Free-Range Breasts

Adjusting to France, Cultural Differences

“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

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12 thoughts on “Free-Range Breasts

  1. Great post! You know, prior to living in Europe, I would never have thought of going topless at a beach. At a lake in Germany there were women straight up naked! I was like, is this for real??Then at the end of our 2 years in Switzerland, we went on a 2-week trip through Spain, and you know what? I went topless in San Sebastian, and it was great! Now that I am a nursing mother, boobs don’t bother me one bit. I just lift up my shirt wherever I am and feed my baby.

    1. Love it – yeah, I am getting over it too – still haven’t done topless at a beach but it may happen soon. HAha – and yes, I imagine being a Mother gets you over all sorts of body quirks rather quickly!! 🙂

  2. You made me laugh out loud! I remember trying on a blouse while I was with some french girlfriends. I modeled it for them and then asked what I should wear under it. “Under it? What do you mean?” Well it’s really shear. My friend patiently told me to just wear a pretty bra…after all, that’s what they’re for. Her mother looked at me, rolled her eyes, and said “you Americans, you’re such prudes.” I’m getting the hang of it, but once in awhile I’m like you, I’m still shocked. However, I’ve completely embraced the topless swimming suit thing!

    1. You are the second person to comment that you have done the topless swimming thing – I think I may have to get in on it. HAHA – and yeah, that story sounds about right, they are just so much more relaxed about the body here. I need to get with the program!

  3. LOL! I totally agree — I feel naked without a bra on, and I carefully scrutinize all potential new articles of clothing (tops and bottoms) to see how “see-through” they are. The only times I don’t wear a bra are in the summer when I’ve got on a summer dress that has a built-in support system. (Not that my boobs are even big enough to need a bra most of the time…but whatever). I think it’s commendable that French women aren’t as prudish as Americans (and Canadians) tend to be, but I know I could never fully embrace the “let it all hang out” attitude, no matter how long I’ve lived here!

    Hope you are enjoying your State-side vacay!

    1. I’m with you all the way – even letting myself rely on built in bras has become a bit of a hurdle to overcome. But yeah, I too think it is great how relaxed they are here. I wonder if I’ll ever get there and then freak people out when I move back to the US. ha!

  4. I remember the first couple times I was hanging out in lounge clothes without a bra and it was dinner time with my in-laws. I told my husband I couldn’t possibly go eat with the family and be at table without a bra. Somewhere around a year in, I just went with it and stopped putting on bras when I was at the house (even with his family). Now I like to think of myself as liberated and freely wear summer clothes incompatible with bras!

  5. I knew there was a good reason to move to France! I hate bras. When I was a teenager and didn’t have any boobs to speak of I didn’t wear one and in the South no less! Yes I was talked about and stared at by older women neighbors. Now I have enough for a bra and I hate wearing a bra. The other day I put on a beautiful white shirt and turned around and it was shear in the back! I thought I can’t go out in public like that. Not at 53 anyway. I mean I did have one on.

    No wonder my mom hated living in France when I was very little! She is an old fashioned Southern woman.

    1. oh yeah, that would do it (for your Mother, I mean). The women here are just more natural in terms of styling overall – mussed hair, not a lot of makeup, no flashy jewelry. The opposite of old fashioned southern ladies. haha! 🙂

      Thanks for reading!!!

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