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A group of women protesting for the right to go topless anywhere a man could. Venice Beach, California, 2011 (demonstrator is wearing a pasty)

Topfreedom is a cultural and political movement seeking changes in laws to allow women to be topless in public places where men are permitted to be barechested, as a form of gender equality. Specifically, the movement seeks the repeal or overturning of laws which restrict a woman's right not to have her chest covered at all times in public.

In addition, topfreedom advocates seek allowing nursing mothers to openly breastfeed in public, and women to sun bathe topless.

Social and legal attitudes[edit]

Many societies[which?] consider women who expose their nipples and areolae as immodest and contrary to social norms. In many jurisdictions[which?] a topless woman may be socially or officially harassed or cited for public lewdness, indecent exposure, public indecency or disorderly conduct.[1] Topfreedom advocates seek to change community attitudes to breasts as sex objects or indecent.[2]

Several countries in Europe have decriminalised non-sexual toplessness. Topless swimming and sunbathing on beaches has become acceptable in many parts of Europe, though the practice remains controversial in many places, and not common in most places. Many public swimming pools in Europe are owned by municipalities, which are treated as private organisations and allowed to set their dress codes.[citation needed]


In many countries around the world, breastfeeding in public is not unusual. During 2006–2010 and earlier, a number of news reports in the United States cited incidents where women were refused service or harassed for breastfeeding in public. In response, a majority of U.S. states have passed laws explicitly permitting nursing in public.[3][4][5] The United States federal government enacted a law in 1999[6] which specifically provides that "a woman may breastfeed her child at any location in a Federal building or on Federal property, if the woman and her child are otherwise authorized to be present at the location." However, these laws generally do not apply to rules imposed by private organizations or on private property, such as restaurants, airlines, or shopping malls.

North America[edit]

United States[edit]

In the United States, states have primary jurisdiction in matters of public morality. The topfreedom movement has claimed success in a few instances in persuading some state and federal courts to overturn some state laws on the basis of sex discrimination or equal protection, arguing that a woman should be free to expose her chest in any context in which a man can expose his. Other successful cases have been on the basis of freedom of expression in protest, or simply that exposure of breasts is not indecent (or similar terminology).

Laws and ordinances barring female toplessness are being challenged in federal courts around the nation. (See California, Colorado, Missouri, and Illinois entries below.) Each lawsuit, if it prevails at the appellate level, will legalize topfreedom in the following U.S. circuits of appeal (from west to east): 9 (CA), 10 (CO), 8 (MO), and 7 (IL).

Map of the geographic boundaries of the various United States Courts of Appeals and United States District Courts


State law allows public nudity that is neither lewd nor offensive.[7]

San Francisco allows public female toplessness, although public nudity is banned as of February 2013.[7] Women cannot be topless in San Francisco parks without advance permission from the city.[8]

In Berkeley it is a misdemeanor or infraction for a woman to expose "any portion of the breast at or below the areola".[8]

Oakland's immoral dress law says that women cannot wear "any type of clothing so that any portion of such part of the breast may be observed".[8]

San Jose bars anything "less than completely and opaquely covered" female breasts.[8]

In Los Angeles a "Free the Nipple" protester was arrested for indecent exposure at a Bernie Sanders rally on March 23, 2016, when she removed masking tape covering her nipples. She has filed a federal lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department. Her attorney claims she was never "nude" and that California's indecent exposure law applies only to genitals, not breasts. She is also suing for constitutional violations, gender discrimination and violations of federal civil rights laws.[9][10]


On 2017 February 22, US District Judge R. Brooke Jackson granted a preliminary injunction against a Fort Collins ordinance banning female toplessness saying it likely violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment due to gender-based discrimination. Britt Hoagland, Samantha Six and Free the Nipple - Fort Collins brought the case in May 2016. The judge wrote: the naked female breast is seen as disorderly or dangerous because society, from Renaissance paintings to Victoria's Secret commercials, has conflated female breasts with genitalia and stereotyped them as such. The irony is that by forcing women to cover up their bodies, society has made naked women's breasts something to see. [11] Fort Collins is appealing the district court's ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.[12] If the district court's ruling is upheld on appeal, discriminatory anti-topless laws in the territory of the Tenth Circuit (Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, and Oklahoma) will be unenforceable.

Denver and Boulder do not distinguish between male and female toplessness.[13]


A Florida statute about indecent exposure prohibits the vulgar or indecent exposure of sexual organs but do not specify if female breasts are included as sexual organs, but the right to breastfeed in public is expressly protected[14] and one Florida court inferred that this exception indicates that female breasts are sexual organs[15] and the Supreme Court of Florida held that a separate statute about disorderly conduct can be used to prosecute female toplessness. [16] Courts have rejected equal protection arguments. The right of a woman to protest topless has been held to be a freedom of expression and not an equal protection issue.[citation needed] For example, in 2007, a Florida court acquitted a woman of indecent exposure for being topless on Daytona Beach because of the political nature of her stand, under the First Amendment right of free speech.[17] Topless bathing is tolerated on South Beach, along with a number of hotel pools in Miami Beach.[18][19]


Sonoko Tagami, a GoTopless activist, was ticketed for toplessness and fined $100 plus $40 in fees.[20] Tagami filed a federal lawsuit challenging the ordinance but the trial judge dismissed the case without a trial. She then appealed the dismissal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The appeal was heard by a three-judge panel on 2016 Nov 01.[21]


In Maine, "nudity is illegal in Maine only if genitals are displayed.".[22]


On 2017 May 20, Captain Butch Arbin, head of the Ocean City Beach Patrol instructed workers to document complaints of toplessness, but not approach topless women, even if the complainants requested it. Captain Arbin changed the beach patrol's policy since the Maryland Attorney General has not released an opinion about female public toplessness in response to a formal request last year by a female resident and a topfree advocate who uses the pseudonym "Chelsea Covington."[23] [24] In response on 2017 June 10 the town held an emergency meeting to pass an ordinance that ensured female toplessness was illegal. The state attorney general said the ordinance passed state constitutional muster. As of June 25, Ms. Covington is considering a lawsuit against the city and has retained civil rights attorney Devon Jacob. Attorney Jacob believes women have the right to be topless where a man can under the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment.[25]


In December 2007, 50 residents of Pittsfield, Massachusetts petitioned the City Council requesting a segregated beach for topless sunbathing by both men and women. The petition was rejected by the council, with the Mayor calling it "unacceptable and unnecessary". Proponents of topless sunbathing vowed to continue their fight.[26][27][28] In 2010, 200 residents of Pittsfield placed a question on the ballot asking whether State laws should be clarified to allow topless sunbathing equally for both men and women.[29] The proposal was defeated 2,934 to 6,855.[30]


On October 26, 2015, the ACLU of Missouri, on behalf of "Free the Nipple—Springfield Residents Promoting Equality," filed suit against the City of Springfield over its anti-topless ordinance in the District Court for the Western District of Missouri of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. On January 22, 2016, the court granted a preliminary injunction barring the enforcement of the ordinance.[31] As of October 21, 2016, the city is still enjoined against enforcing the ordinance.[32]


The City of Lincoln has an ordinance prohibiting women from being topless.[12]

New Hampshire[edit]

In 2016 February, a judge dismissed a case against two female "Free the Nipple" activists, Heidi Lilley and Barbara MacKinnon, who were cited for being topless at Gilford beach. Because the judge decided "the town lacked authority for a prosecution because there is no state law that prohibits the exposure of female breasts in public," and the town "lacked authority for a criminal prosecution that's neither prohibited by the criminal code nor by statute," a bill to ban women from exposing their nipples in public was introduced. The bill would make it a misdemeanor for women to show their breasts or nipples in public with "reckless disregard" for whether it would offend someone. The New Hampshire chapter of the ACLU opposed the bill.[33] [34] On March 9, 2016, the proposed ban legislation was defeated.[35]

New Jersey[edit]

In 2008, Jill Coccaro, aka Phoenix Feeley,[36] of New York City (see also New York, below) visited the beach at Spring Lake, New Jersey. She did not wear a top and was arrested when she refused to cover up. She was given a T-shirt but left the police department and took it off, and was arrested again.[36] She was charged with violating a borough ordinance prohibiting public nudity. She appealed the conviction to the state appeals court, and the two-judge panel—one man, one woman—ruled against her.[36] "Restrictions on the exposure of the female breast are supported by the important governmental interest in safeguarding the public’s moral sensibilities." The court cited State of New Jersey v. Arlene Vogt (2001) as precedent.[37] In that case, Vogt was fined after she appeared on Higbee Beach in Cape May County, New Jersey without a shirt.[38]

In the five years since she was found guilty and fined, she appealed the case to the New Jersey state appellate court, who ruled against her. The New Jersey Supreme Court refused to hear her appeal.[39] Legally representing herself, she then appealed to the United States Supreme Court, but it too refused to hear her appeal.[40]

She would not pay the $816 fine, telling Judge George Pappas, "I refuse to pay the fines for an act that is legal for a man, but not legal for a woman." The judge sentenced her to 16 days but she was released after only eight for good behavior. Ron Taft, a Manhattan attorney, offered to pay her fine but Coccaro refused, desiring to make a point. She went on a hunger strike. The GoTopless group organized a protest outside the jail where Coccaro was held,[39] but only two individuals attended. Taft commented, “The point is, there are guys with larger breasts than women, and sometimes they take their top off.”[41][42]

New Mexico[edit]

The City of Albuquerque has an anti-topless ordinance.[12]

New York[edit]

In 1986, seven women who picnicked topless were charged in Rochester, New York with baring "that portion of the breast which is below the top of the areola".[43] That law had originally been enacted to discourage 'topless' waitresses. The women were initially convicted, but on appeal two of the women's charges were reversed by the New York State Court of Appeals in 1992 on equal protection grounds in Santorelli's case.[44][45][46][47]

The prementioned Jill Coccaro (Feeley) was arrested in 2005 in New York City for walking along a street without wearing a shirt. She sued the city for violating a New York State Supreme Court ruling in Santorelli's case[44] which had declared that women can go topless in public. The city finally paid $29,000 to settle her lawsuit. The Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society has since 2011 organized regular gatherings around New York City of women who read books in public while topless.[48] The objective of the group, besides enjoying the sun and book reading, is to create awareness that New York law allows toplessness in public and to change social attitudes to the exposure of breasts. Although participation has been very small, there has been no harassment of the participants either by the police or the public. The Topless New York series, created by an anonymous New York City photographer in 2007, is another effort to raise awareness of women's topless rights in New York State, and normalize the exercise of those rights, by publishing photographs of women topless in public all over New York City and other areas of New York State.[49]

Holly Van Voast, a Bronx photographer and performance artist, was detained, arrested or issued summonses 10 times during 2011 and 2012. Among other places, she went topless on the Staten Island Ferry,[50] at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal, in front of an elementary school, on a train, and outside a Hooters restaurant.[51] After her arrest in front of the Hooters, police officers took her to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. On October 11, 2011, she appeared in the Midtown Community Court and promptly removed her top, baring her breasts, in front of the judge.[50] All the charges were dismissed. Van Voast filed a federal lawsuit on May 15 against the city and the police department.[51]

In February 2013, the New York City Police Department issued a command to all its officers through their daily roll call. It reminded officers that they are not to cite or arrest a woman for public lewdness, indecent exposure or any other section of the Penal Law for “simply exposing their breasts in public.”[51]


Oregon's indecent exposure law criminalizes only nudity that is intended to sexually arouse the public. The cities of Portland, Eugene, Ashland and Happy Valley all have local ordinances against exposing genitalia, but not against exposing female breasts.[52] [53]


In 1972, the Texas Equal Rights Amendment was passed into law, which communities in Lewisville, TX[54] and Fort Worth, TX[54] have used to strike down gendered ordinances, including toplessness. However, women in Texas appearing topless in public can be charged under public nuisance laws,[54] with the exception of Austin, the state capital, where some women sunbathe topless in Zilker Park, at various festivals, and at Hippie Hollow. [55] In 2013, Lewisville, TX's nudity laws were updated to indicate that food staff must wear 'decent covering'.[56] [57]

Other in United States[edit]

Other successful cases include:


In 1991 toplessness as an indecent act was challenged by Gwen Jacob in Guelph, Ontario, who removed her shirt and was charged with indecency. Part of her defence was the double standards between men and women. Although she was convicted, this was overturned by the Court of Appeal.[59] This case determined that being topless is not indecent under the meaning of the Criminal Code. However it did not establish any constitutional right of equality. This case subsequently led to the acquittal of women in British Columbia and Saskatchewan who faced similar charges. Although each province and territory technically reserves its right to interpret the law as it pleases, the Ontario case has proven influential. Since the matter has not been determined by the Supreme Court of Canada, it is still possible that a woman could be convicted elsewhere in Canada, but interpretation of moral law in Canada has become increasingly liberalized.[60] There do not appear to have been any further women charged in Canada since these cases were determined.



In France, the feminist collective Les TumulTueuses organized a topfree protest in Paris in May 2009.[61]


In Poland in 2008–2009, two women from Szczecin including glamour model Dorota Krzysztofek,[62] won a court battle that reasserted the women's right to sunbathe topless on public beaches.[63] Krzysztofek, along with her female companion, were fined by local municipal officials for topless sunbathing at a public recreation area. The women refused to pay the fine and took the matter to Civil Court. Their first hearing had to be postponed due to remarkable media interest.[64]

On November 7, 2008, judge Szczepańska upheld the city staff decision, and charged the women with indecent exposure, explaining that their personal freedoms cannot encroach on the freedoms of families with children who frequent the same recreation spot. Although topless sunbathing is not prohibited in Poland, the judge sentenced them to pay a fine of 230 zloty (150 zloty by different source,[65] or 40, $55) for breaking the rules of conduct. In her rationale, the judge also said that it is not up to the defendants to teach youngsters human anatomy; however, her decision was appealed by Krzysztofek's female friend soon afterwards, with the plea of not guilty.[63][66]

The appellate court declared both women to be innocent,[67] because the city staff were unable to prove that anyone at the beach was indignant or scandalized by their toplessness, and no complaint was ever reported. On the contrary, some visitors stood up to their defense. There were no signs at the recreation area against what is otherwise legal.[65] The appellate court’s decision was binding, but it also created an aura of ambivalence, with topless sunbathing in public declared acceptable only if nobody else including families with children formally objects to it.[63][68]


Bathing and sunbathing in the nude (including topless) is legal on Danish beaches.[69] Nudity and toplessness in other public outdoor places is generally also legal, unless it is involves "offensive conduct" or is likely to cause public outrage.[69][70] The public outrage law is rarely used in practice, but in 1972 audience members were convicted of being nude in the Royal Danish Theatre.[69] In December 2007, a group of women and men calling themselves Topless Front swam topless in public swim baths to promote topless equality.[71] In March 2008, after a campaign by the group, Copenhagen's Culture and Leisure Committee voted to allow topless bathing in its swimming pools.[72] After the Committee had voted, it was revealed that no laws had existed against topless bathing, effectively making the vote unnecessary. However, some public baths had (and have) restricted it themselves.[71] Public breastfeeding is supported by the vast majority of both sexes in Denmark,[73] is entirely legal and accepted almost all places, except for a few private cafés and restaurants that have restricted it.[74][75][76]


In Sweden, toplessness is not illegal. However, private or public establishments are permitted to establish dress codes which may require women to wear tops, and deny access or remove individuals who breach these standards. In September 2007, "Bara Bröst" (a pun meaning both "Just Breasts" and "Bare Breasts") appeared to promote topless equality in these semi-public facilities. The group staged several events in public swim baths in September and October 2007, starting in Uppsala from which they were evicted several times, before succeeding in Sundsvall.[77][78]

The group scored a victory in June 2009 when the Malmö city's sports and recreation committee approved new rules that, while requiring everybody to wear bathing suits at indoor public swimming pools, did not require women to cover their breasts.[79][80] "We don't define what bathing suits men should wear so it doesn't make much sense to do it for women. And besides, it's not unusual for men to have large breasts that resemble women's breasts", said a council spokesman.[81]


In Greece toplessness is not illegal and is widely practiced by locals and tourists alike as there are no cultural taboos against it.[82][83]



In order to supporting Adda Smaradottir's FreeTheNipple act in public cyberspace,[84] girls uploaded their topless photos to Facebook and protested against its Community Standards[85] of considering women's breasts as sexual materials. Those photos and related news articles were blocked initially,[86] but Facebook considered those photos did not violate Community Standards.[84]

Activism and organizations[edit]

See also[edit]


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  3. ^ "Breastfeeding Laws". Breastfeeding State Laws. NCSL. March 2010. Retrieved 14 September 2010. 
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  5. ^ "Breastfeeding Legislation in the United States: A General Overview and Implications for Helping Mothers". La Leche League International. 
  6. ^ "Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act, 2000". Retrieved 2010-01-14. 
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  14. ^ "Lewdness; Indecent Exposure – Sec. 800.03 Fla. Stat". The Florida Legislature. 2014. Retrieved 21 August 2017. 
  15. ^ Kitts v. State, 766 So. 2d 1067 (Fla. 5th DCA 1999)
  16. ^ Moffett v. State, 340 So. 2d 1155 (Fla. 1976).
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  43. ^ Penal Law § 245.01 has since been amended. For the present version:
    A person is guilty of exposure if he appears in a public place in such a manner that the private or intimate parts of his body are unclothed or exposed. For purposes of this section, the private or intimate parts of a female person shall include that portion of the breast which is below the top of the areola. This section shall not apply to the breastfeeding of infants or to any person entertaining or performing in a play, exhibition, show or entertainment.
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