I am twenty years old, and I am lying on the beach in Italy. I’m here on scholarship for a five-week-long chamber music festival, and it is weekend number five.

My last chance.

My last chance to see if I have the balls to go topless on the beach, right out in the open, and not drunk this time like at Mardi Gras freshman year.

The sun is shining, the seagulls are squawing, and I smell like coconuts. It is a perfect day. I’m a little sweaty, but it’s the hot and sexy kind of sweaty, more of a glisten really, because hello, I’m twenty. I look around all sneaky-like to do a head count of the other topless ladies. About a third of the women on the beach are topless, and the ones who are wearing tops appear to be doing so only because their bikinis are just that cute. This ratio feels like a reasonable assurance that I can discard my top and not feel totally out of place.

Also, I am pleased to note that we’re not dealing with a bunch of Pamela Anderson types. Just regular everyday sets of tatas ranging from mangoes to mosquito bites. My own set is rather insignificant, and thus unlikely to draw any more attention than the others I am now brazenly ogling. One woman catches me staring and I quickly turn away, feeling like a huge pervert. Do men feel such remorse?

Next head count: How many men are staring at the topless women?

Zero. Nobody seems to give a crap. So, it’s really possible for dudes to be within a quarter mile radius of boobs and not lose their minds? Huh. This is new information for me. I am fascinated.

My heart performs an impressive drum roll. I lift up off my towel and prepare to untie my straps. I’m with a friend and, oddly, I do not want her to see my boobs. I’d rather strangers see. Seems less embarrassing. I turn my back to my friend and she averts her eyes in an effort to respect my insane logic. I am appreciative.

There. It’s done. My boobs are out. In view of the sky and clouds and whatever body of water that is over there and ohmigod, all these people. I haven’t felt this exposed since my last pap smear. No, wait – I have never felt this exposed. A breeze, if you can imagine, a real, made-by-Mother Nature breeze is blowing right on my boobs. On my nipples! Gah! How strange.

I get up from my towel thinking, I’ll just go for a dip in the sea like an ordinary woman who is accustomed to going topless on the beach because there is totally nothing at all extraordinary about being topless. I am so cool. I am the coolest. Yes, I will take a dip and then I can sink into the water up to my shoulders and hide my boobies, and this horrible exercise in audaciousness and self-acceptance will finally be over.

So even though my heart is slamming against my ribcage, I try to be cool, try to act like I do this every day. But… something gives me away.

“One of these topless sunbathers is not like the others.”

Maybe it’s because of my shifty eyes, darting from one person to the next to see if anyone is watching my boobs and me as we waddle awkwardly towards the water. Maybe it’s because I’m standing just a little too straight in my effort to look chill and unaffected. Or maybe it’s because my boobs are blinding white against the surrounding tan skin of the rest of my body, a pair of triangle-shaped islands floating on a coffee sea, a screaming beacon advertising: FIRST TIME TOPLESS!!! YOUNG VIRGIN BOOBIES!!!!

I’m not sure exactly what it is, but something certainly makes me stand apart. I know this because my frantic eyes soon land on a thick pudge of a man, middle-aged, hairy as a sasquatch, and…leering.

He is open-mouth grinning with his tongue lolling out and his head nodding enthusiastically. He raises his hands with his palms facing each other and I think Holy shit, is he going to CLAP? Oh hellllll no. I turn around and—whoops, my friend totally just saw my boobs—head for my beach towel and the two triangular scraps that will restore my dignity. I fight the urge to put my hands over my adorable little nipples and sprint to my top, as I know doing this will only draw more attention and, possibly, laughter.

Yep, I am done with my bare boob experiment. I want out. I cry uncle.

topless beach Italy
Gahhhh, I’m outta here!

I sit on my towel and put my top back on as nonchalantly as possible, as if it had always been in the plan to take my top off, walk halfway to the water, do a one-eighty and come back and put my top on again. Yeah, that’s right, beachgoers of Italy, I totally planned to do it that way. I sit on my beach towel and listen to my heartbeat roar in my ears while I gulp down that horrible lump that appears in your throat when you’re mortified. I vow never to show my boobs in public again.

One day many years later, bucket lists will become a thing. I will make one for myself. I will write on it:

Go topless on the beach.

And then I will cross that fucker out.

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  1. You’re braver than I am. I had two opportunities…if you can call them that. lol One was a Rainbow Gathering HA! and the other was a topless beach in the Caribbean. I chickened out both times. So kudos to you for giving it a shot.

  2. Brave. I would have to undergo a long series of affirmations before ever doing that. “My breasts are beautiful, they don’t look like tiny ski jumps”.
    Mmmm. Never going to happen!

  3. Good for you for trying it though! I don’t think I woulda had the guts at 20, now pfft probably but that’s because I have been desensitized by my kids, doctors, and life in general.

  4. I did this too at 20 in Nice. I felt odd, doing it but we did it every time we went. The only ones ogling seemed to be American boys leering from street level. Got used to it and it was no big deal. I was very conspicuous too b/c I am black. My friend though, who had big babas, didn’t do too well with the sunscreen and burned the crap out of her rack. Then, on the rest of the trip, when we got back to our hotels she’d unhook her bra, lie down and let her girls free. My other friend and I got so sick of seeing her sunburned boobies all the time!

  5. I remember eons ago when I was in HS as a member of a Youth Conservation Corps team in Ak, we bathed in lakes. There were 3 or 4 girls in our group and a lot of boys. One day, the boys decided to prank us and steal our clothes. Us gals shrieked and hid in the water, the adult leader stood up tall and threatened those boys with their lives if they didn’t drop those clothes right now and leave. We thought she was amazing. The boys dropped the loot, left quickly, and everything was fine. But, normal topless? not in a crowd that has anything larger than a robin in it!

  6. I guess I’m the opposite of you. I did the topless beach thing twice in early college. Once at South Beach while on a school-sponsored trip to Miami (no, the actual beach time wasn’t school sponsored, just a group of us decided to go). It was even a mixed group (guys and girls), and one girl got totally pissed off because her boyfriend kept staring at me. The other was Cancun spring break. Now, I’m the ripe old age of 29, more confident in virtually every category of life, but seriously doubt I would take off the top at the beach. I guess the old saying is true — you get more conservative as you get older.

  7. Just came out of a Pridefest, amd I was practically topless. No one leers! You were just at the wrong place at the wrong time.

  8. Courtney

    I’ve never been topless in public. I don’t know if I’d ever have the guts to do that?
    It’s funny that you say that you’d rather have strangers see you than your friend because I’m like that too.
    The showers at the gym that I go to are all in one big room with no stalls, just shower heads lined up on the wall. I have no problem at all with showering buck naked in front of female strangers at the gym, or in front of my gym-only friends because we’ve been naked around each other from day 1 of my going to the gym. But I hate to be naked or even just topless in front of women that I know like my friends or my sister.
    My best friend Sarah is the exact opposite, she has no problem being buck naked in front of me, but she refuses to ever be naked in front of women that she’s not friends with or related to.
    Sarah and I went swimming together once at my gym with her as my guest. When it was time to hit the showers after our swim she would not shower in the nude because she won’t get naked in front of strangers, and I didn’t want her to see me naked unless it was just a quick glance out of the corner of her eye, so we showered on the opposite ends of the rows of showers. She thought that I was insane for asking her to shower away from me. She figures that it’s your girlfriends that you should be comfortable being naked in front of, not strangers.

  9. I am an Interventional Radiologist and have stuck countless needles and wires in breasts. Most I really do not care to look at, but I do like female anatomy. Once you have seen them it is not a big deal. Just be yourself. Do what you want. You probably would not like to see me naked though. No big deal, if you know what I mean. I do have a sense of humor. Don’t worry, my wife is a lawyer.