What Happened When I Legally Exposed My Breasts in Public
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Experiment: Under New York state law, all chests are created equal: both men and women can go topless in public, provided you expose your breasts in a manner "neither lewd nor intended to annoy or harass." On a hot summer day, would going topless in a public park prove empowering, or would I get burned?
Hypothesis: Guys do it all the time, and the law says I have the right to bare breasts. Moving this equal right from theory to practice should be just as relaxing as any other afternoon in Central Park.
Even though I knew the law was on my side, female toplessness still felt like the medical marijuana of the east coast: legal but somehow illicit. I was nervous as hell the morning of my experiment. Even worse, I couldn’t decide what to wear. I settled on gym shorts and a tank top, with a nice bra underneath since everyone would be seeing it. It was like getting ready for a hot date: I was apprehensive, flustered and had already decided how naked I'd get by the end of the night.
I promised a day of sunshine and laughs (perhaps at my expense) to two friends/bodyguards, and we arrived at the Sheep's Meadow in Central Park with blankets, books, and my boobs. The clearing was packed with sunbathers; although no one was topless, there were a rainbow of skimpy bikinis and skin across the lawn. We claimed a clear patch of land and, far sooner than I would have liked, it was time to take off my top. "Here," my friend Jim offered, removing his own shirt, "I'll do it too."
Easy for him to say, he’s been doing this for decades, I thought as I pulled off my tank top. So far, so good, but still nervous as hell. I thought perhaps I could ease into the public nudity by acting like I was sun-bathing. I lay on my stomach and removed my bra, and rested a moment, thinking feminist and empowered thoughts. We were making progress, but I couldn't hide face-down all day.
So I sat up. My hand instinctively grasped my breasts for modesty, my bosom spilling over my fingertips. I didn’t want to let go. "I'm gonna do it. I'm just gonna remove my hand," I said to no one in particular.
And then I did.
There they were — in the sunlight, the eyes of God and New York Penal Law 245.01 — my boobs out, nipples blazing. The girls sitting on the blanket next to us giggled. Some passersby glanced over, smiles on a couple of the guys' faces. My nipple ring glinted in the sun. Amazingly, I felt relatively calm. Warm. Neither lightning nor cops had struck me down. Furtively looking around, I noticed some guys attempting to be respectful. Maybe they were just thinking be cool or she'll put her top back on, but gentlemen would glance over and grin, but rarely stare. No one cat-called or made lewd comments. So many people were showing skin, and it was so hot, my toplessness didn't feel like a big deal.
Five minutes in, however, my skin was sizzling. The Irish were not made to be a topless people. Rubbing SPF 15 onto my nipples made me feel a little dirty — and a little silly for bringing only SPF 15. I tried to chat with my friends, but I found it hard to concentrate. More and more people were looking over at me, and when everyone's staring at you, you can't look anywhere for fear of making awkward eye contact. I may have been topless, but I was still shy. It's not common for me to make eye contact with strangers. It's even less likely if they're staring at my tits or taking pictures with their iPhones.