Where I swim, the showers are “mixte”, which is to say men and women shower together so it is “interdit” (not permitted) to take off your bathing suit. This makes sense to me not so much from a prude’s point of view but more from a why-unnecessarily-increase-the-incidence-of-public-boners perspective. After finishing my swim and entering the shower, imagine my surprise at being greeted by two sudsy breasts standing next to their husband. I felt as if I had unknowingly answered a Craigslist ad and was about to have my first clean orgy.
The first time this happened (the exposed breasts, not the orgy) I tried to pretend, no big deal and began to rinse off, but I felt uncomfortable, not because there were two bare boobs next to me but because these boobs were with their husband. The man is what made it weird. Their display felt exhibitionistic and aggressive. Call me American but there is something sexual about a man showering in public with his half-naked wife. I was annoyed, left the showers and went upstairs to change in the individual locked cabins provided for this purpose.
Boobs Take 2: Last week the pool closed early so everyone ended up in the shower together—the woman wearing half her suit, her husband, three other men and two women including me. It was a regular shower party. Everyone, except Boobsie, wore their suit. It was like one of those what’s-wrong-with-this-picture pictures from the magazine Highlights, where a giraffe wears headphones and a duck watches TV.
When Boobsie finished showering she walked over to the opposite wall where a gray-haired man was hanging his towel. She stood about a foot from him and chitchatted while rubbing her hair dry, the result of which sent her breasts swinging vigorously from left to right as if they, too, couldn’t keep up with all the excitement. Finally, she wrapped herself in a very short, white robe and removed her suit altogether.
When I told this story to Americans I inevitably got, “Isn’t that French?” But when I surveyed French men* they all said, “That’s weird,” followed by, “which pool?”
I find this divided Franco-American response weird.
According to a July 2014 article in Le Figaro (with other online mentions as early as 2010), “les seins nus sur les plages n’étaient plus à la mode” (topless sunbathing is no longer fashionable). Several reasons, in the following order, were cited: it was considered passé and “cheesy” (generational), a skin cancer risk and went against religious beliefs.
So to recap: (six) Americans think if your breasts are French and you are in France you can flash them with abandon, but this is all theoretical because the French now think such behavior is inappropriate. But if your breasts are American you can’t flash them anywhere (even though you think it’s ok for the French to do so) unless those American breasts are drunk at say a Mardi Gras parade or a let’s-pretend-we’re-pre-2010-French party. I don’t even want to get into the rules for multi-cultural breasts. Makes my head spin just thinking about it. I’m just glad to know that what inherently struck me as odd has been independently verified as odd. An intuition check, if you will, clarifying the general order of things because if previously private activities like showering half-naked with your spouse are now publicly acceptable what’s next? Take your carbuncle to work day?
*Merci Guillaume, Pascal, Xavier, Thierry and Antonin
Laurie Frankel is a guest blogger for TreeHouse Arts. As a writer and humorist, Frankel knows pain is the root of all comedy and is thrilled her life is so damn funny. Her literary work has appeared in Shenandoah, The Literary Review, Sequestrum, North American Review, Belleville Park Pages, Alaska Quarterly Review and New Orleans Review among others. Her books include “I Wore a Thong for This?!” and “There’s a Pattern Here & It Ain’t Glen Plaid.”: “. . . laugh-out-loud funny . . . great practical suggestions . . . A quirky, earnest guide to regaining self-esteem for the modern woman.” — Kirkus Reviews. She is the winner of the 2014 Time and Place Prize, Brittany France and the 2014 Walker Percy Prize in Short Fiction. Visit her blog at Frankely My Dear.