It’s been 85 years since men won their right to bare topless on public beaches. Now, native islander Dorothy Stover fights for women to be granted this same freedom.
A balmy 89 degrees on a July Tuesday morning, the sun painted sparkles on the open sea, the salty air brushed our hair and kissed our cheeks as we were gently rocked from the port of Hyannis to the shores of Nantucket, slowing our pace from city-hustle to laid back island time.
Waiting for our arrival on the island was 7th generation Nantucket-native, Dorothy Stover. She quickly stands up from a Nantucket Athenuem bench wearing a crimson red dress and greets us with a ‘I feel like I’ve known you forever’ hug. “Welcome to the island!” she says to our team. For Dorothy, Nantucket is home. “There’s no community quite like it,” she tells us with an ear to ear smile. Immediately we’re enchanted.
Dorothy is a 40-something woman who takes leaps of faith knowing full well that she may not be liked for it or in her words, “and I may land flat my face.” For example, earlier this year, she took ‘Gender Equality on Beaches’ bylaw (a measure allowing women to go topless on all of the town’s beaches) to the Nantucket Town Meeting. When we heard about this we just had to meet Dorothy and dig deeper on the subject. Her passion for body equality is the reason for our visit.
With a photoshoot planned and an interview to go, she sits down for hair and makeup under the shade of the trees. She requested natural makeup and a curl touch-up to enhance her natural beauty.
When asked what inspired her to ignite such a change, she told us “I’ve had other people control my body; my parents not wanting me to wear certain clothes, the church, the government, the man that molested me as a child, and the man that raped me when I was a teenager. After all of this, I have experienced freedom from those that have tried to control or have a say over my body. All humans having freedom, equality, and choice over their bodies is extremely important to me. I have been oppressed and found my freedom, I want the same for others.”
Dorothy is well-versed in the healing/pleasure space for women as the Owner of the Nantucket Love School where she supports students with the best practices for love that she’s picked up along her journey, education, and experience. Though going topless on a beach may sound offensive at first or deemed inappropriate, Stover reminds us that “when we have control over our bodies and we have the freedom of choice, we allow the space and grace for others to do the same,” a thought that immediately clicked. “This changes the energy from an imbalance of energy to harmony in our world. When we have this harmony, all areas of our life shifts. We humans are no longer operating on a singular level of self. The world is shifting towards truly being connected on a deeper level. A level I don’t think we realize how deep our connections go. This is part of the human evolution. Body equality plays a major role in our human and soul evolution.”
On May 2, 2022, the ‘Gender Equality on Beaches’ bylaw amendment passed with a vote of 327-242 following a debate at the annual town meeting in Nantucket. No falling on her face, yet!
In awe, we ask her “What were people’s initial reaction to your idea?” curious to know the true original thoughts of the island going into it all.
“Many people had their minds made up when they walked into the room, but what I heard changed their minds was when they learned of the history of bathing suits..”
Did you know it wasn’t until nearly 100 years ago men weren’t allowed to be topless on the beach? Dorothy was telling us that men even protested and were arrested for sporting no top on the sandy dunes. It wasn’t until 1937 when New York started the movement that they were allowed to be topless and show their nipples! That’s less than 100 years ago that men were fighting for their freedoms.
“I also heard what changed many minds was the fact that this new bylaw is about everyone having an equal choice and body autonomy..” she continues, “there were voters that felt they wouldn’t go topless, but that all people deserve the right to have a choice, and certainly, a cis-female shouldn’t be arrested, fined, and the possibility of being put on the sex offender list all because of not having a top on.”
We walked from Stone Alley, one of Dorothy’s favorite spots on the island to a quaint little ice cream shop on the corner where the sweet scent of waffle cones tickled our noses.
“Not everyone came around, and I respect this.” Dorothy tells us regarding her friends and family who weren’t on-board in the beginning, either. “It’s extremely important to hold space for different opinions and viewpoints. But the friends and family that did come around came around not because of what I had to say but because of other people they were talking to within the island community. This bylaw sparked much conversation around the island. People were educating each other. It was so beautiful to witness people openly having a dialog with each other on a sensitive subject.”
We made it down to Brant Point for our last bit of outfit changes before our mini tour of Nantucket came to an end. The sand was almost too hot to walk on so we trudged through the dunes with our sandals on until we got to the perfect spot on the ocean’s edge.
With all of the talk about the mission for body equality on the beach, we wondered if we would come across anyone sans tops. And to clarify, the bylaw wasn’t proposing a nude beach but ‘top freedom’.
Dorothy told us, “Personally, I have not seen any changes on the beach, but I have had women reach out to me saying they were on the beach by themselves and decided to go topless and how wonderful it felt. Having a choice is so powerful.”
We played Qveen Herby’s “Abracadabra” from our phone’s speaker while Dorothy got in the zone to dance in the waves, allowing herself to be in a state of pleasure and power.
She asks us, “Ever notice how one person in a bad mood can change the room, and maybe even cause others to be in a bad mood?” she goes on, “What about when someone comes in the room and they light the room up? The energy can shift and people can feel so good being in that space with that person. This is the case for every part of our lives. Everything is energy. If we are caring for our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual wellness, we in turn support others doing the same. We can also affect the energy of the world.”
Dorothy continues, “This is what true democracy needs from us; open minds, open hearts and allowing space for people to make their own decisions and have their voices heard.”
She leaves us with, “Everything I do in my life I’m going to do for love.”
After meeting Dorothy, we reflected on our ferry journey back to Boston. Hearing her story and feeling her passion for life, our biggest takeaway is you can make changes, enormous or miniscule toward creating a new world, but it has to come from a place of love and betterment for all.
The earliest the law could be approved is August or September. So it remains to be seen what will be next with the movement for topless beaches.
I, for one, am a huge advocate of everything Dorothy is fighting for and look forward to more beaches and communities throughout New England embracing top freedom and body equality.
“Dorothy is such a beautiful and powerful soul,” says Shaunna Legatos, who provided the Hair x MakeUp for our photoshoot. “It was such an honor to collaborate with her, and I stand beside her as an advocate with all of this!”
Regardless of what happens next though, if you ever find yourself wondering how to make a change in your community, ask yourself “What would Dorothy Do?” Make waves.
Please enjoy the additional images below from our day on Nantucket Island with Dorothy, shot by the talented Til Death Photo + Film with HMUA by Shaunna Legatos.