Having a bare chest in public is considered a legal issue when it can be said to violate indecent exposure laws, according to the Illinois State Bar Association. The laws are applied differently to female-bodied persons than to male-bodied persons due to a widely held perception that female chests are inherently more sexually provocative than male chests.
Indecent exposure is considered exposure of one's genitals in public with the intent to produce arousal or discomfort, states Hg.org. When public toplessness is considered in violation of the law, it is usually a misdemeanor offense and the typical punishment is a fine. While it is technically legal for both men and women to bare their chests in public in the majority of states, women still run a greater risk of being cited with indecent exposure or disorderly conduct for choosing to exercise this right.
In extreme cases, public toplessness can result in a felony charge, and the felon may be registered as a sex offender. As of 2013, Utah, Indiana and Tennessee are the only states in which public female toplessness is completely banned, according to The Atlantic. There are currently social movements such as Go Topless that are protesting the unequal application of indecent exposure laws in an attempt to reverse what they see as gender discrimination.