As a young woman, I was always intimidated by the myth of the French Mediterranean coast. In my mind’s eye, it was filled with beautiful people, most of whom went topless and tanned to the colour of a chestnut. Urban intellectual men seemed to value these women has higher, freer versions of those women who preferred to wear their swimsuits (especially if they were north American, so easily pegged as prudish anyway). Europeans can be so condescending. Don’t we know.
So, I had been wondering if I would be expected to doff my top and, at way past 35, wander about pretending I was comfortable. I had already been anticipating my inner dialogues, my discussions with our children, and my reactions to my husband.
Here I am at the coast, and of approximately 500 women on the beach in front of me, three are topless. Interesting. What has changed? Is it the working class tenor to the families? Would it be different in St. Tropez? I have to say, isn´t the whole point to either look at pretty breasts, or to pretend not to look at pretty breasts? To be above such behavior, or to accept it without moral valuation?
I have also noticed that tanning itself is no longer as popular as it was in my youth. Bathers here spray their children with sun lotion with great care. Umbrellas are everywhere. There are a few very brown bodies, but my own northern paleness is not as conspicuous as anticipated. There are many other ivory sunbathers. Most of the beach guests pack up at 12:30 and return again after 3.