Topless Sunbathing: Are You In Or Out?

I certainly wouldn’t describe myself as prudish, but I must admit to be a bit taken aback by topless sunbathing. Here in Playa del Carmen, I have seen a few women ‘out and proud’ on the beach, though it is certainly not as commonly practiced as say, Europe. One day I hired a sun-bed for the day, which was probably the first and last time. It was nice for a while, but honestly, after an hour or so, I got bored.

Topless sunbathing

My interest was piqued, however by a few confident gals with large, round deriers parading around in tiny g-strings. I remembered back to the days when I wore g-strings, not at the beach, but under my clothes. Back then, the initial discomfort was far outweighed by the absence of a VPL (visible panty line), which I’m sorry to say was actually of consequence to me then. Obviously it mattered enough to other people too; it had an acronym created for it.

Now a brief gal, you wouldn’t get me into a g-string, but even back in the day when I did wear them, I wouldn’t have been caught dead in one at the beach, even when my buns were rather small and dimple free (i.e not any more).

I gotta say, I was pretty impressed by the chutzpah of these women, who, even with their large, dimpled behinds, confidently rocked tiny g-strings.

“Good on ’em,” I said to myself, though was quite perplexed when one of the girls bent down to pick something off the sand showing no sign of modesty at all. Read: I copped an eyeful.

But I didn’t have to look right? So really, I must have wanted to see it.

Actually, I found it hard to look away…

Then, this morning, Tyrhone and I were down the beach and we happened to place our things next to a gorgeous, lithe creature who was sitting up, having a conversation with a guy, topless. Oh, she had a g-string on too, but I didn’t see that till later, because I was too busy staring at her boobs. I wondered if he had the same problem, I mean, men have trouble not staring at boobs when they are contained within clothing don’t they? But exposed? How do they not stare? Are they supposed to stare? Aaargh, it’s confusing enough for me and I’m not a guy or a lesbian.

Of course, I had to make a sly remark to Tyrhone, like “Hey, check that out babe, some boob action,” as though he had not already honed in with a sly sideways glance then a tactical look-away. This way, I could kid myself that I was a new-age, open-minded woman, not at all threatened by perfect exposed boobs on the beach. was encouraging him to look, that’s how cool and non-threatened I was.

Once we were in the water, we saw more boobs, this time from three older women, of various shapes and cup-sizes. Some were just standing ankle-deep in the turquoise water, faces raised towards the sun, and nipples bowing to the sand. Getting a tan? Harnessing the sun’s energy? Either way, they certainly weren’t saying, ‘look at me aren’t I a supermodel?!’ because they simply weren’t. They were healthy looking, middle-aged women who had probably lived interesting lives and reared several children.

And here they were, boobs out and having a ball.

They looked so, comfortable.

Tyrhone called me out on my so-called coolness, however. Not directly, but through his observation and subsequent commentary of other couples walking down the beach.

The scenario would go like this: A guy would stroll along the beach, with his ‘other half’ trailing behind. Once he came within the field of vision of the perky, olive-brown breasts, his gaze would linger, his gait would decrease, and his pace slow to an almost-but-not-quite halt. Then he would remember his partner was just behind him and pick up the pace, his neck craning as the message of “act normal!” took a little longer to reach the eyes.

Once the ‘other half’ caught a glimpse, her step quickened, she pulled in closer to her guy, and would make some sort of joke that would cause them to smile or laugh a little. Basically, just what I had done moments earlier.  So I was just another woman insecure about seeing an attractive woman’s breasts in the presence of my man.

I’d even commented on her great body, just to bring home the point of me being totally awesome and secure in myself.

How disappointing! I thought I was cool and open and but I was really just being shallow and insecure, acting like it was all good, when really it made me feel uncomfortable!

If I really was comfortable, I wouldn’t need to point and laugh and comment (okay, I didn’t point, but I may as well have). The boobs wouldn’t even have been a blip (two blips) on my radar.

I remembered back to the one and only time I sunbathed in public topless. About seven years ago, I was on a girls trip to the beach-side town of Tarragona on the east coast of Spain. We had befriended an Italian girl the previous night at a bar, and arranged to meet her and some other new friends at the beach the next day. When she bounded up to us on the crowded beach, topless, her perfect brown breasts bobbing up and down, then pulled each of us in for a hug, I had to pull my jaw off the sand.

For the rest of the afternoon, she stayed topless, playing beach tennis, chatting to us and our group of friends, wandering to a near-by stall for cool drinks.

I was dumbfounded as I’d never experienced such an open display of almost-nakedness before. In Australia, topless sunbathing isn’t very common, we have separate beaches dubbed ‘nudist beaches’ where this sort of thing takes place. This was challenging my idea of normal beach etiquette.  Of course, our friend was not the only one with her girls out; along the beach scores of girls had ’em on display and seemed utterly oblivious to our embarrassment.

Whilst one friend and I bandied the idea around, giggling like school girls, my other friend, who was obviously far more worldly and widely travelled than we, whipped off her bikini top with an exasperated “for f*&% sake girls!” or something to that effect. Our conversation came to an abrupt halt. That settled it. We followed suit, feeling insanely uncomfortable, but also a little excited. The school-girl giggling ensued.

It was quite exhilarating. We didn’t go as far as naked beach tennis or a jog along the shore, but we gave it a go, trying something new as travel often encourages us to do.

It wasn’t a practice I continued though, I just couldn’t get over my culturally enforced discomfort with public nudity.

I think that’s basically what it comes down to, because due to the different shapes and sizes of boobs and behinds I’ve seen on various beaches around the world, body shape seems to have little or nothing to do with it.

I remember sharing a peach with a wrinkled, leathery skinned Italian woman on the beach of Positano years ago. She wasn’t topless or sporting a g-string, but was very comfortable in her two-piece bikini, brown folds of skin cascading over her bikini-bottoms. I remember thinking how beautiful this was, that it didn’t matter that she was no longer young or skinny, she was comfortable with her body and didn’t care who saw it.

“Bella aqua,” I remember her saying over and over, whilst we chomped on the sweet, juicy fruit, gazing out over the Mediterranean.


I’d actually love to frolic naked on the beach, with nothing separating me from the cool Caribbean waters or the silt-like sand. Okay, scratch that, sand in crevices is not cool.

But my zebra-like tan lines are testament to the fact that I’m not comfortable doing it in public. Even if a nipple happens to pop out of its covering, I’m like “oops!” quickly popping her back in as though some sort of covenant has been breached. Years ago in a hammam (Turkish bath house) in Istanbul, I conceded the bikini top, but hung on firmly to my bottoms. Then, I did feel silly because  I was the only one not completely naked.

Yet on the beaches of India or some parts of Indonesia, I’ve often felt over-exposed in just a bikini, as though showing an amount of skin acceptable in my culture may be considered ‘too much’ by another. Which it often is.

I guess it’s about finding a balance between what is culturally acceptable and what you feel comfortable with.

Things would most certainly be different if I were raised in a different culture, but as it stands, I’ll just have to be happy sitting somewhere in the middle with my strap marks and lily-white butt.

Topless sunbathing in or out?

What about you? Do you sunbathe topless? Enlighten me!

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Topless Sunbathing: Are You In Or Out? — 27 Comments

  1. I think there is nothing wrong with going “out and proud” as long as you feel comfortable with that. I would not. I’ve never been to Playa del Carmen, but it looks so beautiful. To be honest, I’ve never sunbathed topless, somehow it’s not what I like and would feel comfortable with. I’m a rather shy person when it comes to showing off your body and being sexy :-), but might try it :) Never say never! 😀
    Agness (@Agnesstramp) recently posted..Culinary Journey in Bangkok on the Cheap (>$10)My Profile

    • Hi Agness! Exactly, nothing wrong with it, but I’m not comfortable with it either. Too many gawking eyes! on a private beach on a deserted Island? for sure!!!

  2. I’m American. I’m too prudish to do that. :)

    However, I did spend a good amount of time in Europe and started to get slightly (very slightly) more comfortable with my body. I have never been a slim person, but I eventually became comfortable enough to wear a two piece suit on a few occasions. When I got back and wore it camping with some friends, their stares were enough to never don it in public again.

    I’m also ridiculously pale and don’t tan at all. I can’t imagine what a boob burn would feel like! Ouch!

  3. Interesting post – particularly the part about how couples reacted to the topless sunbathers. I think it’s really a symptom of western culture and being encouraged,as women, almost from the day we’re born, to think about how men perceive us. We end up judging ourselves against an almost mythical version of female beauty that barely exists (unless you’re a supermodel)and can never win! I read this great quote in cultural studies at uni which explains it better than I can: “A woman has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to men is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life….put simply, men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves.”
    Amy recently posted..Visit GreenwichMy Profile

  4. Hm, funny, I’m European but not once have a sunbathed topless in Europe, though I did it all the time in Australia! My ozzie mates went topless on Bondi Beach all the time, so I followed suit. Must be something to do with being further away from people you know. Less chance of bumping into a relative with my baps out! Tho think I agree with you, I’d rather keep the bikini on. Less areas to get sun burnt!
    Charlie recently posted..Reason 1 (of many) Why You Should Visit MontrealMy Profile

  5. How funny !i did have a laugh when you said about the Spanish girl come running up and hugging! I remember you telling me about that.
    Each to their own I guess it is something to look at behind the sunglasses.

  6. Hilarious post! I was in Playa Del Carmen with my mom a few years back but didn’t happen to see any G-strings or topless ladies…thank goodness! I have been pretty comfortable going ‘out in proud’ in Thailand. It’s a great feeling, and there, no body stares! Floating in the water, getting rid of tan lines….okay maybe TMI 😉
    Jessica Wray recently posted..Favorite Recent Shots from Around KoreaMy Profile

  7. I’ve gone topless several times, though it is less to do with being British, and more to do with my aversion to tan lines! I would only do it again in a place where it was socially acceptable, and loads of other women were doing it too. I would never have the confidence to actually walk around topless though – even sitting up is a step too far for me!
    Hannah recently posted..The beginning of the beginningMy Profile

  8. Hi Sarah,
    Ha! Ha! You really cracked me up with this one.
    I’ve never gone topless. I had consider it when we were in Spain because most ladies were doing so, and we didn’t know anyone on the beach, and I didn’t want a tan line. But my rather modest husband didn’t like the idea of other people looking at my modest chest:( So I guess I had to wait for an opportunity when Keith and I have the whole beach to ourselves. Seriously, I admire those women who have no inhabitation and feeling very comfortable with their bodies.
    Marisol@TravelingSolemates recently posted..Delphi: The Center of the Ancient Greek WorldMy Profile

    • Hi Marisol! I don’t Tyrhone would be too comfortable with it either!! We are just so accustomed to that sort of thing being reserved for behind closed doors (or private beaches, oh how good does that sound?!)…

  9. I’ve never been to a beach that allows topless sunbathing. But if I were to go to one, I would not hesitate to go topless. I see no reason what so ever as to why women aren’t allowed to be topless on beaches just like men. And I got over any shyness at a young age. My mother and I started going swimming at a public pool a couple of nights a week starting at age 12 until I was about 17. There was a rule that everyone had to take a nude soap shower in the locker rooms before you were allowed to go swimming, and the showers were completely out in the open in the women’s locker room. So, I got used to semi-public nudity at a young age. At least around other females, anyway.