Members of New York City's Topless Book Club have been baring their breasts in Central Park for the past six years. Recently, the group went viral after sharing a video about their mission: To prove that it's perfectly possible for women to show nudity in a nonsexual way—while reminding New Yorkers that toplessness is very legal in their city.
"I feel like from a very young age women are told to be quiet or modest about our bodies," club member Cheyenne Lutek says. "Society tells us to dress or act a certain way in order to be 'normal' or 'accepted,' and frankly I believe we can use our bodies any way that we see fit."
Cheyenne joined the club in 2013 after reading about it online. It instantly sparked her interest because of its progressiveness. "They accepted me with open arms, and I've met some of the greatest people through it," she says.
Rachel Rosen, on the other hand, was introduced to the idea in 2011 through a personal training client. "I thought it was a really amazing idea that I wanted to support," she told us. (Related: Find Out Why Hundreds of Women Are Sharing Photos of Themselves Doing Naked Yoga)
Neither of the women had ever heard of anything like this before but fell in love with the group stood for. "It promotes the idea that we should be free to show up in whatever state of dress and undress in a pretty relaxed way and not be judged for it," Rachel says. "It also increases awareness that it's acceptable and actually desirable for women to be topless."
For Cheyenne, it was all about learning to be comfortable and confident in her own skin. "There just aren't many opportunities like this out there and it's definitely looked down upon," she says. "But we need to be in control of our bodies and our health—that's what this group is all about."
The club currently has hundreds of active members, some who have created their own small groups around the world. Their goal is to get together once a month to read everything from Shakespeare to comic books while having intelligent conversations about women's rights and issues.
"Being part of the group has brought light to many problems around the world for women, like pay, access to education, health care—I didn't really know about some of these things before," Cheyenne says. "It's changed my all-around perception of what it means to be a woman in today's world." (Related: What I Learned About Myself from Trying Naked Yoga)
The group accepts anybody and everybody, as long as they are willing to leave all judgments behind. But onlookers don't always offer the same courtesy. "Occasionally, we get some negative comments and looks," Cheyenne says. "But together we're more powerful and we support each other, so people who have something negative to say usually just mind their own business."
Rachel likes to give these folks the benefit of the doubt. "I think they are more curious than anything else," she says. "Plenty of people come up and commend us for what we're trying to do for future generations."
Over the years, both women have used the group to empower themselves and have learned to embrace their bodies in the process. "They're just boobs," Cheyenne says. "Being topless in public has taught me to be confident and in turn happier. Honestly, I feel like I've gone out and done things I would have never done before because of this." (Related: How Running a Naked 5K Helped Me Embrace My Cellulite and Stretch Marks)
Rachel loves that the group brings different types of women together and provides them with a safe space to just be themselves. "It's not the 'supermodel topless group,'" she says. "Women in the group come in all different shapes and sizes and learn that the body is a natural thing. It doesn't need to be sexualized. They learn that women can walk around without a top and it can just be an expression of who they are. It doesn't need to be anything more."
Because our bodies are badass and feeling strong, healthy, and confident is for everyone! Help us spread the body love and be a part of our #LoveMyShape body confidence movement: Post a photo or video on social sharing why you love your shape. And check out Movemeant Foundation, our partner in empowering women and girls to be body positive.