Naked truth is a feeling of untopped exhilaration

Exhibitionists: Guys aren't only ones who enjoy women baring their breasts at public events like the Preakness. Those doing the flashing say it gives them a rush of freedom and power.

May 25, 2000|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Some call it a brazen, drunken act of women's liberation. Others claim it's pure degradation.

It's an annual ritual, a rite of passage, on the Preakness infield.

Picture this:

Blond-haired Jamie Morris hoists herself atop a set of broad shoulders, looks out across a muddy sea of T-shirt clad, beer-bonging twentysomethings and screams "wooooooo!" Then she lifts her head high and yanks up her gray top, answering the calls of "show us your [you-know-whats]!"

The crowd closes in on the braless 18-year-old, spraying her with Bud Light and yelping with glee. Then, all smiles, she whoops a little more, pulls down her shirt and stumbles back to the ground.

"It's really cool. At one point there were like 200 guys around me," says Morris, showing off a piercing in her tongue and another in her right breast. "It's stupid, but it's what guys want. I do it for attention, it's so totally for publicity."

At the Preakness, the polite crowd sips potent Black-eyed Susans, studies the Daily Racing Form and places bets, while the infield turns into a rowdy, beer-soaked ruckus. Every few minutes, a squealing group congregates somewhere on the vast field, and a beaming, bare-chested young woman is lifted above the fray for all to admire.

Saturday's chilly, damp weather didn't deter the exhibitionists. People came with T-shirts, signs and attitudes that demanded women bare their breasts to the crowd of more than 65,000. One man went against the grain and sported a jersey that read "Boobs are Boring." Another brought along a homemade "Hootermeter" on bright orange cardboard, complete with big measuring holes at the top and little ones at the bottom.

Any sober person had to ask:

What's going on with these women? And what's with these guys?

The show-what-you-got tradition has become accepted -- even expected -- at outdoor bashes such as the Preakness, Mardi Gras and Woodstock. There may be more of the same at Sunday's WHFStival, a live music blowout at FedEx Field in Lanham.

"I've never seen anything like it," said 25-year-old Mike Cosmides, who lives in Washington and was at Pimlico to revel in the raunchiness. "It's total bedlam and chaos. Completely unsupervised and uninterrupted."

Celebrities are doing it, too. Few late-night television watchers missed Drew Barrymore's stunt in 1995 when she jumped on David Letterman's desk, turned her back to the camera and gave the gap-toothed host a for-your-eyes-only birthday show. Then there's famed soccer player Brandi Chastain, who raised eyebrows when she whipped off her jersey and revealed a black sports bra in a celebratory moment after the U.S. women won the World Cup.

She was followed by Ohio State University's women's rugby team, which caused a stir in Washington last October when about 15 of the players posed topless for a photo in front of the Lincoln Memorial, amid chants of "Girl power!"

The women at the Preakness say showing their naked selves is all about self-esteem and vanity.

"It's like you're not sure of yourself, and they make you sure," said Kim Shupe, a 24-year-old hairstylist who lives in Glen Burnie. "Then you feel like everyone wants you, and it's the best."

Sex and gender experts have contrasting views about the exhibitionism.

Judy Beris, who teaches women's studies at Goucher College, said these young women are regressing to a time when women were seen only as sex objects.

"They may think it's cool and liberating to bare their breasts, but if they're doing it for approval, they're no different than the submissive housewife in the '40s and '50s," Beris said. "I've been involved in the women's movement since the 1960s, and if we're still defining ourselves through the eyes of men, that is sad."

But Rita Simon, a professor at American University who specializes in the women's movement, said it was more than 30 years ago that women burned their bras, and the exhibitionism is partially about freedom and power. Besides, she said, the women on the infield probably did not feel dominated by the men chanting for them to take it off.

"They seemed to say `We're with you on this, and we hope you like them,' " she said. "Women have always felt that being able to pick up their skirts or blouses is part of freedom. But I wouldn't get much of a political statement out of this. I don't think these women will be our next leaders."

Peter Fagan, director of the sexual behaviors consultation unit for the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said he sees the interaction as objectifying women.

"For me, it's not liberation. It's allowing yourself to be toyed with, reducing yourself to a one-dimensional view of a gender," Fagan said. "The women's liberation movement speaks of integrity. Power comes from within a woman instead of constantly responding to demands from others."

And as for the men, Fagan said, the women on their shoulders become the trophies.

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