It was sunny day. I hate to say it, because most stories with happy endings start out by telling you it’s a sunny day, trying to be clever and using the sun smiling down on their world as some quasi-deep metaphor. But, really, it was a sunny day, and that’s what made it all possible.
We were like a scene from the movies. Six young, thin, pretty girls sunbathing in Central Park, with some goofy mom and dad figures to make it just wholesome enough for family viewing. Dad was telling stories about his job and Mom was snapping pictures.
And oh my God, I was topless. We were all topless, except Mom and Dad, who were actually just two good friends who liked to keep their top on and helped us shoo away unwanted attention.
But more importantly, I was topless. Like those girls in Europe who sunbathe without tops and never have tan lines. Actually, one or two of those girls were sitting next to me. One of the girls was from England and had a pretty British accent that made up for her beakish nose. She was so comfortable with her breasts that she hadn’t even worn a bra to travel in.
I couldn’t even make the trek to our picnic spot braless.
For all my ranting about The Evil Patriarchy’s attempts to control my body, I’ve never actually done anything about it. When a cousin mentioned topless sunbathing in Europe, I immediately pictured myself laid out on the beach, reading a book and applying sun block to my breasts without the slightest glance from anyone else. I looked up a list of topless beaches and discounted them quickly once I realized none of them were accessible by train. (A dedicated New Yorker, I refuse to learn how to drive.)
But, Google saves the day! It’s time for me to blow your mind. Are you ready? In New York, women can go topless anywhere a man can. Heck yeah for equality.
And so, I rounded up some adventurous friends of friends of friends and we set the date for the only day that week my iPhone’s weather app didn’t have a stormy cloud with a thunderbolt next to it. The first meeting of the Topless Book Club. I was excited. I was pumped. I was scared shitless.
We all were.
We sat around on our blankets looking conspicuously at each other. A top off there, a string pulled here. But no one was willing to make the plunge alone, so we counted off and unclasped our bra straps and untied our bikini tops and sat frozen, unsure of what would happen next.
I waited for a mill of people to surround us. For women to walk by and call us names. For men to touch us and say skeevy things. But that never came.
The sun kept shining and we were left alone, for the most part.
I’d had the vague sense that I’d feel used, manipulated, and dirty with the girls on display and was only slightly alarmed when I realized I felt so comfortable, I was about to fall asleep. The sun’s warmth, which had felt like a laser when I first took my top off, was tricking me into idleness with it’s soft (non-dirty) caress. I had a book, some water, and a pair of newly acquired sun glasses to hide my identity from any family members wandering through the park. My breasts weren’t sweating against the heavy padding of my bra and I was finally evening out my tan. It was the most relaxed I’d felt since childhood.
It’s on my journey to Sleepy Comfortable Land that I learned just how shameless the male population of NYC can be. Three men came up to us asking for pictures – not only of us, but with us, as well. A French tourist wanted a posed picture of us pointing to something out of frame. One guy came up to us asking to “just hang out.” We decided it was time to move Operation Topless Book Club.
We settled on a grassy patch in Washington Square Park, where the men were much more respectful and chose to do their picture taking from afar. One guy did get a little space-invasion-y with a fellow Topless Book Clubber, but retreated with many an apology after Dad intervened.
I was too blissed out to bother with conversation. I was busy trying to figure out a position that would allow for optimal breast tan-age as well as comfortable reading, while blocking the sun out of my face. I settled for shielding my face with the book, which was surprisingly engrossing, and sacrificing comfort altogether. I read on and hoped that my tan would even out nicely.
Before I knew it, our day was over. But no one seemed in a hurry to get back into their tops, so we lounged around for a few more minutes before deciding we were hungry. In the interest of our stomachs, we put our tops back on and made our way to an early dinner.
Topless sunbathing wasn’t as scary as I thought. Actually, it wasn’t scary at all. Reactions ranged from nothing at all to only slightly creepy. I’d like to attribute the number of men who came up to us as a consequence of our large group, but hopefully that won’t stop the Topless Book Club from striking again. It was the most perfect day I’ve had in a long time.
PS: If you’re ever in New York go to Shade on West 3rd Street. Best. Crepe. Ever.
You can read more from Alana Mohamed on her blog.
Feature image via.