Toplessness refers to the state in which a woman 's torso is exposed above her waist or hips, or with at least her breasts, areola , and nipples being exposed, especially in a public place or in a visual medium. The male equivalent is barechestedness, also commonly called shirtlessness.
In the past and in some cases until the present, social conventions and concepts of modesty in some cultures required females to completely cover their bodies below the neck , and sometimes above as well. Exposure of the torso , breasts, midriff and navel were especially taboo. While exposed breasts were and are normal in many indigenous societies, most developed countries ' cultures today have formal or informal dress codes, legal statutes, or religious teachings that require females to cover their breasts in public from adolescence onward. Contemporary Western cultures permit displays of cleavage in appropriate social contexts, but exposing the areola and nipples is usually regarded as immodest and is sometimes prosecuted as indecent exposure, lewd , or even disorderly conduct. The topfreedom movement challenges laws that forbid females to go topless in places where males are permitted to be barechested, arguing that such restrictions amount to gender discrimination.
Toplessness is more common and less controversial in the fields of entertainment , fashion , and the arts than it is in society as a whole, especially when it is perceived to have artistic merit. From early prehistoric art to the present day , women have been depicted topless in visual media from painting and sculpture to film and photography . In contemporary mainstream cinema, AcademyAward –winning actresses such as Halle Berry , Kate Winslet , and Nicole Kidman have appeared topless in their films.