Sunday was the first day Mariah Cox had ever gone topless in public.
She was among more than a dozen women who discarded their shirts, bras and bikini tops to exercise their right to go shirtless in Canada.
“It was pretty liberating actually,” she said as the hot sun beat down upon the group.
The Saskatoon group was among the dozens of rallies that marked International Go Topless Day across the world. The event, which began in 2007 in Nevada, is meant to raise awareness for women’s rights to go shirtless in public and gender equality. Men are encouraged to wear bikinis or lingerie to show support.
Under the federal criminal code, it is legal for women to go topless in Canada, however social norms may attempt to dictate otherwise. As recent as last month, three topless Ontario women on their bikes were pulled over by a police officer and asked to put their shirts on. Elsewhere, an RCMP officer told a Kelowna woman to put a shirt on while she was sunbathing.
Cox said she has been bothered by the inequality in men and women’s social decency norms since she was eight years old.
“At that age I was already stigmatized to think it was the wrong thing and I was too embarrassed to take off my top,” she said. “It’s nice to finally be able to defeat those personal biases inside me.”
Though she’s set personal boundaries on where she wouldn’t go topless, she said she would like the norms to change so she can feel safe and normal walking on the beach or park without a shirt.
Angela Shain wore a bikini top, but said the rally is about the choice to go shirtless.
“I hope people stop looking at a woman’s chest as a sexual object because it’s no different from a man’s. The only difference is we have milk ducts and they don’t. Big whoop,” she said.
Other girls said going shirtless was a boost to their self-esteem and body image.
“I hope this (event) will make people more confident to stand up for what they believe in,” Cox said.