Shirtlessness (also called upper-torso nudity) is the state in which the upper torso is exposed due to the lack of a shirt or other top. Many cultures treat female shirtlessness, known as toplessness, differently than male shirtlessness, known as barechestedness. In industrialized societies, it is much more common for men to be barechested in public than women, 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. The topfreedom movement challenges laws that forbid females to go topless in places where males are permitted to be barechested, arguing that such restrictions amount to gender discrimination.
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. 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.
Toplessness was the norm in various Indic cultures before Muslim expansion in the 13th and 14th centuries. In many European societies between the Renaissance and the 19th century, exposed breasts were more acceptable than they are today, with a woman's bared legs, ankles or shoulders being considered to be more risqué than her exposed breasts. A wide-ranging review of 190 different societies during 1951 found that few insisted that women conceal their breasts. In Europe and Australia, topless swimming and sunbathing on public beaches has become socially acceptable. In 1994-95, Australian researchers asked 118 college-age students to rate the behavior of women who go topless on an 8-point scale, ranging from "Women should have the same right to topless as men" to "Topless women are exhibitionists". They found that 88% of Australian university students of either gender considered it acceptable for women to go topless on public beaches, although they felt that women exposing their breasts in other contexts, such as public parks, was inappropriate. Because toplessness often generates media coverage, some female political demonstrators have deliberately exposed their breasts in public to draw attention to their cause. For example, in January 2012, the Ukrainian protest group FEMEN attracted worldwide media attention after some members staged a topless protest at the World Economic Forum in Davos. A number of Caribbean locations, especially those that were formerly French and Dutch colonies, permit nude and topless sunbathing, like the French West Indies islands of St. Barths, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and St. Maarten. Female toplessness has also become somewhat common during Mardi Gras in New Orleans during which women "flash" (briefly expose) their breasts in return for strings of plastic beads, and at Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, where floats occasionally feature topless women.
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