GoTopless Day: Women bare breasts for annual walk in Vancouver

Vancouver Courier

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The term “sun’s out, guns out” takes on a decidedly different meaning for Denise Belisle.

She wishes it wasn’t so.

Denise Belisle is the organizer of Sunday’s GoTopless Day walk in downtown Vancouver.
Photograph By JENNIFER GAUTHIER

Belisle is the organizer behind Vancouver’s annual GoTopless Day, which happens Sunday, Aug. 26. Now in its 11th year, the annual jaunt through downtown includes dozens of women freeing their breasts from the shackles of bras, blouses and whatever else encumbers them.

Freeing their chests is part of a much larger call for freedom — freedom from ogling, freedom from stigma and freedom for women to do what they want, when they want with their bodies and minds.

Those talking points will be front and centre when Belisle and others bear their busts during a half-hour walk that winds through the West End to the Vancouver Art Gallery — Aug. 26 is also Women’s Equality Day.

“We are protesting against being objectified and sexualized, but it’s more like a peaceful march,” Belisle said.

Since its inception in 2007, GoTopless Day has seen attendance numbers hover between 50 and a few hundred. It started off in English Bay, when Belisle and a handful of others hopped in a convertible with a megaphone and a message.

The route changed five years ago, and participation numbers have grown almost every year. The walk has grown to the point that it’s now taking place in close to 50 cities worldwide.

One constant that’s dogged GoTopless Day, however, is dogs. Many men ogle, take photographs and sexualize the women over the very points they’re trying to make. Going topless is legal in B.C. and Ontario.

“I get stopped by guys all the time asking to have a picture taken,” Belisle said. “If you consider a guy walking topless, nobody even blinks an eye. These are the little things that in Canada, in Vancouver, I’m bringing awareness to.”

That said, men are invited to take part in the event, so long as their nipples are covered in tape or they’re wearing bikini tops. After all, it was a man who first championed GoTopless Day 11 years ago.

A former auto racing journalist, Claude Vorilhon founded GoTopless Day in 2007, three decades after a purported alien encounter caused him to change his name to Rael and start up a religion called the Raelian Movement loosely based on alien colonization and free love.

Belisle says the topless walks aren’t a vehicle to spread those religious ideologies and is a separate ball of wax altogether.

Though not affiliated with the GoTopless Walk, a “Free the Nipple” bike ride also happens Sunday, from noon to 3 p.m. The route starts at Sunset Beach and winds around the Seawall.

Info for both events is available online.