Boobs for Beads 

by Mark Greenawalt
Photos by Don Crossland
Originally published in Sonik Magazine, (February 2005)

Even the most inhibited ladies can cave in to the pressure of flashing their breasts for the coveted prize of Mardi Gras beads. How could such a trivial reward coerce them into baring these magical body parts that typically only see the light of day in the shower or possibly during one-on-one intimacy with their partner? This may well be one of life's mysteries that will forever remain unanswered, but nonetheless this tradition has been bringing ear-to-ear grins to the four million partygoers year after year during the Fat Tuesday celebration.

Legend has it that this deviant practice actually began very innocently. As early as 1871, masked characters would be riding on parade floats through the streets of New Orleans and they would be throwing out inexpensive souvenirs to the crowd. These souvenirs, also referred to as “throws”, would consist of plastic cups, medallions, doubloons, and yes, the peep-show-inducing bead necklaces. People are competitive by nature and the race was on to see who could collect the most throws. Beautiful young ladies would yell out, “Throw me something, mister” and fill their goodie bags with the collected loot. In the 1970’s, the notoriously raunchy French Quarter District gave the tradition a slightly different slant by coming up with the mutually beneficial bartering system of boobs for beads.

Due to the narrow streets, the French Quarter District no longer hosts parades for safety reasons, but it has still come to be party central for drinking and debauchery. Economists estimate that Mardi Gras generates more than half a billion dollars for the local economy each year and it is evident that a large portion of the money is spent on beer and beads. The men bring the beads to the party and women take them home and the beer is the catalyst that makes it a fun transaction for everyone. Ironically, the women’s antiquated phrase “Throw me something, mister” has been replaced by the men’s phrase “Show me your tits”. In the real world this phrase would be vulgar and inappropriate to say to a woman, but in the Carnival of Mardi Gras, it brings a smile and an eye-full of skin instead of a scowl and a slap in the face. Arthur Hardy, a New Orleans television personality and publisher of Arthur Hardy's Mardi Gras Guide, said, “It's always young co-eds who get drunk. They would never do this back home, but they feel they have the license to do it here.

One of man’s innate conquests in life is to see as many of the normally shrouded areolas as possible. All the while the women are wondering what’s the big deal, but yet they continue to hide them from man’s site like proverbial buried treasures. This supply and demand has spurred the popularity of the so-called gentlemen’s clubs like the aptly named Bourbon Street Circus where there’s more than a mere flash of the mammaries, but the cost is also much more than plastic beads. But the atmosphere of a topless bar seems stuffy compared to the “girls gone wild” appeal of the Big Easy. In fact, it almost appears as if the ladies, en route to inebriation, are wanting to be thrown beads so they will have the opportunity to let loose the cannons. Some even forgo their shirts altogether in favor of being bodypainted so they can walk around effectively topless. Although baring breasts is illegal under indecent exposure laws, this is one time of the year that even the police reverently turn the other cheek in order to let the revelers have their adult fun

Serena of Tempe made the trek to New Orleans several years ago and says that lifting her shirt in public was one of the most liberating things she’s ever done. “It’s not something you get to do everyday,” she says, “and it’s fun to get a little naughty every now and then.” So this year, whether you are on the giving or receiving end of the bead exchange, enjoy the exposure. Long live Mardi Gras!

(Send your Mardi Gras pictures relating to this story to Sonik magazine. Several lucky winners will receive an authentic bead necklace!)

(Click on the additional magazine images by photographer Don Crossland below to enlarge)

Mardi Gras bodypaintings by Mark Greenawalt.  Models pictured are Kayla Rei and Gia.

Mark Greenawalt