My Thoughts on Beaches and Modesty in France

One of the many reasons I wanted to move to the south of France is to experience the amazing picturesque French Rivera beaches. The French are notorious for taking the entire month of August off of work, packing up their belongings, and heading to the Mediterranean for some high quality rest and relaxation. Typically during July and August, the entire coast is packed full of French citizens from all around the country, but even now at the end of September, the locals and myself are still taking advantage of the beautiful weather.

Since arriving in France, I have been told by countless French people that Americans are “prudists” or that we are prude when it comes to bathing suits, sex, nudity, etc. I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree with the French. On the southern beaches of France, the norm includes men in speedos (long swim trunks are seen as unsanitary), topless women (during the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1960’s, a law was passed stating women have the right to go topless on the beaches just like men), and nude children (seriously, most boys and girls at the beach either go completely nude or just wear an underwear bottom). In fact, France even has separate nude beaches for people to enjoy! Due to my two-month stay in Japan where public bathing is normal, this cultural difference is no longer a shock to me, though I understand why the majority of Americans would be slightly uncomfortable, as it is just not frankly an accepted part of our culture. However, here are my reasons I believe the French have beach culture right:

1. Women have breasts. It’s not our fault we have breasts, but we do, and we cannot help it. It is a normal body part, and one that has been sexualized by men and is therefore seen as “bad” or “slutty” or “promiscuous,” when really they should just be seen as another normal female body part. The French strove to change the mentality from boobs=bad to boobs=normal. When women and girls are not obligated to be covered up, they feel more comfortable and at ease with their bodies. They feel more beautiful and confident- it’s not just society’s definition of an “attractive woman” who goes topless, but women of all shapes, sizes, and ages. Finally, women don’t have to feel guilty for having breasts but instead can just embrace a day at the beach (and in life!) without shame or worry. I also believe not forcing women to cover up decreases slut shaming and victim blaming. (A scary amount of people believe it’s the woman’s job to make sure men “behave” and “stay clear of sin” by covering themselves up.)

2. Many little girls here just wear swim bottoms, and many small children or toddlers just spend their days naked at the public beaches. Again, I believe not forcing little girls to wear swimsuit tops or a one-piece suit decreases the sexualization and objectification of girls. Why should we make a little girl cover her chest up when the boys do not have to, just because she will one day, in the far, far future, have breasts? She is a child, and should not be fed messages to feel ashamed of her body. Furthermore, little kids, both boys and girls, don’t know the difference, nor do they care. If it’s hot outside, let them run, don’t force them to cover up.

3. Men in the states get a bad rep for wearing speedos because it accentuates his package and makes some people feel a little uncomfortable. However like female breasts, the penis and scrotum are normal parts of the male anatomy. A man should not feel obligated to wear a certain swim suit just to please others.

All in all, I believe French people’s more relaxed mentality on nudity is preferred to the way nudity is perceived in the states. Besides less modesty on the beach, soft core porn is the norm on television after 6:00. There are also no such things as censored TV versions of films. Through French eyes, Sex is normal, violence and killing is not (coincidentally Americans are a lot more obsessed with guns and violent video games, but freak out over Miley’s latest music video “scandal.”). French women are also free to breast feed wherever they want without any pressure to “cover up” or leave the preeminence. (Coincidentally in America, people PREECH that “breast is best” yet women are banned or criticized for breast feeding openly or in public).

I feel different about my body and about myself in France. In France, I like my body. I’m not as ashamed of my body. I feel more beautiful and accepted, and I believe it has a lot to do with France’s mentality of encouraging women to embrace their femininity.
How do you feel about the differences in public beach modesty among the French and the Americans? About nudity in general? Would you feel comfortable participating in this French “way of life” either alone, with friends, or with family? Do you think our mentality about women’s bodies would be different if we were more relaxed? Would it help the US boost international tourism? Leave your thoughts below!








6 thoughts on “My Thoughts on Beaches and Modesty in France

  1. I disagree. By keeping the breasts covered we preserve the mystery of seeing them for lovers. If the breasts are “just another body part” then what joy is there going to be in revealing them to your lover in privacy. Children deserve a period of innocence where they are not exposed to adult behavior and no one can tell me that nudity is divorced from sexuality, even on European beaches. If it were not sexual, then it would not be as much of a draw for tourists. I would like to visit Europe, but I would not go to their beaches and if nudity comes to American shores, I will not visit them anymore either. I am not a prude, just modest and respectful of those who want to enjoy the ocean without seeing my breasts.

    1. Hello, thanks for your comment!

      Well there are plenty of things to do and see in Europe, and definitely not all (or even most!) women still go topless on the beaches, so you wouldn’t be in the minority for staying covered! I personally am not drawn to the beaches just so I can “go topless” and I would hope that the majority of men wouldn’t want to go to Europe just to “see topless women”— I surely think of them more highly than that! But, I personally don’t think there’s anything sexual about laying topless on the beach, and children “losing their innocence.” It’s only sexual because our society makes it sexual. Sex is a normal part of life but the United States focuses so much on macho masculinity and purity culture that as a majority our American society has a really messed up view of sex, as do kids and teens. The further problems that come with sexualizing breasts (which were made biologically for feeding infants, not pleasing men), is that women are shamed for having a natural body part, especially if they are bigger. Women are first shamed for NOT breast feeding and then are forced to cover up while breast feeding (and sometimes required to leave the room to go somewhere else– when work places do not cater to the needs of women that “somewhere else” can be a bathroom stall!) of course, your body is yours and you can do with it as you like, but by not shaming other women for making a different choice, as well as normalizing breasts for natural body parts I think it can/has made a difference 🙂

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