In this week's cover story, we profile Holly Van Voast, an artist who for a time was also one of New York's most frequently topless women.
In 2011 Van Voast created a character named "Harvey Van Toast," who ventured out with a camera, a curly mustache painted on with liquid eyeliner -- and no shirt. She photographed hundreds of people in that persona, both her friends in the underground "punk drag" scene and a series of befuddled celebrities. (Filmmaker Chris Stearns made an excellent documentary, Topless Shock Syndrome, about Van Voast, with lots of photos of the performers she captured. It's available here.)
Although toplessness has been legal in New York state for 25 years, Van Voast was arrested or detained at least a dozen times, and involuntarily committed for psychiatric evaluation on four different occasions. Even when she wasn't being hassled by the police, she told me, public toplessness could be terrifying: "It's really nerve-wracking. It was like Jackass on speed." Before she went out, she says, "I'd sit there sweating for an hour."
After a few weeks of working on the story, it seemed to me that the only way to properly understand being topless in public was to do it (my editor would probably appreciate if I mentioned at this point that this wasn't his idea). I emailed the Outdoor Co-Ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society, asking if could come along on the club's next outing.More »