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In industrialized societies, barechestedness is much more common than toplessness, as exposure of the male pectoral muscles is often considered to be far less taboo than of the female breasts, despite some considering them equally erogenous.
Throughout history, many men, especially labourers such as farmers and miners, have worked barechested. This was, and is, particularly normal in warmer climates, with the exception of very sunny climates where protection from excessive sunlight is often more important than cooling. But various times and places have been more strict and uneasy about the practice. During the Victorian period, Western cultures deplored nudity of any degree, even barechested male swimmers at ocean beaches, and people took great pains to cover themselves up. In societies so affected, attitudes began to relax in the 20th century. Going barechested in public was again acceptable. It is becoming more common, and in hot days, many barechested men can be seen on the streets and even in commercial places like shops and supermarkets.
At first, the rules relaxed only for men on beaches and swimming pools (in New York City, a man could be fined for removing his shirt in Central Park as late as 1960) but permissiveness gradually grew and crossed gender lines.
More recently, it has become quite common for women on beaches in Europe, the Caribbean, and Australia to go topless, though it is by no means universal. It is still unusual on most beaches in North America.
Throughout much of Asia, barechestedness in either men or women is generally disapproved of, and may be highly offensive, even at the beach. In many of these regions, for example South Korea, most adults still swim almost fully clothed. Some countries, such as Thailand, though they disapprove of toplessness among women, condone it in order to keep attracting European tourists. In some Muslim countries, women are religiously encouraged (or required, as in the case of Iran) to cover nearly all of the body. In Europe and North America, people remain who take offense at barechested men, and many shops will refuse to serve barechested people, having policies of "no shirt, no shoes, no service". In southern India, it is common for men to wear only a dhoti with no shirt or chest covering. This is the traditional attire of Indian Hindu priests (although a second cloth is wrapped around the waist over the dhoti, and some Hindu temples in India require male devotees to remove their shirts before entering. E.g. Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga. Some actors become famous due to their barechestedness such as Matthew McConaughey and Mario Lopez.
Recently there have been some movements to promote barechestedness, even to the point of publishing a detailed guide on getting started with the habit and building confidence. The practice is said to promote self-confidence and fitness.
When some bands are performing live it is common for some of the members to be shirtless if they are male, especially at festivals. Some notable people have often or always performed shirtless are Sid Vicious, Freddie Mercury, Iggy Pop, Matt Pike of High on Fire, Zack Merrick from All Time Low, David Rossi from Allister, Dave Navarro from Jane's Addiction, Jared Leto, Nick Oliveri, Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, Bone Crusher, Petey Pablo, Dylan "Shady" Crawford, LL Cool J, Fat Joe and members of the bands Gyroscope, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Biffy Clyro, Basshunter, Metro Station, Placebo and Apocalyptica.
Some businesses use barechested men extensively in their advertising, but do not permit customers to actually go barechested in their establishments. This is particularly common with gyms. The clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch is another notable example.
There are some groups advocating greater acceptance of male barechestedness. Some are aimed primarily at encouraging men to take advantage of situations where barechestedness is already widely accepted (such as running), some aim to enlarge the scope of athletic events that permit barechested participants, and others seek to make barechestedness universally acceptable. Going shirtless is considered a lifestyle by some men.
Some men will attend NFL and college American football games shirtless and sometimes painted in team colors. Some men work as barechested waiters or as strippers. In fact, Jersey Shore star Mike Sorrentino has become famous due to his barechestedness.
In many sports, barechestedness for males is the norm, especially in most water sports such as swimming, diving, surfing, and water polo, and in the beach version of other sports, such as beach volleyball and beach wrestling. This is also true of various combat sports, such as most boxing disciplines, mud or oil wrestling, professional wrestling, and MMA. Professional boxing rules typically prohibit male boxers from wearing a shirt, and, under professional kickboxing rules, male participants are also prohibited from wearing shoes. Additionally, almost all male bodybuilders are barechested in competitions and exhibitions, going back to the early 1900s or earlier.
When sports are played informally outdoors or in warm gyms, males in many locations around the world will often remove their shirts for comfort, to stay cooler, and to avoid chafing of the nipples against a shirt. Common examples are basketball, football, tennis, running, cycling, and gymnastics. This practice is typically more accepted than men appearing barechested in other situations, such as walking in urban environments.
In informal sporting matches, such as a game of basketball or football in the park or cricket on the beach, there may not have enough shirts or bibs to sufficiently distinguish members of each team. In these situations, a common option, at least for mostly male teams, is to play Shirts versus Skins: the members of one team go barechested and are hence said to be Skins, while the other team's players keep their shirts on and are called Shirts.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Male toplessness.|
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