• Two gendarmes in Sainte-Marie-la-Mer, 70 miles south of Montpellier, asked three female sunbathers to put their tops on last week after a holidaymaker complained.
• The police were forced to apologise for their ‘blunder’ and ‘lack of tact’ after the news made national headlines. • Witnesses Marie Hebrard told a local television channel that she saw police telling women to cover up on the beach last Thursday.
Police have been forced to apologise following public backlashPolice sparked a public outcry after asking topless female sunbathers to cover up on a beach in the south of France.
Politicians from from the centre, left and right united in condemnation, with the interior minister defending topless sunbathing as a ‘fundamental French liberty’.
Two gendarmes in Sainte-Marie-la-Mer, 70 miles south of Montpellier, asked three female sunbathers to put their tops on last week after a holidaymaker complained.
The police were forced to apologise for their ‘blunder’ and ‘lack of tact’ after the news made national headlines.
Witnesses Marie Hebrard told a local television channel that she saw police telling women to cover up on the beach last Thursday.
Ms Hebrard said they ‘stopped to talk to a woman of about 60. We couldn’t hear what they said, but we saw the woman was agitated after they left, visibly upset and frantically looking in her bag for her bikini top.’
Ms Hebrard said she was shocked that the officers then went on to approach other topless women. ‘My feminist soul spoke out and I went to see them to ask if they thought that topless sunbathing was an offence against decency. They asked me to move on,’ she said.
Under French law, topless sunbathing is permitted on beaches unless prohibited by a local bylaw, which is not the case in Sainte-Marie-la-Mer.
Topless sunbathing first gained a foothold in France in the 1960s, when Brigitte Bardot popularised the ‘monokini’ as second wave feminism swept through Europe. It became a point of national pride in the 1970s, after a conservative attempt to ban the practice was defeated.
The right to sunbathe topless is seen as a fundamental French liberty (Picture: Getty) The officers were accused of undermining a quintessentially French freedom at a time when critics say a wave of puritanism is sweeping the country.
MP for the ruling En Marche party, Aurélien Taché, denounced the incident as scandalous: ‘When will the state stop trying to give moral lessons, particularly to women? Everyone is free to dress or undress as they like.’
Mayor of Cannes David Lisnard criticised a ‘regressive prudishness’, while an opposition socialist MP, Christine Pirès Beaune, led left-wing indignation, saying she was ‘fed up with all these puritans and moralising people’.
At the other end of the political spectrum, Jean Messiha, a senior figure within the far-right National Rally, claimed that the incident highlighted a threat to the French ‘identity’.
Police in the Pyrénées-Orientales department said that two officers patrolling the beach had been approached by a family of holidaymakers complaining that the presence of three topless sunbathers was upsetting their children.
‘Wanting to calm things down, the officers asked the people concerned if they would agree to put on their swimsuit tops,’ the statement said, conceding that the actions had been ‘clumsy’.
Sainte-Marie-la-Mer council said officers had no powers to ask women to cover up.
A statement said: ‘The council considers that a woman sunbathing topless is in no way an offence against decency or good behaviour. The councillors are very attached to the principle of republican liberty.’
French women claim to have been among the first to sunbathe topless in the early Sixties. However it has been in decline, particularly among younger women.
22% said they went topless at the beach in a poll last year, compared with 43% in 1985.
Sociologists say concerns over skin cancer, body shaming and a fear of sexual harassment are among the reasons for the decline.
Credit to Source: AfricanTime