I’m a lot more likely to be found on a beach in the north of England or the Belgian coast than in the Mediterranean – and it’s usually a bit chilly there without a thermal windproof rain jacket never mind without a bikini top, yet regardless of the weather topless sunbathing has always been a bit of a minefield to me.

My initial reaction is not one of complete horror yet at the same time I’m not going to purposely neglect to pack the top half of my bikini any time soon – partly because many of my beach holidays involve my entire extended family (parents, siblings, grandparents, auntie’s etc.) and we’re close but not that close, and partly because personally I’m just not that cool with baring all on my summer holiday.

Yet occasionally my inner mini feminist screams for me to let everything be free as lets face it no one bats an eyelid when men wander around without a t-shirt. Why shouldn’t we have the same liberty as them? I mean girls, even Pippa Middleton’s known to be partial sunbathe sans le haut so if semi-royalty are comfortable with why should I be able to embrace it?

From what I’ve experienced on my travels sunbathing topless is a French/Spanish thing, whilst wandering around butt naked is more of a German/Austrian thing. Yet in saying that one of my fellow German Travelettes says that she’s “one of those Germans who likes their boobs wrapped in bikini tops” therefore not confirming to my stereotyping! Apparently the reason the Germans seem to be associated more with this culture is partly because of the Freikörperkultur or FKK; a German movement whose name roughly translates to Free Body Culture. There are often special areas at lakes, rivers and beaches where people can sunbathe naked if they want to leading the rest of us to believe that all Germans like to strip off at any given opportunity.

Australia is a country famed for its sandy beaches where open minded friendly beach goers don’t frown upon topless sunbathing – yet this hasn’t always been the case;

“In the 1940s, a legendary beach inspector, Aub Laidlaw, patrolled the golden sands, ruler in hand, ensuring that men’s and women’s bathing costumes conformed to bylaws governing public decency. Costumes had to cover at least three inches of thigh, as well as the entire front of the body, and wobbly bits had to be kept in place by robust straps. Laidlaw frogmarched 50 or more people a week off the beach, including, in 1945, the first woman to brave Bondi in a bikini, and in 1961, a group of men wearing Speedo swimming trunks.” Source The Independent

Aub Laidlaw retired from his beach cover-up quest in the late 60’s and since then sun worshippers head to the likes of Bondi Beach in whatever little they desire. Yet recently a Christian fundamentalist politician, Rev. Fred Nile, campaigned (and received an increasing amount of support from mainstream MP’s) for a return to the time of Laidlaw saying that it should be made illegal for women to expose their breasts on beaches throughout Australia as it was inappropriate.

It also seems that this change in beach fashion is being seen in other countries that have long embraced this summer pastime. The French, a nation filled with sexy body embracing self confident women, have also decided that this year covering up is far more beach appropriate than maximising the amount of flesh on show on the beaches of the Côte d’Azur. Brigitte Bardot first brought topless sunbathing to the mainstream in the 1960’s yet it seems that times are a changing as according to a recent poll the majority of French women today would never go topless at the beach. But why the change of heart? Well apparently the French youth are covering up because of “new feminist priorities, skin cancer fears and a rebellion against the cult of the fetished body beautiful.” Source The Guardian

Some argue that topless sunbathing not only is a nice way to avoid getting obnixious tan lines from all those crazy monokinis on the market today but there is a certain amount of freedom in having a holiday from your bra. Going topless does not have to be motivated by womens’ movement ideas and feminist ideolody, nor does it have to be because certain of those amonst us are proud of what they’ve got and would quite like to exhibit it for all to see, it could simple be for the reason that it feels nice!

Yet for others clearly it’s a cultural faux pas and out of respect for ourselves and our neighbours its more gracious to cover up, even if it’s only with a itsy bitsy tiny winy yellow polka dot bikini.

So what about you – will you dare to bare all this summer or are you quite happy for your breasts to remain firmly inside your swimming costume? Are those that cover up on the beach essentially prudish when it comes to being body confident or are they just inwardly embracing their Girl Power? Whatever you decide just make sure you liberally apply the sun cream as the last thing anyone wants is burnt boobs!

Photos via MustardMagpie, Travelette Marie Pfisterer, MXW and The Pie Shops