My Topless Italian Friend—America’s Enemy?

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After two days of teaching in Croatia, I’m taking a couple of days to relax in northeastern Italy before teaching in Germany and New York.

Two Italian friends took me to Grado, the seaside town that started as a maritime possession of Imperial Rome, and three centuries later gave Christianity to Venice. I was looking forward to a long walk on one of the Adriatic’s rare sandy beaches.

We drove to the shore, parked the car, and walked two minutes. Once on the sand, Marina took off her shirt. She had nothing under it. Our colleague Roberto hardly seemed to notice–but I, um, well, ah, “what are you doing?” I asked dumbly. “It’s the beach,” she replied, “if this bothers you…” Fortunately, I was able to cope.

Fortunately, because there were other topless women on the beach. Young, old, older. Tall, short, wide, very wide. Neither they nor the people with them seemed to notice, much less care. Even better, the kids around them ignored the various breasts around them, caring about much more important things like ice cream and hitting their younger brothers.

I looked at a few dozen breasts lounging, walking, and swimming around. Some were more entertaining than others, for sure. And after roughly three minutes, none were as entertaining as the conversation with Marina and Roberto about the 16th-century competition between the Hapsburg and Venetian Empires.

So without the challenge of looking down anyone’s blouse, through the armholes of tank tops, or attempting to use x-ray vision to see through sweaters, the various Italian breasts on display lost most of their sexual aura. They were as pleasant-looking as the sea and the palm trees. Nice, that’s all.

As normal as it was here in Grado, how deeply different the scene was from U.S. beaches. America’s problem starts with the belief that all female breasts are sexual (except Mother Mary’s, of course), and continues with the superstition that sexuality is dangerous for children.

At a time when American women are being prevented from breast-feeding in public, and photos of mothers and their children nude together are considered child abuse or child porn, the normal toplessness of European beaches is an affront to everything American “morality” groups believe. A field trip to Italy would open their American eyes.

I’ll tell you what did keep catching my eye at the beach long after the breasts lost their novelty: the exotic sight of women’s unshaved underarms–mile after mile of them!

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