Free the Nipple (from Shame)

This is a follow-up to my previous post: I left my Fig Leaf in my other Gym Bag.

To recap, I have recently discovered that nudity is strongly discouraged in the women’s locker room of my local Y.  From what I’ve heard, in contrast, the men’s locker room is a let it all hang out kind of place.   Apparently some men’s locker rooms are a bit more modest than others, but I’ll bet my best brassiere none of them require men to wear a shirt.

The root of the discrepancy here is the sexualization of the female body– or perhaps even worse, the sexualization of certain arbitrary female body parts.  The ownership of breasts does not make you a sex object 24/7.  If you are really lucky, you might manage 21/6, but even so you should take some time for yourself to hit the gym.

Having to cover myself in the locker room is a minor inconvenience, but it’s a pretty annoying minor inconvenience when men are not subjected to the same standards.

Which leads me to Free the Nipple, which if you are living under a blanket is a movement declaring female nipples should not be treated any differently than male nipples and should be allowed to be displayed anywhere male nipples enjoy sunshine and fresh air.  Laws vary by state as to whether or not you can get thrown in jail for owning a free female nipple. I gotta wonder if that’s constitutional under equal protection rights, but I live in a state where I cannot hold public office, so who knows?

I admit I’ve always considered this fairly ridiculous.  I don’t really want to walk around topless in public.  What kind of attention seeker do you have to be to insist on baring your chest for all the world to see? Have you no modesty? No.  No modesty. And that’s the point.  Modesty is what…exactly?  Modesty is nothing more than the successful ploy to convince women their bodies belong to the men who control them. This is insidiously labeled as self respect, but it’s not.  It’s self shame.  Modesty is a creation of the patriarchy. That almost makes me want to walk around Walmart topless.  Almost. Forgive me for my prudish American ways.

For the record, I did go topless for about 7 minutes on the beach in Barcelona once until it occurred to me that I might run into someone I knew..  Also, do nipples sunburn?  That’s probably  the first and last time I’m ever going  topless in public since I’ve already ruined the rest of my lily white skin with sun damage, so I figured Free the Nipple needn’t really concern me.  But upon further reflection inspired by the draconian dress code at the Y, it absolutely concerns me.  It concerns all women and the people who love them.

As a feminist, I really feel like I should have unpacked this before now.  The fact that topless beaches are not my thing does not mean I don’t have a tit in this tussle. We should all take a moment to consider the consequences of sexualizing the female breast.

First, there is the public breastfeeding issue.  I do have some experience with this.  I had a whole system of nursing bras, tank tops with slits cut in them covered by camp shirts, and blankets to cover my babies’ heads, and I’m sure I still flashed a couple of people.  I was also asked to feed my babies in the bathroom several times and once to leave a restaurant.  Mostly, though, I sat alone in my car so I could feed my child without the terrible risk that someone else might feel uncomfortable witnessing a completely normal function of the female breast.  I banished myself just in case someone might think they were witnessing a sexual act in the middle of Burdines.   My boob is not a dildo, people.  The hassle of public breastfeeding leads to some women switching to bottles of formula  or avoiding the nursing experience altogether .  As a culture, we should be ashamed.

It’s not just breastfeeding that is compromised by the sexualization of the breast. Consider that even though a woman’s risk of breast cancer is as high as 1 in 8, fewer than 70% of women get the mammograms recommended by health professionals.  Plenty of women avoid breast exams and mammograms because they require revealing a “private part” to a stranger.  Some women are especially uncomfortable with a male gynecologist, and I think it’s great to have the option of visiting a female practitioner, but I’ve also heard women say they don’t want another woman touching their breasts as if this is somehow a homosexual act.  It’s not a homosexual act, of course; it’s not a sexual act at all, but women who believe their breasts serve no purpose other than providing a man with pleasure are not getting the best healthcare they deserve.  Breast cancer goes undetected. There are women in this country who die of shame.

If you’re still not convinced that Free the Nipple is a perfectly sensible step in the advancement of women, consider this: To get around censorship rules on FB, I could take a picture of myself topless and Photoshop a man’s nipples over my own.  In theory, at least.  I believe it’s been done.  How ridiculous is that?

So Free the Nipple!  I really want a T shirt that says that.  As long as it covers everything.




6 thoughts on “Free the Nipple (from Shame)

  1. Thank you for this blog post. I’m glad to find bloggers talking about subjects like this.

    My thoughts:

    There will always, to some extent, be shame associated with nudity.

    The reason why is because: When a person is naked, they are showing all that they physically are to the world, and that person doesn’t know with certainty how the world will react.

    Thus: There is a risk that a person could be objectified because they are naked.

    The instinct to cover yourself when, for example, someone walks in on you in the bathroom, is your body’s way of implicitly saying “Don’t look at my ___, look at my face. See me as a person. Not as a means of attaining physical pleasure.”

    If breasts are sexual in any way, it is in these ways:

    1. Breasts are beautiful. Men are attracted to beauty. Beauty is arousing.
    2. Breasts provide food for the end result of sex — a baby.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for your comments! I’m not sure I agree that shame is inevitable. Toddlers run around naked all the time without feeling shame. It’s interesting though, that you said that shame comes not from within the person who owns the breasts, but from what others may think of them. Great point!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Toddlers run around naked all the time without feeling shame.”

      That’s a great point.

      The reason why, I think, is because toddlers don’t understand yet that not everyone has their best interests at heart. As a person gets older, they realize: “Not everyone is going to see me as a human, not an object.”

      I have read about communities, like tribes in the Amazon rainforest and nudist resorts, where nobody bats an eyelash at nudity because everyone understands that, for that community, nudity is normal. In such a community, seeing a butt, breast, or vagina is as common an occurrence as seeing a cloud, grass, or rocks. So: I don’t think it’s inevitable that people be ashamed of their nudity, because there are places where nudity is nothing to think twice about.

      “It’s interesting though, that you said that shame comes not from within the person who owns the breasts, but from what others may think of them.”

      Shame is a defense mechanism. For example: When a woman covers herself, she’s not saying “I hate my body,” she’s saying “See me as more than my body.”


  3. I’m not sure you and I have the same definition of shame. I think of it as internal, springing from your own thoughts about yourself. There is no reason to feel shame because of what others think of you. Shame is what you feel about yourself. Maybe if a man is blinded by the beauty of my breasts and can’t see anything else, he should feel shame. It is empowering to say “see me as more than my body,” not shameful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “I’m not sure you and I have the same definition of shame.”

      The way I see shame is:

      I look at the story, in the Bible, of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

      Before Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they were “naked without shame.” (Genesis 2:25)

      The reason I think Adam and Eve covered themselves after they ate the fruit — Genesis 3:7 — is not because they saw their bodies as shameful, as something that needed to be covered. Because: Everything God creates is inherently “very good” (Genesis 1:31)

      The reason I think Adam and Eve covered themselves is because they didn’t want to be seen as less of a person because they were naked. Adam says to God “I was afraid because I was naked. So I hid.” (Genesis 3:10)

      “I think of it as internal, springing from your own thoughts about yourself.”

      I think shame can also come from within.

      From reading about women who went topless, and reading about men and women who went naked, they had to overcome their thoughts about themselves before they could do it. They had to know the following truth: “I am more than my body, and my body is inherently good.”

      “It is empowering to say ‘see me as more than my body,’ not shameful.”

      I agree. I think it’s an empowering, beautiful thing when a person says “See me as more than my body.”

      One of my favorite fictional characters, the artificial intelligence (AI) Cortana, from the video game series Halo, is someone who chooses to go naked.

      I like to think that the reason why is because she is simplicity saying “Look beyond my naked body and see the person underneath.”


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