The other night, I went with a few friends (of various genders, naturally) to see a musical in downtown L.A. I'm as surprised as you are.
During this musical, there was a brief topless scene. Normally I'd wave this off as no big deal, except that, during the nude scene, a guy in the theater just freaked the hell out and started screaming "You fuck your mother!" until ushers could escort him out.
And that unexpected reaction to a very modest amount of artistic, public nudity inspired me to write an 11points list. Here are 11 times when women can/should/do/are known to expose their breasts in public.
And for sport, I've ordered them from most classy to least classy. Enjoy.
Legitimate theatre. I believe the classiest time to show your breasts to the world is when you're an actress on stage, at a non-community theatre, doing tasteful nudity that's necessary for your character's development and not-at-all gratuitous.
This is nudity as art, the modern, living equivalent to a Botticelli.
And it's one of the few things on this list that you'd probably be cool with your family watching.
Breastfeeding. I dunked this one notch below legitimate theatre because breastfeeding can be done right, and it can be done wrong.
Right: Very subtly whip out a breast while simultaneously moving your baby up toward it, so he can latch on almost instantly. It's not gaudy or showy... people nearby aren't uncomfortable and embarrassed... and it's completely socially acceptable.
Wrong: Out of nowhere, pulling out your lactaid-enhanced giant breast, letting it flop in the breeze while you dig up your newborn and leisurely guide him to the teat. (When I was in 4th grade, at a birthday party, my friend Andrew and I actually witnessed this. Clearly it stuck with me as I now reference it two decades later.)
Your dress catches on fire. So you're at a casual get-together of some kind, enjoying both toast points and talking points, when you back too close to a fondue pot or decorative torch. Suddenly, your dress is on fire, and all of the people pouring their Pellegrino on you are making no progress toward putting it out.
I think at that point, when your life is on the line, it's fine to yank off the dress, even if it means a room full of strangers may see your breasts.
So why is this only the third-classiest occasion? Because a true lady (someone out of the Jane Austen fold) would rather take the disfiguring burns than dare bring her virtue into question.
Posing for an art class. You know how any time, in a sitcom, someone takes their friend to art class, inevitably they're painting someone in the nude that day? What that means to me: Apparently, women are often given the chance to pose nude in front of an art class.
Now... nude women and fine art have been inexorably linked forever, so, really, this isn't that un-classy of a move.
But... to me, it's all about the class. If you're posing for a group of future French masters at a sleepy chateau in the Rhone Alps, that's classy. If you're posing for a group of community college students, one of whom appears to be painting with a hairbrush... yeah.
For a "National Geographic" photographer. Location: Sub-Saharan Africa.
A man exits his mud hut holding a fax.
Man: Hey, I just got word that a photographer from "National Geographic" is coming tomorrow.
Chief elder: OK ladies, you know what that means, no tops tomorrow.
[Ladies all groan]
Chief elder: I know, I know, it's a pain. But we've got to give the people what they want. Before there was an Internet, we were literally the only source for elementary school boys to see breasts. Your breasts guided an entire generation into manhood.
Woman: You're right. Tops off, ladies.
Man: Whoa, not you, Kumai. Your breasts are way too firm and shapely. You go hide. The rest of you, tops off only if your areola has a diameter of at least four inches.
Nude beach. Going nude at a nude beach is a fine line. It's not that un-classy, especially if you're in Europe and everybody's doing it. Plus, in theory, you're not going topless to show off or titillate... you're doing it to eliminate tan lines.
Still, with today's cameras and ever-growing number of perverts, getting nude in public comes with an inherent risk that you're well aware of. And going topless at a nude beach means you've considered that risk, and it doesn't really bother you that much.
Now, I think this is a good time to mention that this list isn't an indictment of public nudity, far from it. I think nude beaches are wonderful. I'm just saying: The classiness divide I've created here centers around whether or not your breast exposure could land you on an amateur porn site. And if it could -- like at a nude beach -- it's got to be on the bad half of this continuum.
Obnoxiously artsy theater. If there's one type of theater that always includes a bonanza of nudity, it's over-the-top "artsy" theater. I put artsy in quotes because it's faux-art... having a bunch of nude women run around the stage while an old man throws cabbage at them, two dwarfs sing about tetherball, fake blood falls from the ceiling and the whole thing ends with the group collectively defecating on a large picture of George Bush... that's not art. That's pablum, and self-indulgence masquerading as art.
So, yeah, don't show your breasts in one of those plays. Even if you're friends with the writer/director. He'll just adjust his turtleneck and go find some other, dumber actress.
Strip club. Yeah, being a stripper isn't high on the list of classy occupations. But at least you're getting PAID to be topless and ogled. Unlike some of the other occasions later on this list...
Flashing at Mardi Gras. I get that New Orleans, Mardi Gras and flashing all go together hand-in-hand. Of course, millions of cameras, video cameras and cell phone cameras are all also part of the scene too.
So whether you do it for attention... out of drunkenness... for that once-in-a-lifetime experience... to get a Girls Gone Wild t-shirt... or because you actually do come from a part of the country where beads can be used as currency... there's probably going to be a permanent record of it somewhere.
Flashing somewhere other than Mardi Gras. At least that's Mardi Gras, though. Which, somehow, makes it slightly more classy than flashing at any of these places: Spring break... a random bar or club... a concert... the infield of any auto or horse racing event... within a ring of Jell-O, pudding or oil... during any contest where the prize is a bar tab or Arby's gift certificate... the Super Bowl halftime show... toward another car on the freeway... rodeo... pro wrestling event... or a wake.
During sex in public. I read an article once that said the most common fantasy is having sex where you could get caught. Which is fine... on the grand spectrum of sexual fantasies, that's so much more socially acceptable than autoerotic asphyxiation or having an octopus tentacle fetish that no one should ever complain.
But... if you actually do get caught by a large group of people, you're never going to find a more embarrassing, less classy moment to have your breasts out in public.
Unless, yeah, you guys get caught again and, this time, you're incorporating a rope and lemon wedge and/or dead squid into your lovemaking.
This post was originally published on Thursday, November 6, 2008 at 12:00:00 PM under the category Dating & Sex.