Should women go topless after 40?

20:08, Jun 04 2014
FASHION ROYALTY: According to Diane von Furstenberg it's only acceptable to be topless 'when you're very young'.

Scout Willis, daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore has been dominating the internet this week with her "free the nipple" campaign

Standing up against Instagram's policing of women's breasts (a quick recap, breastfeeding pics = inappropriate, skimpy bikini clad types posing with guns = A-OK), Willis took off her top and strolled the streets of New York City (which is not illegal) to prove her point, and posted on her blog the below statement.

"I am not trying to argue for mandatory toplessness, or even bralessness. What I am arguing for is a woman's right to choose how she represents her body - and to make that choice based on personal desire and not a fear of how people will react to her or how society will judge her," she wrote. 

So it was only natural that reporters would be asking fashion and celebrity types what they thought of Scout's campaign (in between gawking, one imagines, at the other card carrying member for toplessness, Rihanna in her extraordinarily naked dress), such as Diane von Furstenberg at the CFDA awards (the council of fashion designers America).

von Furstenberg replied to the question that censorship was so very American, which is so very true. Europeans are not nearly so prudish (you never forget your first stroll through a public park in Berlin, for example). 

"When I'm not working, I'm on a boat. I'll be around the Med," she told the Cut. "I'm European, so - I always used to be topless when I could afford to. You can only do that when you're very young." 


And what is the cut-off for toplessness?, von Furstenberg was asked,

"To be topless?" she responded. "Forty. Some people more, but after a while, no."

To this we must make several points.

Firstly, and most importantly, why?

The whole point of feeling free enough to go topless in a public place (or indeed on a private balcony-I personally am quite prudish when it comes to sunbathing topless - mostly due to the fear of running into a peripheral person in my life, like one of my father's business associates or something) is that you think a body is just a body.

A body doesn't become less of one when it ages. However the way it is received in society certainly does.

Which brings us to point two, which is about appearance and sex appeal, and the way that women's bodies are inherently sexualised, no matter what they're doing. 

Our society, on a whole, thinks bodies are less sexy when they get older and therefore should be neatly tucked away, never to be seen 'inappropriately'.

While, as The Gloss points out, von Furstenberg seems pretty free with body and nudity as a general concept she continues this idea that there is "a specific time when women's bodies suddenly expire and no longer can be considered viewable."

What's more, writes Samantha Escobar, this idea is everywhere.

"It's a highly pervasive idea in our society that women over 40 are suddenly no longer sexy, and if one does manage to be considered a sex icon still, it's a total anomaly and she's basically a freak of nature. And yet, men like Brad Pitt (50), Antonio Banderas (53) and George Clooney (53) are still considered sexy male leads that can get any lady, whether she's 21 or 45.

"Those guys can go shirtless in movies constantly, but women are supposed to cover up-at most, they can wear a low-cut dress. And yet, women who are over 40 do still have breasts and bodies and all that, so why shouldn't they go topless?"

Indeed, why shouldn't they?

And in fact there has been a slight shift away from not seeing older women as sexy, or indeed, seen at all.

American Apparel cast 62-year-old Jacky O'Shaughnessy to front its lingerie line and hot damn she looks good.

Helen Mirren's sex appeal just won't quit. We care about what the ladies on the Advanced Style blog are wearing, and they continue to not give a damn what people think and wear whatever they fancy. 

Howeve, while these examples are heartening, they don't quite speak to the root cause of the world's viewpoint on older women, or at least they don't fix it.

Because these examples are seen as out of the ordinary, and novel. They also don't perhaps quite fairly represent the sagging, creaking, everyday, merely average bodies that also deserve to be free from constraint or judgement. 

To really free the nipple, as Scout Willis would say, or indeed free the body, we have to re-think how we see both nudity and sexuality.

As Alecia Simmonds wrote in a piece for Daily Life about our distaste for nudity,

"Let's start at first principles: the naked body in and of itself means nothing. It depends on which cultural narratives we decide to wrap it in."

And as another wise sage for our times, Don Draper, would say, if you don't like what's being said, change the conversation.

And get your kit off (in an appropriate setting, and on your terms, not when the world deems you fit to - plus 40s need definitely apply).

- Daily Life