Free The Nipple? I’m all in favour

By freethenipple mariam1

You’ve almost certainly heard of #FreeTheNipple by now. Women have been posting photos of their bare breasts on social media with the accompanying hashtag since 2014, and it rose back into public consciousness towards the end of March this year when 17 year old Adda Þóreyjardóttir Smáradóttir – chair of the Commercial College of Iceland’s feminist society – posed topless next to a male colleague with the hashtag and posted the photo onto her Twitter account.

She removed the photo within minutes due to a torrent of trolling, but the reaction of many women worldwide was to do likewise as an act of solidarity, and suddenly the Twittersphere was full of naked boobs. And in my view, this was a very good thing.

I am, of course, at a bit of a disadvantage in even attempting to write this article. I mean, a twenty-one-year-old straight male in favour of girls posing topless online? Who’d have thought it? But I will nevertheless declare, unashamedly, that I am all in favour of this social movement.

On the whole, men get no stick for not wearing anything from the waist up, whether due to hot weather, a slow laundry day or just plain laziness. Women, however, have to face real consequences for baring their chests: mothers get told to breastfeed their children in private; women get cat-called by irritating male goons enough when they’re fully clothed, let alone when they’ve lost a shirt; and spare a thought, too, for girls above a certain bra size, for whom constant back pain and the possibility of spinal fracture is a grim reality – endless objectification because of their big boobs is literally adding insult to injury.

A twenty-one-year-old straight male in favour of girls posing topless online? Who’d have thought it?

The fact of the matter is that we, as a culture, find it difficult to dissociate breasts from sexuality, and as a result we get coy when they’re out in the open. And this needs to stop.

#FreeTheNipple is an act of defiance. It is empowerment in its simplest form, taking a part of your body and saying ‘this isn’t a sexual object, it’s just a piece of my body. Stop objectifying me.’

#FreeTheNipple’s shock factor lies in the sheer mundanity of how the breasts in these photos are represented. At the moment the only naked breasts we, Joe Public, ever see on a regular basis in the media are presented purely in a sexualised manner, whether it’s Hollywood, Page 3 or straight up pornography – which is nowadays about as easy to access as the BBC weather forecast.

#FreeTheNipple casts away these associations and shows breasts as something far more unexciting and non-sexual: something neither to be revered nor offended by, just another piece of the human body that we should all stop making such a fuss about.

Our habit of covering up has unwittingly created a kind of exclusivity factor around female nipples

Modern media representation of breasts certainly does make a fuss about them: it sensationalises them to the point of ridiculousness. In general, women wear bras because they’re comfortable and supportive – they serve a simple anatomical purpose, just like a pair of shoes or glasses. But one consequence of our society’s habit of bra wearing is that nipples don’t generally see the light of day. And people want what they can’t have – it’s basic psychology. Our habit of covering up has unwittingly created a kind of exclusivity factor around female nipples.

Tabloid and lad-mag culture has hijacked this principle and created a culture where breasts are seen as glamorous and inherently sexual; where if they’re out in the open, it can only mean sex and allure, right? And Hollywood is far from blameless either, with teen movies like American Pie attaching an almost religious importance to a naked pair of tits.

In the long term, this hypersexual culture has dire consequences for both men and women. It’s bad for women because they’re being used like currency, and a message of ‘this is the perfect figure and it is what really matters, not brains or personality’ is being spread into the public subconscious. And it’s bad for men because this culture brainwashes us into accepting this sexual objectification as normal. Whether it’s Page 3, Pornhub or even Disney Princess, men are constantly being reminded throughout their lives of what an ‘ideal’ girl should look and behave like.

Page 3 (Illusion) natural body asher klassen

And then there are the really dire consequences of the media’s representation of women: assault and rape. Whilst in any rape case it is only ever the fault of the rapist, and them alone, a little of the blame must surely lie in the culture they – we – are surrounded by every day? A culture that glamorises female bodies and reduces them to mere sex toys will undoubtedly produce a few men who view women in the real world as exactly that: objects to be used for sexual pleasure, like some kind of glorified Fleshlight.

Our culture is creating men that feel entitled to sex, and will even resort to breaking the law and causing harm to women in order to ‘get some’.

Actor Chris Pratt recently suggested that a novel route towards gender equality might be to start objectifying men more, creating a level playing field. Perhaps this could be imposed by introducing a male version of Page 3? Or imposing mandatory equal representation of both genders in the Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame? Or just milking the Magic Mike franchise for all it’s worth?

Telling a Page 3 model she can’t take off her clothes for money is, after all, a fairly anti-feminist thing to do

But fighting fire with fire is never a safe strategy. The issues of hypersexuality, body shaming and unattainable body standards can also apply to men, whose suicide rates in the UK surpass those of women – is imposing these issues on men going to make it better for women, or just worse for everyone?

The answers to all of these issues are not simple. Telling a Page 3 model she can’t take off her clothes for money is, after all, a fairly anti-feminist thing to do: why should anyone other than the woman in question be able to dictate how she uses her body?

What is more uncertain is whether the successful careers and empowerment of a few female models are worth the preservation of this objectifying culture they are unintentionally endorsing. Is the freedom for some women to strip off in one small enclosed environment (the photoshoot room) worth perpetuating a culture where a girl taking her top off in public is so much worse than a man taking off his?

There are a lot of fors and againsts on the issue of whether or not Page 3 should be banned, and I’m honestly not sure which side I stand on right now. But I know where I stand on #FreeTheNipple. I approve of this one small act of defiance, saying that ‘my breasts are more than a sexualised part of my body: they are simply a part of my body.’ And the sooner this view of a pair of tits as mundane, non-sexual appendages becomes normal, the healthier our society will become.

Illustrations: Mariam Hayat,

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