Let me give you some background on my take... I am reading a book called, God is Back (excellent read) and in chapter 1 the authors (two Oxford educated editors of The Economist magazine) make the point that Europeans - namely led by the French are responsible for most of the anti religion sentiment that we've experienced in the world since about 0h... the 1500's. Most of it, they claim, comes from an intellectual snobbery that looks down its nose at anything that is not entirely pragmatic and empirical. Now... that led to the birth of the intellectual atheistic movement we've got today including guys like Dawkins and Hichens and the rest. Follow me if you will... if they take God out of the picture they are left with a purely humanistic way of determining morals and ethics. That leads inevitably to the following of the philosophy of "if it feels good do it." The French began to lead the world in morally questionable cultural things like the Moulon Rouge and there came a sexual freedom that came with the times. Even in age of high collared dresses and floor length hemlines, nudity and the celebration of the human body became a norm for them.
Fast forward several years (okay 1985 when I was studying in Europe) and after arriving in Nice, in the south of France on a very late train - my buddy and I headed to the beach and plopped our heads down on our backpacks and slept. I was awakened the next morning with my traveling companion saying, "Look but don't look too noticeably when you open your eyes." What? I popped up and looked around... we had decided to crash on a nude beach and were were VERY clothed at the time. It was one of those moments of western awkwardness versus the idea of absolute freedom that came from the birth of postmodern thought in that country. That is, I am free to be me and do what I please. For them, it was sans clothing!
Fast forward again to a vacation I was on with my wife in Cancun, when on a sunny, warm and lazy afternoon I fell dead asleep in my lounger next to the pool. My wife is to my right, and some friends of ours are to her right. They watched me with anticipation as I woke up only to realize that the lady on my left was sunbathing topless. You guessed it - she was French as it turned out. Again, awkward.
In the last couple of trips, that same resort has put up signs to prohibit topless sunbathing. A sign of the times? Prudish American morals? I'm not sure... but based on something I just read, it may not be out of line to propose that a new social ethic is cropping up in of all places, France. Time magazine did a story on how less and less young French (and other European) ladies are even desiring to sunbath topless.
Okay, stay with me a bit longer. In the place where the postmodern thought that allows for a culture to accept one thing as a freedom, individuals choose to return to, what would be considered by some, a more modest approach to outdoor living. One might say this is just the postmodern deciding that something else is appropriate. I would contend that all around us, there are examples of where people are choosing to return to, in this case, modesty. The decision to go away from modesty to nudity was based on some sort of thought process. What brought us back? What prompted the return that Time magazine is reporting? Perhaps, just perhaps, there is a Truth - a moral foundation on which our lives are supposed to be based and when we wander away from it, believer or not, eventually we return to or at least desire to return to it. Maybe we are wired to seek that foundation even when we think we are finding freedom and happiness in doing "our own thing."
Remember - it is never just a French beach! :)