Women go topless to send message of equality at Hampton Beach

By Jason Schreiber
Union Leader Correspondent
August 23. 2015 2:50PM
Onlookers gathered around the Seashell stage at Hampton Beach as women removed shirts for "Free the Nipple" event. (Jason Screiber)

HAMPTON – Curious onlookers with cameras in hand gathered around the Seashell stage Sunday as women arrived and removed their tops at Hampton Beach.

Some beach-goers knew that some women were planning a “Free the Nipple” day at the beach as part of a national movement aimed at desexualizing the female breast.

Others didn't know what was happening.

Judy Wilson, who's in her 70s, was taking a walk at the beach and stopped by the stage to get out of the rain. She wondered why a handful of bare-chested women were hanging around, but wasn't bothered by the scene.

“I don't care if they want to do it. I just don't want to get wet,” Wilson said as a light rain fell on the beach where hundreds of women were expected to show up throughout the day.

By mid-afternoon, more than 50 topless women had shown up. Organizers said they were glad to get their message getting out in a very public way.

The event was held to coincide with international “Go Topless Day.”

“We're trying to desexualize the female breast and equalize it to the male breast,” said Heidi Lilley, 54, of Gilford, who helped get the word out about the event with Kia Sinclair, 23, of Danbury.

The event has drawn criticism from some locals and officials, including state Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, but Lilley said it was outweighed by positive response.

“We're really just trying to normalize the breast and make people aware,” she said.

State law doesn't prohibit women from exposing their breasts in public.

Lilley insisted that the event is just another piece of women's fight for equality.

“Men fought for baring their chest on the beach in the '30s. This is 2015 and we're fighting for the right to have our chests bared on the beach. We're not asking to go into that store over there with my chest bared. I'm asking to walk on the beach with my chest bared,” Lilley said.

While visiting the beach Sunday morning, Kathy Walker of Gardner, Mass., said she was offended by the event.

“I feel violated enough with Playboy,” said Walker, 65.

Spectator Travis Walsh, 20, of Chelmsford, Mass., who was watching with friends, said those who didn't like the event could just leave.

Stephanie Carr and her husband, Jesse, both 29, showed up with their 1 1/2-year-old son, Alex. She pulled off her shirt and joined the cause with her husband's support.

It was the first time she's ever take her top off in public. She said she was nervous on the way to the beach, but felt at ease when she saw other women were topless.

“I am a little bit more heightened with people looking at me. Are you a supporter? Are you judging me? But I would still feel the same way if I was just in my bikini top,” said Carr, of Fremont.

She said she received no negative comments from the people staring at her. They were either positive or kept quiet, she said, adding that her goal was to “make it more comfortable for women to breastfeed.”

In terms of the male and female chests, she said, “Anatomically we're all exactly the same. I can feed my child, that's the only difference. There's no difference at all, it's just the societal thing.”

Carr's husband said he felt strongly that women should have the same freedom as a man when it comes to removing a shirt.

“It may seem minuscule to people, but it's a basic human right. We clearly don't have a problem with male toplessness and we shouldn't have a problem with female toplessness.”

Nathan Searles, 30, of East Wakefield, arrived wearing his wife's bikini top while she went topless.

“One hundred years ago men weren't allowed to expose their breasts and they managed to make that happen where they don't have to wear shirts. I think it's only fair. Our breasts are for breastfeeding and that shouldn't be a sexual thing. It's a natural thing,” said Searle's wife, Tracy.



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