, smartphones are ubiquitous on the beach. Is there also no fear of unknowingly being a cliché?
It is best to play, especially with very young children. In fact, it is usually between them where stolen photos fly to, including clichés that can be considered compromising. Young girls are definitely more wary of this stuff. They do not want a topless photo of them. Adults can also feel this fear, but less because most of the dramas in the past period were more about young people.
(1) Author of Sexual life in France, to be published on 13 September by La Martinière editions.