It's not what you'd expect at all.
What comes to your mind when you think of Mardi Gras? For some, it’s the traditional fare of extravagant parade floats, exquisite masks, and beautiful beads. For others, it's wild parties, women flashing their boobs and the craziness that is Bourbon Street.
Mardi Gras is a historical celebration that dates back thousands of years, and was intended to be a celebration on the eve of Lent. The hedonism that we see pictured in the media is completely separate from the real purpose of the celebration.
Breast flashing is not considered to be a “real” tradition of Mardi Gras, but rather a phenomenon that surrounds the spring break mentality of the young people that hang out on Bourbon Street.
The festive parades throughout New Orleans and the South remain a more sacred celebration that are frequented more by locals, while the wild celebrations occur on Bourbon Street alone with hundreds of tourists.
So why exchange beads for exposing a body part? Why DO women flash their boobs at Mardi Gras?
The act of bearing one’s breasts at Mardi Gras dates back to the 1970s, but drastically increased from 1987 to 1991.
Many women attribute the flashing of their breasts to their mass consumption of alcohol. They also report pleasure from violating the expected norms of society as a whole. A study found that 68 percent of men and 63 percent of women had at least 5 or 6 drinks per sitting while at Mardi Gras festivities. About one-quarter of the men reported having at least 16 drinks per sitting! Whoa.
The study also reported that 42 percent of men expect to have sex with somebody they meet at Mardi Gras. A third of all attendees surveyed did, in fact, have sex with someone that they had met at the festivities, and about one half said at least a few of their friends did too.
Perhaps we could compare the wild times at Mardi Gras to the activities that take place in Las Vegas. Clearly, there are some similarities between the two.
But what happens on Bourbon Street does not necessarily stay on Bourbon Street.
In actuality, the craziness is often videotaped or photographed. This can come back to haunt people. It’s widely known that media outlets reserve Bourbon Street balconies at least five years in advance! One female flasher found out that video footage of her flashing her boobs showed up on a Girls Gone Wild video. She filed a court case after discovering that her images were on the cover of the DVD and there was footage of her within the video.
Breast flashing and wild behaviors could also be attributed to the concept of mob mentality. With a little inhibition and the large crowds that exist, a single person could feel that their behavior is normal and not necessarily picked out of the crowd. One can feel anonymous amongst a large crowd of people they do not know, and thus, more prone to show the goods.
Some Fall Into The Tourist Trap
Another interesting fact is that many of the revelers are from out of town. Many of the partygoers tell interviewers that they are at Mardi Gras to “escape” their daily lives. They have the daily stresses of work or school, and feel like they need to let off some steam by going to Mardi Gras and completely letting go.
For the most part, people’s behaviors at Mardi Gras are completely opposite from the behaviors that they display on a daily basis.
Kevin Barrow, a longtime resident of New Orleans states, “The tourists are the ones who participate. Nobody in New Orleans knows them so they can do things, be sneaky with it and have a good time. When they go home, no one knows what they have done.”
After returning home, however, the guilt and shame can build and fester. Although once the act has been done it cannot be erased from one’s past (or from the internet!), it is important to reflect on the situation and to change behaviors going forward.
The reason women flash is to feel liberated and free. It’s a time of complete escape and abandonment of daily duties. A group mentality also exists that allows people to feel free to express themselves. Mix in large amounts of alcohol and Bourbon Street suddenly becomes a place of utter abandonment of life stressors.