“Dang!” I am standing in front of a full length mirror, examining myself in a new dress that I just bought. “It is totally see-through,” I shout towards the other room. “I think this might be a swimsuit cover up, come tell me how bad it is!”
After a minute or so MB ambles into the room nonchalantly. “Quoi,” he looks me up and down, clearly seeing nothing wrong with the sheer black and white maxi dress.
I go spread eagle and ask again.
“I can see the outline of your legs but that is okay, non?” He is looking at me quizzically.
“Yeah, I’m more worried about boob,” I spread the ruched fabric flat across my chest. “See? You can see them.”
MB laughs, “Only when you do that. It is fine.”
I look back in the mirror, staring intently at my bosom. Is it fine? Is it? The Southern girl in me says, “Absolutely not, white trash, put a bra on!” While the French girl in me says “pfff…it is a breast, this is natural, non?”
My entire life I was raised that nice girls don’t leave the house without a bra on. Seriously, it wouldn’t have even been a consideration, you wouldn’t wake up and ask yourself, “is this a bra kind of day” because EVERY day is a bra kind of day. It doesn’t even matter if you are a card carrying member of the I.B.T.C* – I.B.T.C. girls need bras too. In the U.S. (in general) we like those suckers to stay strapped down (or up, as it were), harnessed really. I mean, come on you wouldn’t want a wild breast to get on the loose and stir up trouble in town, now would you?
The attitude in France is somewhat different; in France, bras are optional, heck, even swimsuit tops are optional; in France they believe in free-range breasts. In fact, just this year they completed a study that says bras aren’t good for breasts anyway (http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/bra-bombshell-brassieres-breasts-saggier-article-1.1313974).
It is a normal thing to see breasts out and about. The other day I noticed a woman with a paper-thin white t-shirt on and no bra walking through town. I could clearly see “everything” and watched amazed as she walked through town with her shopping bags, totally unconcerned by the fact that she was flashing the “goods”. It was one of those classic expat moments in France in which I look around thinking “is anyone else seeing this?!?!?!?” But no, no one else seemed to notice anything at all…because here it is totally ordinary. There are bare breasts on advertisements on the street, in TV shows, at every swimming situation – it just isn’t a big deal.
When I first arrived in France it really threw me off. Going to get a chest x-ray for my visa and having a woman man-handle my bare breasts to get them into the right position on the machine felt a bit odd and later at my first female exam, having the doctor laugh about “silly Americans” and their gowns during medical exams. Now, I am kind of used to it. I mean, I’m not about to burn my bras or go topless at the beach (let’s be honest, that is really just a horrific sunburn waiting to happen) but it is kind of nice to know that I have the option of doing so without freaking people out.
I mean…it is natural – we all know they are there, shouldn’t we be able to handle it by now?
I look at myself one more time in the mirror and realize you really can’t see anything. Then I walk over to my dresser and get out a strapless bra…I’ll get there eventually.
*I.B.T.C. – a torturous junior-high age taunt – Itty Bitty Titty Committee