The Right to Bare Breasts: Topless Bathing at the Scripps Pool

The quest for a perfect tan is clearly a priority for many of us, the dedicated pool-going women who “do homework” by the absurdly luxurious Scripps pool. A quick glance around on a lovely sunny day will catch a number of girls tugging at their tops, trying to arrange pesky straps for minimum lines. It’s tricky to manage a humongous hardback econ textbook while simultaneously ensuring your Jerry-rigged swimsuit top stays in place. Academic achievement should surely be the priority in this situation. This got us thinking: do Scripps women have the right to bare breasts?

Your intrepid and dedicated reporters started their inquiry at the reception desk, where the sociable student working there said that, while she wasn’t clear on the official position, toplessness had been a topic of interest at staff meetings. A friendly call to the facility management yielded a terse, yet polite, referral to the “Field House Policy and Regulations” Web page, in addition to an outright denial of there having been any discussion about this important topic. We examined the online policy carefully, finding only the following cryptic reference to the topic of appropriate swimwear: “Clean swim attire must be worn in the pools and spa for health purposes and to reduce stress on the filtration system. A clean T-shirt may be worn over swim attire. Cutoff shorts, underwear and unapproved footwear are prohibited.”

Per our detailed legalistic inquiry, it seems that as long as your bikini bottom is clean, your top need not be present. The anti-discrimination policy is also relevant: “Scripps College is committed to a policy of equal opportunity and no differentiation will be made based on race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, sexual orientation, veteran status or the presence of a disability.”

A slender senior student of our acquaintance remarked, “Some of those CMC boys have bigger chests than I do; why don’t they have to wear swimsuit tops?” We understand that not everyone may be comfortable with partial nudity, and we’re not interested in attracting the leering eyes of our male neighbors. All we want is an hour or two a week—during women’s only hours—when we can tastefully tan topless, without fear of unintentional exposure, in order to avoid unsightly white lines. Do we desire a perfect tan to appease the male gaze? Not only is the answer different for every sunbather, it is not pertinent to our argument in favor of freedom and in opposition to tan lines.

Legally and historically, poolside nudity is categorically different than typical public nudity. There are no federal laws governing corporal exposure—with the obvious exception of sexual harassment laws. Poolside nudity is generally left to state and local regulation. The 1972 court case California v. Bost established that beach nudity is not legally considered indecent exposure in the state of California. Continuing the trend, California v. Smith (1988) maintained that people exercising their freedom to be nude would only be arrested if they displayed “lewd behavior.” Moreover, according to the California State Parks’ Cahill Policy, people enjoying the parks in the buff will only be apprehended if someone other than a park ranger or deputy complains.

While once popular on French coasts, topless tanning has seen a decline among young French women, according to a recent article in Time Magazine. A revival is clearly necessary, and what better place than a beautiful women’s college in sunny California? Allowing women a few hours of unmitigated tanning time will not harm the College’s reputation, especially if the policy continues as it is ambiguously written. Topless tanning in a private area is hardly the start of a slippery slope toward nudism. Since its opening, the field house has extolled the virtues of health and self-appreciation; a flexible pool policy would be an extension of this campaign. Test the water, ladyfriends, before the winter hits.