IMG_3955fIt is of course legal for women to go topless in New York anywhere a man can, and it has been for the past 25 years. That’s true in any of the city’s parks, where men habitually relax topless in the grass or stroll shirtless on the paths…

IMG_3851…and it is also true on the streets of the city, such as the waterfront esplanades at the lower tip of Manhattan. It’s not automatically true in private establishments such as restaurants (which are free to impose a “no shoes, no shirts, no service” policy as long as it’s applied impartially), but any private establishment can permit toplessness if it wishes.

With that in mind, we thought we’d commemorate the winding down of summer with a day in which we did all three: began at midday in a downtown park, then took a long afternoon stroll along the waterside and through the streets of lower Manhattan, and finally sat down in the evening for a group dinner at a friendly establishment that didn’t mind our dining sans chemises.

IMG_4028Joining us for this very special event was our old friend Chelsea Covington, a tireless and passionate advocate for equal rights in general and topfreedom in particular.

IMG_3916Chelsea is the brave soul at the center of the legal case you may have seen in the news regarding women’s rights to go topless on the beach in Maryland. You can find out more on her blog, BreastsAreHealthy, and we very much encourage you to do so. If we haven’t already, she’ll inspire you to take that first step toward topfreedom yourself.

IMG_3938We began our adventure with Chelsea in Rockefeller Park, down at the far west end of Warren Street, with the Hudson River at our backs. At first, when there were only two of us there and he saw us taking off our tops, a park worker came up to us and erroneously claimed that we had to put our shirts back on; we told him he should consult with the police if he didn’t want to take our word for it that the law was on our side. He left.

IMG_4063Later, when there were more of us and we’d spent some time taking pictures of one another, a different park worker approached to ask if we were “doing a photo shoot.” We had the right to be topless, he acknowledged, but photo shoots require permits. We explained that we weren’t “doing a photo shoot,” we were just a group of friends, we had a visitor from out of town whom we don’t see nearly often enough, and of course we wanted to take pictures together, just like anyone else might. Was that a problem?

Well, no — he’d just gotten some complaints from a nearby group with children, and knowing that he couldn’t legally hassle us for being topless was trying desperately to come up with some other pretext for hassling us. But we know our rights and stood up to him, and eventually he left too. (At least this time no actual police showed up.)

In between those encounters, and on either side of them, we had a lovely time in the park — discussed books and politics,

IMG_3859Enjoyed the breezes off the water,

IMG_3932fAnd ate strawberries together with an avian pal.

IMG_3825fIMG_3914cIMG_4024Then the clock chimed four, and with just an hour until our dinner reservation, we began our walk. About which, more anon.

IMG_4084IMG_4095In the meantime, we’ll say this: getting hassled by park personnel is not fun — but it’s one hell of a lot better than being arrested and fined $1,000, which is what can happen to you in Ocean City, MD, if you’re a woman who exposes a nipple on the beach (but not if you’re a man). In New York, we have the law on our side and are merely exercising our rights. Chelsea is out there fighting for them. Our hats — and our tops — are off to her.

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IMG_2872The law in New York says that women have the same right as men do to go bare-chested in public places. Not some women — all women.

IMG_2737Accordingly, we invite all women to join us at our events, regardless of race, age, shape, size, sexuality, religion, or any other attribute. If you’re female,  we welcome you. And you have the same rights as any male.

IMG_2791But not every female feels like she has the same rights, or the same freedom to exercise those rights. So we sometimes take extra pains to encourage those who might feel unsure if the law applies to them, too.

IMG_2751To give one example: we’ve been contacted repeatedly over the years by students — still in school or on summer break — who’ve written things like, “I love and support what your group does, and someday I hope to be able to take part in it.” And when we ask, What’s stopping you? they answer, “I can’t yet…can I?”

IMG_2623Of course they can — if (for instance) a high school senior or college freshman who happens to be male can take his shirt off to play frisbee in Central Park, the law says his classmate who happens to be female can do the same thing. Equal rights for all means equal rights for all. But while male students stride easily around Sheep Meadow with a confidence born of never having questioned their body’s suitability for public display (privilege, anyone?), female students hide and agonize and wish the world were different — or don’t even think to wish that, since they’ve been taught from childhood that their bodies must be covered. The more progressive among them might have a vague sense that at some point it becomes okay for them to take their shirts off too…but when, exactly, they don’t know. When they turn 18? When they turn 20? 21? When they graduate from college? When they’re no longer living under their parents’ roof…?

Our answer: when you want to. And no time like the present.

IMG_2733cSo a few weeks ago we held a special event. We invited two dozen students from schools all around the city to join us for a picnic near the Great Hill in Central Park.  They were joined by a few members of our group who aren’t too far removed from that age group themselves, to help introduce all the first-timers to what we do. It was perfect picnic weather and everyone came prepared to relax and enjoy some time outdoors.

IMG_2440IMG_2459IMG_2671There were books to read–

IMG_2742IMG_2538There were snacks to eat.

IMG_2695-rIMG_2726We all introduced ourselves, and discovered just how much we had in common. (This despite the group randomly being one of the most diverse we’ve ever assembled.)

IMG_2857IMG_2883IMG_2663IMG_2889And we did all of this bare from the waist up. Not one passer-by complained or gave us a hard time or did anything to make us uncomfortable. In that regard, it was no different from most of the other events we’ve held in parks around town over the past seven summers. But what made it different was that almost everyone there was bare-chested in public for the first time — and that many of the participants, if you’d asked them a few weeks earlier, would probably have said they weren’t even sure they were allowed to do it. This was liberation in a very literal sense.

IMG_2534IMG_2539After the event, we asked everyone who took part if they wanted to share any thoughts about what the experience was like. Here are some examples of what people said:

The event was amazing. To me going topless outside in a public place felt wonderful. I’ve never felt more at peace with myself. It was so relaxing to be in a judgment-free zone where everyone can be comfortable with their bodies and not feel ashamed….I love the fact that it’s legal for a female to walk around topless just like men. It sucks that not as many girls are aware that it is legal and most girls are “embarrassed” about their bodies. Overall girls should be able to do the same things boys do, like being topless without caring what people think/say. 

IMG_2842It was my first time going completely shirtless today and at first i was really nervous but i wanted to do this because girls should have the right to. So many people making a big deal about it. It seems like the norm is to sexualize everything that’s natural. I would love to do this again because it made me feel confident. 

IMG_2720It was definitely a fun and new experience for me! Overall I was surprised by how normal it all felt. I just hung out with my friends in the park like I always do and I enjoyed the freedom of it. I do think it’s important for women to know their rights on this issue especially considering how hot and humid it can get in New York, and how ultimately it is really not a big deal.

IMG_2796I was so pleasantly surprised at how natural it felt to be in a park, topless. Being surrounded by so many other beautiful smiling women helped ease the initial shock of showing up alone to a topless picnic in the park. I’ve gone topless on beaches in parts of Europe, but never in the United States so it felt good to apply the NY law to reality and take my top off! I very much look forward to doing it again!

IMG_2562The girls were very sweet and I really liked the event. Although girls in general can be very competitive and judgmental, these women were very accepting towards each other’s different body types and were able to have great conversations regardless of them meeting a few hours ago! Everyone was so comfortable and open amongst each other. They were topless for non-sexual reasons which made it empowering and I think more women should try it. 

IMG_2876It was so nice being able to let loose with my fellow ladies; definitely took me out of my comfort zone for a little bit, but still a great time! 

IMG_2646I was initially really nervous about this event. I wasn’t sure how comfortable I’d feel being topless or if the experience would be awkward or not. When I arrived, however, I felt welcomed by the group and soon I didn’t feel awkward at all. Everyone was very kind and the good conversation quickly took my mind off of the fact that I was topless. By the end of the first half hour, I felt quite comfortable and I was no longer self conscious. I honestly believe that every woman should experience being topless at least once, to dispel any concern or apprehension about it. This event marked my first time going topless, but I very well may do it again in the future. 

IMG_2868Listen to what they’re saying: It felt natural, normal, non-judgmental. It made me feel confident. How can anyone hear these women’s voices and not recognize that this is an unambiguously good thing, a healthy thing, a healing thing?

IMG_2556In our opinion, a topless field trip to Central Park should be part of the curriculum of every school in the city. This is how you raise well-adjusted, healthy girls and self-confident young women, ones who respect their own bodies and each others’.

But until the School Chancellor shares our point view (and we’re not holding our breath), we’re proud to do our part.

IMG_2551And so we say to the female students of New York (as we do to every other group of women in the city): the law does apply to you. Women’s rights are your rights. Be smart, be safe — but be confident too, and don’t let anyone tell you your body is one iota less prideworthy than your brothers’.

And if you need help taking the leap for the first time, we’re here for you. Just email us at toplesspulpfiction@gmail.com. You’ll be out in nature in no time — and you’ll wonder what took you so long.

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IMG_3181Followers of this blog will have noticed that we don’t go to the beach a lot. That’s not because we don’t like beaches — we love them. But New York City makes it easy to go to the park and hard to go to the beach. Few of us have cars, for one thing, and getting to the beach is a lot easier with one.

But at least once each summer, we make a point of going. Last summer we braved the hour-long subway ride and the siren song of funnel cake vendors to go to Coney Island, and this past week we went to Riis Beach.

IMG_3103Now, Riis is famous, but few of us had ever been. It’s a right pain to get to — in the end, we wound up hiring a bus to take us there and back. And once you’re there, there’s not much in the way of amenities. A few food vendors on the boardwalk, some fenced-in fields, an abandoned nursing home building for atmosphere.

IMG_2938But…what an amazing beach it is!

IMG_3145Who knew that one hour out of Manhattan there’s a beach that’s as free and loose and casual as you’d find on the coast of Spain or a Greek island or either Riviera (French or Maya)? The sand was packed the day we went — one of the nicest weekend days all summer — but everywhere people were relaxing and getting along, and at least on the eastern end where we set up our towels, as many women were topless as not.

IMG_3412IMG_3555IMG_3057How wonderful, for once, not to be the only ones! Not that we really mind when we are — it’s ok, as long as no one bothers us. But how wonderful to look around and see all sorts of women confidently baring their breasts, and no one thinking anything of it!

IMG_3294So we staked out a little patch of sand for ourselves and lost no time in stripping down to as little as we could get away with.

IMG_2919IMG_2949IMG_2988Not to be undone, one of the three boys we had with us this time decided to rock a gold-sequined C-string, which was the hit of the beach until he made the mistake of wearing it into the water. Hello, wave; goodbye, C-string.

IMG_9912The water was lovely. Choppy, yes, some giant waves, but cold and refreshing and we took many long swims…

IMG_3576IMG_3006…then walked the length of the beach after to dry off.

IMG_3411The beach does have a more “bohemian” (aka, gay) section and a slightly more conservative (aka, straight) section, and we probably got a few more looks when we strayed from one to the other. But just curiosity, not hostility. No catcalls, nothing to break the lovely mood of the day, even when we moved from the sand to the boardwalk.

IMG_3374Back at our towels, we got some reading done. (No, Invisible Man doesn’t count as pulp fiction — it wasn’t the H.G. Wells version! — and neither does The New Yorker, but cut us some slack. We like to read a variety…)

IMG_3500IMG_3227IMG_3219And for those who didn’t bring reading material? There was sun, sun sun.

IMG_3260IMG_3319IMG_3463IMG_3095Eventually 5pm arrived, and our bus with it. We took one last dip…

IMG_3037IMG_3519…then packed our things, bid a rueful adieu to the sand and sun, and motored back to Manhattan.

Would we do it again? Oh, in a heartbeat. It’s tempting to go every week! Yes, Gunnison lets you go fully nude, which would be an improvement; Riis has a history of being used nude, but that was in the 60s and 70s, and the world is more censorious about such things now. (Unless the ocean eats your swimsuit, people understand that!) But Riis more than makes up for it with the warmth of the crowd, the quality of the scenery, and the relative ease of access (Gunnison is in New Jersey, a 50% longer drive). And you really couldn’t ask for a better place to relax with friends.

IMG_3597Probably this was our only beach trip for this summer, but if you’d be excited about joining us for another, we can consider it — just send email to toplesspulpfiction@gmail.com and let us know.  August is beach weather too, after all.

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IMG_3732When we sunbathe topless in the park or take our shirts off in some other public place on a 90-degree day, it has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with comfort and equality. We like wearing less when it’s hot out than when it’s cold; stripping off a sweaty t-shirt to lie in the grass or play frisbee or enjoy the spray from a fountain isn’t a sexual act when we do it any more than when a man does. We work hard to make this distinction clear: nudity does not equal sex, and the two should not be confused or conflated.

That said, most of us do also like sex.

So we were cautiously receptive when we were contacted recently by several alumnae of Betty Dodson’s famous Bodysex workshop, which has been teaching women to explore their own bodies and their sexuality for something like fifty years. (Betty Dodson herself is close to 90 years old, and still going strong.) There was a Bodysex reunion being held near NYC, and some of the participants were followers of our group, and they asked if they might come to one of our events while they were in town. Of course we said yes, and invited them to join us on our favorite private rooftop sundeck.

Now, normally the privacy we enjoy there only means we get to sunbathe fully nude rather than merely topless. But this time it meant something more, since our visitors promised to share some of their practice with us, and their practice includes group masturbation and shared orgasm.

How many of us had ever masturbated in a group before? Not many. But we’re open-minded and very much pro-orgasm and sex-positive, so we decided we’d give it a try.

IMG_3746In all, between the Bodysex alums and us there were a dozen people on the roof. Some were first-timers, some long-time members; eleven were women, one was a man.

IMG_3759IMG_3712IMG_3660We began by sharing our groups’ respective stories, and some fresh fruit, white wine, and mimosas to go with them. (What story doesn’t go better with a mimosa?)

IMG_3681cAfter that, we shifted from the couches and lounge chairs to the floor of the roof and the dozen comfy soft towels Amazon had thoughtfully shipped us the day before.

IMG_3709We had a selection of toys to choose from — ones that vibrated, ones that pulsed, ones that sucked — and enough bottles of lube to stock a medium-sized pharmacy. (What’s the difference between a lubricant that “Arouses and intensifies” and one that “Arouses and releases”? We figured we’d find out.)

IMG_3655Someone in the group had an iPhone with a relevant Spotify playlist (“30 All-Time Greatest Songs to Masturbate To“)…

IMG_3794…and someone else had a bluetooth speaker. Connections were made. The mood was set. The moment of truth arrived. So we took off any clothes we still had on, laid back, spread our legs and dove in.

IMG_3750A word about masturbation: it’s nothing to be shy about, certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes the best orgasm you can have is one you give yourself. Learning how to pleasure yourself can also help you learn how to have more satisfying sex with a partner — but it doesn’t have to be about that. The self-administered orgasm (like the self-portrait, or self-hypnosis) can be an end in itself. Masturbation isn’t anything to apologize for. We all do it, women and men, and when we do it right it’s wonderful.

Yesterday, it was wonderful.

IMG_3779It didn’t hurt that the weather was perfect for it, sunny and clear — we gave ourselves orgasms under the bluest of skies and the whitest of fluffy white clouds. The air was deliciously warm against our skin.

IMG_3742Was it strange doing something so intimate and private in a group, a number of whom were meeting each other for the first time? A little. But remember, a lot of people also say that baring your breasts is something intimate and private that shouldn’t be done in a public place or in front of someone you don’t know well. People who say that are wrong — so why should we take as a given that they’re right about masturbation having to be solitary?

IMG_3738It helped that while the act was sexual, it was not sexualized. We weren’t performing, we weren’t ogling each other or being ogled (or watched at all, really; our eyes mostly slid shut as we went to somewhere special in our own headspace). We were just friends enjoying ourselves together, feeling beautiful sensations, and sharing that experience — as one member put it the next day, it was less like a sex party than like a wine tasting, only with orgasms instead of wine. And what fine vintages we uncorked.

IMG_3763And then, soon enough — too soon — it was over. We came, we relaxed, we caught our breath. We marveled at this thing we’d just done. Did everyone have a blissful smile on her face, or did it just feel that way?

IMG_3671We all felt really nice, that’s for sure. And our ordinary event started up again. We ate grapes, chatted, joked. Shared our addresses with each other so we could stay in touch. IMG_3730

Eventually, the Bodysex folk headed off to catch their planes home, like magical sex fairies who’d done their job.

Will we ever do it again? Who knows? Certainly not in the middle of Central Park, where going topless means nothing more than that it’s hot out, and neither women nor men are free to engage in sexual acts. But on some wintry afternoon perhaps, in a private room at our favorite spa? Or if one of us has a big enough apartment and enough cushy throw rugs? Why not?

Our group is not about sex, and what we do as a matter of course is not sexual.

This was sexual.

Maybe now people will have an easier time seeing the difference.

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IMG_2089Back in the day, when John Lennon lived in New York, the story goes that he’d come to a little lawn in Central Park, near the Dakota Apartments where he lived, to walk with his wife or listen to music or just zone out. After his death, the city of New York renamed the area “Strawberry Fields” after one of his most famous songs, and with help from his family turned the spot into a living memorial, beautifully landscaped and sheltered.

IMG_1887It’s one of our favorite places in the park now. The lush grass is so welcoming; you can feel yourself relaxing as soon as you lie down in it. And though it’s in sight of one of the busier intersections in the park, so you never feel isolated or cut off from the city, it’s set apart enough that half a dozen women can go topless without exciting anyone’s notice. You never feel alone, but you don’t feel surrounded, either. Really a perfect blend of out-in-nature and still-in-the-thick-of-things.

IMG_2224We went on a weekday, so it was less crowded, but it was a gorgeous weekday, so anyone who could get out of work was enjoying the great outdoors. (Along with all of Manhattan’s tourists, who are always around.) We had several first-timers meet us, which took a bit of work since as famous as it is, the actual lawn isn’t all that easy to find. (There are a lot of lawns in the area.)

IMG_2010IMG_2206IMG_1999But eventually everyone found it, and found us.

IMG_2027We relaxed with books…

IMG_1964-FIMG_2134IMG_2329…with strawberry cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery…

IMG_1868IMG_1872-FIMG_1877-F…with silly boobs-pressed-together selfies…

IMG_2185IMG_1993…and just with the excellent company of good friends.

IMG_2271And as we did this, the world and all its troubles (which, heaven knows, are many and grave) receded, so that for a brief moment we had none — no world, no troubles. Like the man wrote, nothing to get hung about.

IMG_2050We like to imagine (see what we did there?) that this might be what it was like for John Lennon too, on his days off, wandering in the park. Everyone needs time to breathe. We’re grateful to have gotten both respiration and inspiration this week.

IMG_2100If you’re feeling in need of either, or both, why don’t you join us sometime? We welcome all body-positive women, timid or bold, eager or just curious. Write to us at toplesspulpfiction@gmail.com. We promise: In the late Mr. Lennon’s honor, we’ll help you free your mind.

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IMG_1212Most places in New York look like they’re in New York. Even most places in Central Park do. You don’t have to look far to see tall buildings, or crowds of people, or to hear traffic rushing by on the nearest pavement, honking as it goes. But there are some spots, small and secluded, where the city retreats — or is held at bay, almost as if by an invisible protective shield, like the one protecting Themyscira in Wonder Woman.

IMG_1171IMG_1357One of these is our secret meadow up near the north end of Central Park. We won’t say any more about where to find it, since we’re happy for it to remain our little secret. But passers-by are few and if you lie in the grass you see nothing but blue sky, hear nothing but nature. And we happily took full advantage of being alone in nature.

IMG_1465IMG_0912cWe sketched each other (even when a butterfly landed on our artist’s sketchpad).

IMG_0984IMG_1279IMG_1006We partook of baked goods from the 100-year-old Orwashers bakery.

IMG_0995We posed dramatically against an imposing boulder.

IMG_0864We read — of course we read.

IMG_1418IMG_0900And we inducted a couple of first-timers into our sorority of kickass bare-breasted amazons. (While we’re on the subject, why weren’t Wonder Woman’s people topless in the movie? You live on a tropical island with nothing but women around, and not one of you takes her top off? We call b.s.)

IMG_1410IMG_1464IMG_1308At one point some teenagers came by to smoke pot on a nearby rock ledge — secret meadows have other uses too. But for the most part we had the place to ourselves, and what a lovely afternoon it was!

IMG_1436IMG_1438Would you like to be one of our first-timers next time? If you’re a body-positive woman in the NYC area, send us an email at toplesspulpfiction@gmail.com. August is almost upon us, and September coming hard on her heels — don’t let the summer pass you by. You can be a bare-breasted amazon too!

Join us. You deserve to have an afternoon lying fearless and proud and laughing in the sun.

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IMG_1625For the fourth time in four years, a group of more than 100 artists and models congregated in a public place in New York City — this time, it was in Washington Square Park — to demonstrate that art can take many forms, that the human body can also take many forms, that that the human body is nothing to be ashamed of, and that a naked human body can be an aesthetic object, not only or always a sexual one.

IMG_1559IMG_1650IMG_1743The artists came from all over the United States and all over the world — Japan, Russia, Latvia. Texas. Brooklyn. The models came in all sizes, shapes, ages, races, genders.

IMG_1648IMG_1679IMG_1774IMG_1513The theme this year was a broad one — just one word, Humanity. Nothing that would constrain an artist unduly, but a wonderful jumping-off point for art meant to celebrate what we have in common and our capacity for kindness, thoughtfulness, and decency.

Yes, decency — though five dozen naked bodies were uncovered in a public place, in front of thousands of passers-by, it was decency, not indecency, that was on display.

IMG_1688While some in the crowd showed confusion at first, by far the most common reaction was a smile. Some people we spoke to expressed wonder that an event like this was permitted, but they were overwhelmingly enthusiastic and supportive. A few expressed interest in coming back as models or painters next summer. And they’ll be welcomed gladly.

IMG_1622Some of our members made appearances under the paint–

IMG_1728–while for other models this was their first time standing nude in front of strangers.

IMG_1549IMG_1666IMG_1827And because this was an artistic exhibition, nude meant nude, not just topless — the ordinary restrictions on public nudity don’t apply when you’re creating art. Which meant that thousands of people got to see that a vulva or penis is just a body part like a nose or an elbow, not something you need to shield your eyes from.

(Not to put too fine a point on it, but it’s awfully rare to see a penis presented in public in anything other than a hostile way, as an act of aggression or an attempt to provoke shock, fear or disgust. How wonderful to see penises in their natural state, just there between a man’s legs, doing no harm to anyone, and not meant to do any harm.)

IMG_1805IMG_1653IMG_1821IMG_1834IMG_1641Vaginas, of course, by their nature, are harder to display and to paint, but we proudly salute all our sisters and their marvelous multicolored labia.

IMG_1721IMG_1697IMG_1800But the focus wasn’t on any body part — it was on the totality of the human canvas and what art can be birthed from and upon it. We remain in awe of some of the gorgeous creations we saw, including the ones we saw on our own bodies.

IMG_1668IMG_1664And for all those of you who supported the event, or came to it, or participated in it — thank you.

We appreciate, and gratefully salute, your humanity.

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