The French Riviera is full of beautiful cities with amazing history, food, art and culture. However, while living in Nice, the most common question from my friends stateside wasn’t about Matisse, Chagall, fine dining or the Princess of Monaco. The one topic that seemed to come up more often than not was the fact that many women go topless on the beaches in France.
Women were curious because they wanted to try it and men were curious because they wanted to see it.
On my first plane trip to Nice, Cote d’Azur airport, a flight attendant shared the following cautionary tale.
Once upon a time, 3 Atlanta based female flight attendants flew to the Riviera on a regular basis. They were determined to try topless sunbathing. Post expose, the ladies reported that going topless was a liberating experience that every woman should try. However, it did have its down side.
When the flight attendants returned to work on Monday, they were each sporting a pair of electric red hooters. They were so sunburned that wearing a bra was impossible. Half a dozen southern fried tatas boarded that Monday flight back to Atlanta and glowed beneath white pressed shirts as they paraded down the aisle. The good news is that although their boobs were on fire, they didn’t get fired. The moral is: Be Wild! Have Fun! Wear Sunscreen.
My American male friends reacted to topless females on the beach in a rather surprising way. First they would politely enquire about the topic prior to their visit, “Do women really go topless on the beach?” I replied yes. I didn’t have the heart to explain that it is quite often an experience closer to National Geographic than Penthouse. I am so glad that I didn’t and here is why: When at the beach with my American male visitors, they just saw boobs (indiscriminately). They were happy. Yes, the men first noticed the Elle MacPherson look alike frolicking in the water or the young mother that looked like Marion Cotillard. What shocked me was that when faced by two 80 year old topless women playing cards, my brother just said, “Right on!” The Rubenesque sixty something ladies with martinis and cigarettes sitting behind us garnered the comment, “Respect!” Based on my small sample of around 15 men, dudes can appreciate a pair regardless of age, size, or any other factor.
Topless beach going wasn’t really my thing. In the 2 years I lived in France, I never freed the twins at the beach. I am a strong believer in selective viewing and congratulations to all who have ever been selected. I was never comfortable flaunting the girls. It’s just too wide a net to cast.
In spite of my selective viewing policy, I started having second thoughts about not trying this Riviera cliché. My time on the Cote d’ Azur was coming to an end and missing out on anything fun is against my religion. A ceremonial departure flash on the Med wouldn’t be totally out of character.
As I put together a plan for my big day, it made me think of something Cindy Crawford told me. Yes, I said Cindy Crawford. When I was in college, I had the chance to meet Cindy Crawford at Lenox Mall in Atlanta. When it was my turn to speak with her, I only asked one question, “Why did you pose for Playboy?” She didn’t hesitate. She told me that she did it so she could show it to her grandchildren and remind herself of this time in her life when she is 90. That little nugget of wisdom somehow made perfect sense to me.
I wanted to go topless at the beach and I wanted a picture of it. I will show it to my grandchildren and have it made into a poster for my room at the old folks home when I’m 90. I didn’t think I was Cindy Crawford, but I did know that whatever I looked like at 27 years old was probably going to be the closest I would ever get.
If you had to pick a place to go topless, the Cote d’ Azur is it. In addition to the glam factor, no one cares. France has a totally different boob culture to be sure. French women’s ability to rock it with their tops off with such nonchalance is impressive. French men seemed to be pretty unfazed by the whole thing as well. Try to picture an American beach with topless women. Bedlam would surely ensue. This wasn’t the case in France. Just like in almost every other arena, the French seem to have a more sophisticated pallet on the subject.
It was a beautiful day in November and around 75 degrees. I was in my street clothes with a boa and a few other props. There were only a few people on the beach. My good friend Paula accompanied me in the role of photographer. My plan was to just take my shirt off real quick and snap a few pics and be done with it. I chose a beach in Antibes where the view is 360 degrees of ocean framed by the Alps. Simply sitting on the rocks in this spot of the world is priceless. When you add the liberation of flaunting your Georgia peaches, you’ve got yourself quite an experience. It made me laugh, gave me goosebumps, and made me feel totally alive in that moment. A few moments later, I felt like a dork sitting on the beach with my boobs hanging out. I put my shirt on and was on my way.
I see my topless photo collection as a souvenir of my time in France, a celebration of the beauty of my youth and a fierce shout out to all things fun.
When I picked up the pictures from the Carrefour Fotomat, I did get a raised eyebrow. The pictures were hilarious and I decided to use one for my Christmas card that year. Nothing says,”Hey World, I’m back from France.” like a topless Christmas card.