Across the world, a woman’s breasts are seen as something overtly sexual. In other words, they must be kept hidden. A hint of a cleavage is either met with endless stares or subtle pull-up-your-top signals. However, men don’t have this problem even though they have breasts too. They may be smaller and look flat in some cases but they exist, as do nipples. But no one stops them from taking off their shirts and walking around wearing nothing but shorts. Why should they be stopped? It’s hot and any extra clothing just adds to the discomfort. Women, however, must suffer. They cannot take off their tops even in the worst heat, because then it’s known as a woman exposing her skin or being shameless. Such behaviour seen as a complete aberration from the socially accepted.
Twenty seven-year-old Chelsea Covington is trying to change this perception in the simplest manner possible. She just walks around topless, or bare-chested as she prefers to call it since “topless [implies] you are lacking something.”
“I never meant for it to be a spectacle,” Chelsea says. “I don’t have slogans painted on my body. I don’t yell. I don’t carry signs. There are times for that, but to normalize bare-chestedness, you have to do normal things.”
Chelsea goes around doing her chores, walking, cycling, and gardening bare-chested, and the reactions she has got from passers-by are not what one would expect. “People walking by might just look, or they might not even look,” she said when interviewed by Vice. “I try not to challenge people. I want people to have whatever reaction they’re going to have without feeling like I’m judging them. I want them to do their own internal work.” She also says that people come up and talk to her all the time. Some of them have questions about her actions while some encourage her.
But that doesn’t mean that she hasn’t had her share of nasty encounters.
“There was one time where I was in Prospect Park in Brooklyn and my fiancé and I were sitting and having a picnic. It was a quiet day, and this man walked by on a path, and he was dropping the f-bomb left and right and saying, “This is a fucking family park!” It was pretty ridiculous. He was talking about me, but he wasn’t talking to me, and calling me fucking garbage and a whore and a harlot.”
“I was looking to see if he was coming toward me to have a conversation, and he literally walked by, ranting. It was strange. Then there was this family that walked by with a stroller, and they took more notice of him [than me], and I realized that he was doing work for me, because who really was out of place in a family park? The guy dropping the f-bomb and ranting and raving or the bare-chested woman sitting there eating grapes?”
Reading this, one would naturally feel that there might be safety concerns for Chelsea. But responding to a question on whether she ever felt unsafe or not, Chelsea said that she never did.
“I have never once been touched inappropriately being bare-chested, and it’s interesting. I think it’s because it has this humanizing effect. That’s what I gather from the way people interact with me. It’s me taking ownership of my own body, and that is really powerful.”
Apart from the point she’s trying to prove about normalising bare-chested women, Chelsea also has a rather practical reason for going topless.
“Guys can walk around without a shirt on when they get hot, and I have wanted, since I was a very young child, to be able do the same. I get very hot, especially in bras. They’re very tight to the skin. You end up feeling gross.”
We will never understand why women going topless evokes controversy in most parts of the world. They are part of a woman’s body and she deserves to have full autonomy in what she chooses to do with them, which means she also gets to go bare-chested if she wants. After all, normal is only what society comes to accept.
As Chelsea says on her blog,
“Show the world so many breasts that it becomes desensitized, just don’t announce that! Simply go out and do it, quietly, relentlessly, unapologetically until it becomes normal.”
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