ONE WOMAN’S DAY IN NEW YORK, TOPLESS.
I was sitting on the C train thinking about what I was on my way to do. My goal for that day was to represent gender equality and female empowerment.
I’m a freelance model, I shoot nudes, as well as some other styles.
“The project, obviously, is working towards legalizing the right for women to bare our breasts in public, a freedom men have always had the luxury of taking for granted.”
About a month ago, I was contacted by a man named Jeff. He has been working on a #ToplessNewYork series for the past few years and wanted to revive it after an extended break, asking me to join him on the venture. The project, obviously, is working towards legalizing the right for women to bare our breasts in public, a freedom men have always had the luxury of taking for granted. It started here in NYC, since it’s already legal; one can’t be stopped by police for being topless in public. And it has spread to most of the country.
As I was strutting to our meet-up spot I could feel little humming birds hovering around my gut. I was nervous and excited, not truly knowing what to expect from the upcoming morning. I’ve grown to feel comfortable in my own skin; but partial nudity on the streets of NYC was so new to me that I paused for a moment, looked around and thought, these peeps are about to see my entire torso…and my nipples. Ha. Jeff and I chatted for a little while and then decided to get started. With a Starbucks iced tea in my hand, I sat down at a table near Le Pain.
And we kick it off.
I was suddenly conscious of the European couple sitting behind me, and the two young women to my right.
I peeled my tank off and was gratefully liberated. The sweat immediately evaporated from my chest. The iced tea really hit the spot.
The camera immediately starts clicking away.
“We walk past a group of kindergartners, sitting and listening to a teacher talk about the lower west side. I could see a child glance at me, while a teacher glares, and the other children take no notice”
My breasts were a sight and people looked. I immediately sensed the haughty disdain emanating from the couple, who actually asked us to blur their faces out of the shots when they left. I think our presence was what made them leave. When we finished up at the cafe, Jeff offered me the option of putting my tank back on in between locations; and I did for the first two minutes of us strolling towards the Highline. After two minutes I stopped Jeff and pulled my top off again.
I might as well milk this opportunity, I said with a rush of excitement. I knew that walking through the streets of with no top on with a man beside me would most likely reduce the hassling I would endure; sad but true. Hence the need for #ToplessNewYork.
On a day to day basis I have to ignore cat calls as is; what about now? With my body on display for all to see on the public city streets? The Highline is packed with tourists, families, and school kids on field trips.
Lots of field trips.
We walk past a group of kindergartners, sitting and listening to a teacher talk about the lower west side. I could see a child glance at me, while a teacher glares, and the other children take no notice. These children began their lives getting all of their sustenance from breasts, so to me it was no big deal that I was exposed.
A Highline employee stopped nearby and stared, then passed by. Running back, he snapped a photo of me, smiled and walked off. Eww, seriously, the nerve of some people. Offensive…but I guess that’s to be expected. But it shouldn’t be expected. Hence, once again, the need for the project is glaring me right in the face.
My next encounter was a family of five, the parents intentionally looking past me, at a point over my left shoulder. I just stared at them, wondering why they felt so uncomfortable. A couple of girls smiled at me. The reactions on the Highline varied as I encountered person after person, after tourist, after family, and so on. More photos by Jeff and more photos by strangers.
“On my walk back to the train a woman saluted me with the most serious look on her face. My insides took a leap of joy; knowing that I was making an impression left me feeling powerful and proactive.”
A few amusing moments were a group of sixth graders giggling, a group of teens gawking, and their teachers bent over in peals of laughter. I was amused by their predictable reactions, and felt proud of showing who I am. A couple of teenage boys stealthily followed me around the Hudson River Park, as Jeff snapped some photos next to a carousel, and I took a few selfies with the rainbow unicorn. I became uncomfortably conscious of their leering; teenage boys gawking is not my idea of positive attention and energy. I covered myself a bit with my hat and tried to avoid eye contact.
On my walk back to the train a woman saluted me with the most serious look on her face. My insides took a leap of joy; knowing that I was making an impression left me feeling powerful and proactive. But that was momentarily ruined by a truck driver catcalling me, whistling and shrieking out his window. I paused, flipped him off and kept walking. I felt disgusted and objectified, just because I was bare chested. While expected, I was still disappointed at that kind of attention directed towards me. I was glad it was the only time it happened the entire afternoon. I wanted to walk to subway and sit through my train ride with nothing on; I wanted to so very badly. I knew it could be uncomfortable, attention grabbing, and probably a little dangerous to travel without Jeff by my side. I felt the need to have a male presence; another reminder of all the reasons we need #ToplessNewYork, #FreeTheNipple, and all stripes of feminist art. A woman shouldn’t need a man at her side to feel safe from physical harassment. Jeff had made me feel safer while walking around. He made me feel better about the attention we got. He made me feel protected from potential stalkers or predators.
So, alas, due to the casual misogyny of some men, I reluctantly slipped back into my top and went on my way. On the train ride home I felt the residual effects of what I had just done. The breeze on my torso rejuvenating my nipples, the sense of empowerment by my actions, happy that I was able to represent what I set out to— and pleased with the courage it took to walk around NYC topless.
You should try it sometime. It’s awesome. 🙂