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!