Seattle woman who's had a double mastectomy fights for the right to swim bare-chested

Here's a CBC As It Happens story from last month on Jodi Jaecks, a woman in Seattle who had a double mastectomy and successfully fought the city for the right to swim topless in the local pool. She swims as part of her post-surgical therapy, and finds wearing women's suits cumbersome. She was given "singular permission" to swim wearing only a bottom, but has vowed to continue the fight until the policy is changed throughout.

For breast cancer survivor,Jodi Jaecks, the fight isn't over. Last week, she won the right to go topless in Seattle area public pools. That's a year after undergoing a double mastectomy. Now, she wants to make sure the same rules apply to other women who have survived breast cancer.

Double Mastectomy Swimmer


  1. Why is this even a thing?  Which bit are we supposed to consider naughty?  The breast as a whole?  Just the nipple?  Any skin present between the clavicle and the bottom rib?  I wonder, often, if humans are going to survive another five generations.  

        1. I wrote ‘areolae’ on the family shopping list and told my father – who takes great pride in doing the weekly food shopping solo – that it was in the cereal/muesli aisle. I knew full well he’d give up looking and ask for assistance.

  2. I would find it hard to justify this change if was the City of Seattle -letting someone defy social norms just because it’s ‘cumbersome.’ 

    1. Given the harmlessness of defying this social norm, I find her request sub-optimal for the opposite reason: Why introduce a special rule for a specific medical status(leaving room for further quibbling, what about people who had preemptive masectomies to avoid cancer and are thus not cancer survivors, for instance? Or partial vs. total tissue removal, post masectomy reconstructive surgery or not, etc, etc.) and just go with ‘people who would prefer not to don’t have to’?

    2. I couldn’t get the video at CBC to load, so I don’t know what their report actually said (other than the text). But the news report shown locally in Seattle said that it was more than just an issue of being “cumbersome”. According to them, the post-surgical pain for her is significant enough that wearing a swim-suit top causes genuine and significant discomfort.

      Not that, IMHO, that part of the question is really all that relevant (see “double-standard”). But if you’re going to get into the social norms vs. personal benefit argument, it’s worth being clear about what the personal benefit really is, so that you can more accurately judge whether it justifies defying social norms.

    3.  Is it a good idea to have laws that restrict the activity of one group of people and not another? Do we need to continue to treat men and women differently under the law? Has equal rights failed us?
      As I see it, a law applies to everyone or it is meaningless and applies to no one. Sex based laws have no place in today’s world.

  3. There should be one rule regardless of gender. If women can’t swim topless, neither should men. Anything else is a sexist double standard that perpetuates the sexualization of female breasts. 

    1. When a girl of 15 sprouts breasts, it is considered attractive.  On a man of 50, not so much.  Life is unfair. 

        1. Thanks for that article, very interesting. I am not especially large but have moobs (I think mine are worse than for someone with a larger figure like yours in the photo, to be honest). 

          I hate that they limit what kinds of clothes I can wear (most t-shirts are right out) because I really enjoy clothing. I’m not sure it’s just a matter of cultural acceptance/stigma… it just doesn’t work with the male figure aesthetically. No girl who likes me otherwise has cared, but I like to look good for myself too, not just for others.

          I dread what I’m going to look like when I get older, having seen plenty of old guys with huge tits :)

          To get sort of on topic, I think I would be a lot more comfortable going to the beach or the pool if old-school one-piece swimsuits for men were still culturally acceptable. Just like this woman shouldn’t have to worry about cultural acceptance of going topless (whether she has specific reason to, like she does, or not). Society is dumb.

          1. “What works aesthetically” for male and female bodies is dictated by social norms and their accompanying stigmas. You can’t separate the two.

            And we aren’t even discussing the issues around intersex bodies and trans bodies. What if the swimmer in the article were a trans man who had undergone top surgery?

    2. On the one hand, I agree with the double-standard point. Applying different rules to women and men is sexist and I don’t see a compelling justification, even in the case of covering or not covering breasts.

      On the other hand, I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong with the sexualization of female breasts. It’s not like there aren’t those who sexualize the male breast (though typically for different characteristics), nor does it seem unreasonable to sexualize any part of a human body that a person finds sexually attractive.

      For me, when it comes to sexualization, the real issue is people who can’t apply context and understand the difference between a breast as a practical matter and a breast as a sexual matter. In the right context, breasts are sexual, just as feet, legs, butts, hands, arms, backs, lips, etc. are. But in lots of other contexts, they are just something that’s there, and occasionally used to produce food, in a completely non-sexual way.

      Fact is, there was a time when showing even a little bit of leg was considered sexually provocative. We’d outgrown that social norm, and yet a leg can still be sexual. I guess I’m saying, here’s a case where we can have our cake and eat it too: we can get rid of the double-standard without losing the pleasure of enjoying breasts sexually.

      1. I think sexualization of male bodies is increasing in our culture, but there’s really no comparison whatsoever to the way women’s bodies are objectified, policed and regulated. 

        Yes, of course there’s nothing wrong with finding any particular body part sexy. But sexualization as a social and cultural phenomenon is informed by sexist double standards which insist that men do the looking, and women are the objects of that gaze. Laws against female toplessness aren’t simply prudish– they actually promote and reinforce the idea that women’s bodies are sexual and men’s are not.

        1. I think maybe you’re not seeing what I mean.

          I see a difference between sexism and sexualization. The former is about imbalance of power, the latter about human sexual response (at least, by the definition I’m using for sexualization: nothing more than taking pleasure in something in a sexual way).

          Yes, sexualization applied in a harmful way can be the basis for some types of sexism. But that doesn’t make it bad. It just makes it a tool misused.

          That’s why I disagree that the “sexualization of female breasts” is in and of itself a bad thing as your original post implied. It’s not the sexualization itself that’s bad; it’s the way that sexualization is used to justify sexist laws that’s bad.

    3.  I think by putting tops on men to cover their nipples you are sexualizing male breasts. Cool!

  4. Surely there are also men that have lost their “junk” because of cancer or accident…….

    1. Yes, there are. I’m guessing you’re proposing such men should be allowed to swim completely nude?

      Assuming a social prohibition on nudity generally, the loss of genitalia does not necessarily mean a person could go without their bottoms without violating that norm. After all, many people are offended not just by the genitalia, but also by the buttocks and anus.

      It’s also worth pointing out that the more extensive the damage/loss, the more likely that there are serious health issues related to swimming and medical apparatus involved in compensating for the damage/loss. The question may well be moot in that scenario, because the person wouldn’t be safe swimming in a public pool anyway.

  5. For what it’s worth, this news story has very little to do with what most people consider a “female breast”. You can do a web search on her name and find photos of her bare-chested; she simply has no breasts at all.

    This is more about arbitrary gender-specific rules that are written in an overly vague way. (Assuming that the rules prohibit topless women specifically at all…some rules simply prohibit the uncovering of certain parts or amounts of a breast, and so wouldn’t apply to a woman without any breasts).

  6. It’s technically legal for women to go topless in Canada. Rarely happens, but it was fought for and won some years back on the basis that it’s sexual discrimination.

    1. Same with my city, in Oregon, U.S. It is actually specifically legal women and men to go topless.  

      Despite this, there are only a few women (& way too many men) who do this, and the ones who do don’t merit a 2nd glance unless they’re the sort of person who might get a 2nd glance fully clothed. 

      That’s why it really cracks me up when some town somewhere has a raging controversy in which some group is passionately seeking to legalize going topless, and there’s another group passionately opposing it, claiming it would be the end of civilization and that women will start shaking their breasteses in young boy’s faces. These always seem to be small, conservative towns too. My town is pretty liberal, or fancies itself so, and I have  gone whole summers without seeing carefree, swingin’ boobage (female anyway.)

    2.  I rather thought it was only Ontario, not all of Canada. I know we like to think we’re “all of Canada”, but it’s legal distinctions like this that drag us back down to earth :)

      However, the law is not “legal to go topless period”.  It’s “On public property, when not topless for commercial promotion or exploitation.” On private property, private property holders are still free to impose dress codes of their choice (although possibly not based on gender) and public facilities are still allowed to impose dress codes for hygienic or safety reasons (no chest hair in cafeteria food in municipal buildings, thanks – and yes, women can and do have chest hair).

      So it’s not completely unrestricted… but you barely ever see anyone doing it anyways. You barely ever see men topless either, at least in the city. Outside of pools anyways, and even then there’s a not insignificant number of men swimming in t-shirts or singlets – if you spend 9 months of the year inside or bundled up to your jaw, the sun can be your foe ;)

  7. BTW, some men DO wear swimsuits that cover part or all of their chests: triathletes and folks who wear rashguard or UV-protection swim shirts. The rashguards are a real help for transguys who need some cover to feel socially appropriate.
    Several retailers sell exactly the same product for guys with gynecomastia (“moobs”).

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