There’s a rebellion of women who are super upset that they can’t walk around topless. No, you didn’t accidentally dip into news archives from the 1960s… this bare-breasted movement is happening right now.
North American culture remains stubbornly prudish when it comes to exposure of women’s breasts and nipples in non-sexualized settings. Europeans and other countries’ people don’t have these same massive fears and hangups that Americans do. I spent my adolescence in Europe… and to me it’s clear how attitudes are so different and fearful here.
Not only is female public toplessness considered socially unacceptable in America, it can also make a lawbreaker out of an otherwise good gal. Did you know it’s illegal for women to go topless in public in 35 states, including while breastfeeding?
If a woman wishes to feel the warm sun on her skin at the beach like her man, to lay in the park with her babies grazing on her chest while she enjoys a picnic with her husband or with friends, to run out to her driveway to retrieve something from her car without having to first put on a top, to garden in her own damn yard without feeling required to keep peace with the neighbors by donning a button-down… if she wishes to do these things, why can’t she?
Why can’t she by LAW, that is.
Men have been legally allowed to go topless in public since 1936, a freedom they too had to fight for. Women have a legal right to go topless in the same areas as men in some states, but most women cannot enjoy this freedom when faced with risk of harassment and humiliation.
For women, “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” applies virtually everywhere in America, not just areas denoted with this signage. How many men have you seen walking into gas stations, riding bikes down the street, playing Frisbee in the park, and walking their dogs with their shirts off? It’s almost impossible to say, isn’t it, because we don’t even notice.
In fact, if we do notice and don’t want the sight in our view, what do we do? We take advantage of these things called eyes, of which most of us have two, and we avert them using the power of our brains (of which most of us have one and the rest of us…well, evidence suggests less than one). When it comes to matters of avoiding exposure to nonthreatening behavioral displays of the human body, the eye-aversion mechanism is pretty amazing and it works every time! This incredible tool also allows us to visually discover an endless number of other things in our line of sight at any given moment, to distract us should we come across the horrid offensiveness of the semi-exposed human body in a rare non-sexual presentation.
“Free the Nipple” is not about wanting to walk everywhere nude. It’s a call to end the stigma that makes women feel like their bodies are obscene, lawbreaking objects. Because we’re more than the sum of our body parts, including nipples that are seen or not seen. If we can’t show our bodies, by law, simply because they’re female… that’s unjust. We should be able to cover up because WE want to, not because we HAVE to.
If we want to cover up to avoid being looked at by someone who might be, God forbid, attracted to us, that should be within our own power — not made a law to protect THOSE people. These laws don’t protect us, they oppress.
A Lesson in Anatomy
It seems like by the turn of the century, our culture relinquished some important anatomical understanding to collective antiquity. Thankfully, the slow but steady re-normalization of breastfeeding helps to remind us of the facts. Here’s a refresher: Nipples come in a vast array of types, shapes, sizes in both women and men.
In fact, the makeup of both male and female breasts are basically the same, except that those of females are primed to give milk and are sexualized, whereas male nipples typically experience neither of these things. Read more on my pages about human breast anatomy:
Censorship in Photos
The sight of a female’s nipple is protected under law in real life in 15 states, but an image of a female’s nipple on social media or in distributed publication is censored virtually everywhere. Ridiculous much? This Sports Illustrated cover was placed, as is, at children’s eye level at supermarket checkout lines all over the country in 2012.
Here we have the lovely Kate Upton. We see virtually everything except her areolas, an aspect of her body that most certainly alludes to successful mothering capability, as far as primal physiology is concerned. In this case, exposing her areolas risks deflating her impact as a sexual object. She might then appear, God forbid, too human.
The Sports Illustrated image went to press as is, and received applause instead of pause. Guess who else received plenty of positive coverage for their lack of coverage? Female celebrities who symbolize unattainable image standards as a career. These photos were not censored in their original formats, as pictured. These celebrities’ nipples are deemed appropriate for the venues and modes of delivery, because their nipples come packaged in trend-setting, stylish sex appeal. How convenient for whoever was manning the pixelator on set that day.
Before even going to press, the following HIPMAMA magazine cover was, of course, automatically censored with a red circle that obscured the child’s hand and woman’s torso because the image was considered obscene:
This is what motherhood — and by default, womanhood — looks like. Yes, even with (especially with) the superhero costumes. And for my next point…
Censorship of Motherhood
Here I am, laying in bed with my son and husband. They were bonding skin-to-skin, then I joined. My nonsexual skin-to-skin contact with either of them was censorable only because I’m a female. So here’s our best shareable family portrait from the session, with me robed up.
The reason it’s the “best” is because it’s the most appropriate, not because it’s the most realistic. I breastfeed. That means I hardly bother wearing shirts or robes at home during the day.
How unfair that I must be a bystander in my own family photo rather than an equal participant just to avoid getting locked out of my social media accounts. You know, my nipples actually DO something, and it’s a pretty normal yet special and important thing that they do!
Let’s take a look at the trend among social media sites with regard to treatment of expressions of motherhood. Oh, what a perfect example I have that stands in for countless others!
Women are “allowed” (uh, thanks?…) to use their breasts to feed and comfort their children in public — in some states it’s even specified that we can do so without a cover, and 11 states specify that breastfeeding in public is protected whether or not any part of the nipple is visible in the process of feeding.
Two states allow breastfeeding in public under the condition that the mother is “behaving” in a discreet and modest manner (a bit subjective, no?).
Several states make no mention in their codes about protection for breastfeeding mothers and their babies. Tennessee only protects mothers who nurse babies less than one year old in public. Imagine that: you can be arrested for nursing a 12.5 month old in a publicly parked car in Tennessee!
People need to see what female nipples are used for, just like female breasts should not only be on display when oiled up in music videos, selling beer, Photoshopped in fashion magazines, and serving as the subjects of “before & after” plastic surgery ads targeted toward adolescents.
The Future of the Female Body
What are we teaching our sons about their female counterparts with messages of censorship?
They’ll figure out what they think of women’s sexual appeal all on their own without a lick of input from anyone else, you can trust that. But it does a great disservice to the future relationships of men-to-be by washing out the reality of natural womanhood and motherhood with pixelated breastfeeding nipples, black bar treatments on nude women who aren’t professional pinups, and other forms of censorship.
Our sons will benefit from learning that there’s nothing to hide or invalidate out of repulsion, fear, and Puritanical brainwashing when it comes to the normal functions of female form.
We cannot accept only part of a woman’s breast, only certain kinds of breasts, or only breasts in special circumstances, and then censor the rest as if they are so offensive they cannot even be viewed by children. In an ideal world, all breasts would be appropriate to see anywhere a man’s breasts would be. G-rating for all!
Last but not least, how about our daughters? What do we want them to learn from all of this nipple and boob talk?
Break the cycle. Learn more about why understanding this movement is so important: