ONE, two, three… now!’ shouted my two girlfriends and I, as we whipped off our bikini tops and jumped into the pool. We were 21 and still a little drunk from the night before when we’d made a pact to go topless. It was Mallorca in the 1990s, so naturally nobody batted an eyelid. Once we’d got over the giggles and our blushes faded, those Kookai bikini tops rarely saw the light of day again.
Earlier this month, island capital Palma introduced a new law banning the baring of boobs if not on the beach. Yep, flashing, stripping or walking around with the pups out is now prohibited and those who flout the rules will be fined up to €3,000 (£2,600).
While I’d be unlikely to stroll bare-breasted around the local supermercado, I’m an advocate of topless sunbathing. It’s not just about the hallowed strap-free tan, more that there’s something incredibly liberating about freeing yourself from your tight bikini and body hang-ups, and feeling the warm sun on your chest.
I’m heading to St Tropez this summer to the same beach where Brigitte Bardot first started the trend for topless sunbathing in 1958. Although my teenage son has threatened to call the authorities if I wear anything skimpier than a burkini, I’m tempted to go topless again.
Bare boobs were a rarity where I grew up on the Sussex coast but our European counterparts have always been wonderfully accepting of hanging loose regardless of age or body shape.
All along the French Riviera, women proudly ping off their bikini tops like Barbara Windsor. My friend Mary remembers the first time she went topless in France after spotting a woman in her late middle-age chatting to two young friends. After the customary kisses on the cheek, the three of them sat together and had a good gossip, not one batting an eyelid at her near-naked form.
Antonia is also a fan. Once scolded for sunbathing topless on Southend beach, she was told to ‘think of her children’, who obviously couldn’t care less. In fact, she met her husband while topless on a beach, and also her in-laws, which was slightly more awks. Former surf chick Annabel also remembers taking a topless stroll on France’s Hossegor beach and posing for a photographer. A year later, her boyfriend spotted (just) her boobs splashed across a surf magazine with the caption, a ‘good swell in Hossegor’.
Away from the beaches, this summer the FOMU photography museum in Antwerp is taking things up a notch and is welcoming naturists to photographer Paul Kooiker’s new exhibition, Untitled (Nude), which explores nudity and voyeurism.
While I’m not quite ready to stroll starkers around the National Gallery, a strap-free tan during the heatwave is all too tempting, so I’m going to crack open the Hawaiian Tropic and pretend it’s the 1990s again.