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Nantucket is the Tits: Is Rhode Island next?

It’s a hot July day. You enter Scarborough Beach, a South County favorite. Stepping out from the parking lot you feel the heat coupled with the ease of the calm sea breeze. On this semi-crowded beach day you peruse the scene for a good landing spot. Beach towels of all patterns, umbrellas of blues, reds and florals are scattered across the light brown sand. The water glistens and crashes gently to the shore as boogie boarders line up to catch their next wave. 

Now imagine walking up to the same beach, only this time tops are optional for BOTH genders. You enter the beach to see swimmers and sunbathers of all shapes, ages and sizes with exposed chests. Friends, neighbors, your old English teacher perhaps, all shirtless if they choose. You and your crew trudge through the hot sand, trying not to stare and smiling politely as you set out your chairs, towel and cooler, settling in for an epic beach day. How do you feel? Freedom? Discomfort? Equality? Total awkwardness?

For Nantucket this may soon be a reality. Nantucket native Dorothy Stover’s dream of top-optional beaches passed in a Town Hall vote 327 to 242 in the first week of May. It’s not in the clear yet though: For it to become a law the MA Attorney General needs to sign off. “In order to promote equality for all persons, any person shall be allowed to be topless on any public or private beach within the Town of Nantucket,” says Stover. The sexual educator and 7th-generation Nantucket resident believes male and female breasts are not actually that different. 

I remember MY first nude beach experience. In my mid-thirties, mid-pandemic, I’d escaped to Miami to hang with my best guy friend who boasted about his favorite nude beach. Can you guess where we went on my first day of the trip? I peered around the corner from the path to see dozens of bare bodies on a serene white sandy beach with turquoise water. After a few minutes adjusting to new views, I pulled the strings of my bikini, dropping my top onto my towel. A cool breeze whisped across my chest and I let myself sink in and relax. 

Leading up to this experience my mind wandered into overthinking territory. Was I going to be looked at sexually? Was it weird for my male friend and I to hang out in the nude? Would I feel uncomfortable? Self conscious? Would I get sand in the wrong places? These are all valid questions. But strolling the beach topless, I felt accepted and free. Bodies were just bodies, nonsexual and pure.

I spoke to a few locals to gather their comments on public nudity and toplessness at beaches. Here’s what they had to say:

“I’ve been to Europe and the Caribbean and, you know, as soon as you get used to toplessness or full nudity, it loses its shock value very, very quickly. And it just becomes normal. I think it’s just anything that moves towards equality and it’s just a really good thing.” — Charley Francis, 38

“I’ve traveled some in Miami. They’ve got sections of where they have topless and I believe it may be nude. I am all about gender equality and things of that nature but Nantucket… It’s very family oriented. So maybe if they had something as far as sections where it would be cut off, maybe that’d be some sort of something that they can actually work with.” — Jennifer Vinalon, 38

“I have no issues with people who want to go topless but I honestly feel it should be at a designated section of a beach or a dedicated nude beach. I don’t think exposing young kids is a good idea unless they are brought up in that kind of culture.” — Nancy Serpa, 54

“First, I don’t think a child or teenagers should be subject to seeing topless women on a beach. It would be different if we were all raised with that like Europe. It’s not our tradition or custom hence why that would be an uncomfortable situation for me. Don’t get me wrong, a woman’s body is beautiful, however, some things should be left private and not for public display.” — Simmone Mendoza, 55

Could I see topless beaches in RI? Quite possibly, but maybe not as loosely as Nantucket is proposing. Even when I lived in Seattle there were only a few nude beaches, or sections of beaches where clothing was optional. I believe no one should be made to feel uncomfortable anywhere in public areas, regardless of belief, personal values or upbringing. So my vote would be to allow toplessness at some beaches in RI, but only in designated sections. 

Can topless equality with rules and guidelines coexist in the Ocean State? That question is for another epic beach day. Right now, I have some sand to clean off.

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