img_4025Two summers ago, we met a funny, smart, beautiful woman named Mara Altman, who said she was writing a book about women’s bodies in general and her body in particular. She wanted to see what our events were like in preparation for writing the chapter about breasts. We were delighted to have her join us.

img_3582Now, after a gestation period that would do an elephant proud, Mara has published that book: GROSS ANATOMY, subtitled “Dispatches From the Front (and Back).” And sure enough, it has a chapter about breasts, and the baring thereof in public, focused on a topless bicycle tour we did in downtown Manhattan. It is thoughtful, eye-opening, and laugh-out-loud funny, and we commend both it and the rest of the book to your attention.

img_3587“When I’d thought about participating,” Mara writes, “the possible pitfalls had seemed huge. What if I changed careers? Say someday I want to be a politician. I’m running on a ticket of universal health care and weekly pizza parties for all, but then, during opposition research, a picture of my bare tits bobbling above a bicycle is revealed. I am no longer fit to serve. Keeping fabric less than a millimeter thick between your body and the world somehow preserves your integrity and makes you honorable, respectable, and capable of deep thoughts. Taking that little swatch of material away makes you a hussy.”

img_3607But of course she goes ahead and joins us anyway. “We rode through Battery Park and stopped in view of the Statue of Liberty, where one of the girls — one of the ones who had breasts that I wouldn’t mind having (it was something about the perkiness, the lightheartedness of the pair, like they were tulips reaching for the light in the sky) — read Emma Lazarus’s sonnet ‘The New Colossus.’ ”

img_3683“We made a quick stop at the New York Stock Exchange, which was filled with men in suits, but what really stood out were the many tourists aiming their cameras at us. Our meaningful movement, to them, was merely a stunt to document on their Instagram feed.”

img_3701img_3694“I saw interest, shock, disdain, adoration, and curiosity on the faces that flashed past. Many, hordes in fact, turned their phones toward us and began recording. I got it; usually, viewing this kind of stuff costs money and endless viruses on one’s computer. I tried to be chill…But every time a camera pointed in our direction, one of the girls, the one who had grandiose breasts, large and pillowlike, the type I’d decided would be perfect to rest my face in for a quick respite from the world, would yell, ‘Fuck you, you have to ask!’…I didn’t share her sentiment. Going outside topless would be like going out with a pair of parrots chanting ‘I like big butts and I cannot lie’ while fornicating on your shoulder, and expecting witnesses not to snap a picture. It wasn’t realistic.”

IMG_4092She writes about the experience of shopping for a sandwich in a shop whose staff isn’t receptive; she writes about eating lunch in the park, with a break for kickball with some kids.

img_3827IMG_3955img_3891Finally when a brief rain shower breaks out, she has an epiphany: “As little droplets pinged pleasingly all over my body, I finally realized an interesting change — my breasts, in that moment , weren’t for anyone but me. I hadn’t really dwelled on it before, but since my beginning, my breasts have always been for someone else. When I was a teenager, I wanted my breasts to grow so I’d be attractive to boys. When my breasts turned out small, I felt it was my duty to warn boys before they went under my half-filled bra cups so they wouldn’t be disappointed by what they found. For doctors, my breasts were something that could potentially turn lethal. For the babies I may have one day, they would be a source of food…Being topless is always a stop on the way to somewhere else — to a shower, to a breast exam, to sex — but it is rarely the destination in and of itself. By exposing my breasts to everything and everyone in one of the largest cities in this nation, paradoxically I finally got a taste of what it was like to relish them for myself.”

IMG_4055We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Hell, we couldn’t have said it half as well.

Check out what else this eloquent topless bicyclist has to say  here — and let us be the first to say this: Mara Altman for President in 2020.

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