I often wonder, at what point did society suddenly deem women’s bodies no longer publicly acceptable?
At what point did girls get told that their breast tissue was something they should hide? At what point did my boobs become so provocative, so prude, so heinously offensive that the law enforces me to censor myself?
“It is illegal for women to go topless in most cities, yet you can buy a magazine of a woman without her top on at any 7-11 store. So, you can sell breasts, but you cannot wear breasts.” (Violet Rose – social commentator)
I think this is the most telling, concisely worded quote I have seen regarding this issue. Whilst women are shamed for the bodies, they are born in, shamed for owning a pair of glands that provide sustenance for growing human babies, corporations exploit the insecurities of women. As a 17-year-old, with relative small, unassuming breasts, I often ask myself: “if no one is allowed to see my chest, then why am I being told to get breast enhancements?”
At high school, we were told that if the teachers were able to see our bras through our highly transparent, white blouses, we would be sent home. As I mentioned before, I was never ‘well-endowed’, so I always found it difficult to find a bra which fit. I was never able to purchase a skin-coloured bra in my size. So, as an experiment, and out of necessity, I decided to wear nothing under my school uniform to see if anyone would notice. Surprise surprise … no one knew any better. But, boy! My boobs knew better. They felt better too. I cannot speak for all women—I understand many require some form of bra for support—but for a 15-year-old girl, who had been wearing push up bras since hitting puberty (for the sole purpose of conforming to social standards), I felt empowered and … comfortable!
I was shocked by my findings. Could this be true? Could a woman actually feel comfortable in her skin? While this discovery seemed to open up opportunity and autonomy, there were many who opposed the decision to reclaim my breasts. On Valentines Day, we had a themed dress-up day. I arrived at school with the compulsory red lipstick, skinny jeans and pink singlet (tank top). During our break, the school gathered in the main quadrangle for the costume parade. Unassumingly, I danced with my friends, only to be tapped on the shoulder by my deputy principal.
In a condescending tone, this woman told me that my outfit was highly inappropriate. I looked around me. I saw 13-year-old girls wearing push-up bras, which accentuated their (non-existent) cleavage. I saw one girl wearing the likes of a sports bra with her midriff in full view. And, I saw boys everywhere with no shirts at all! I was outraged. I had been wearing a modest, high-cut singlet, which was deemed offensive because I wasn’t wearing a bra underneath it. Apparently, the mere suggestion that I own a pair of nipples was too much for society to handle.
Let me just clear this up once and for all, EVERYONE HAS NIPPLES.
If you didn’t, it would be highly abnormal. What I find abnormal is society’s tendency to shame female nipples, but completely accept male nipples in public. If we are going to shame anyone (please don’t), then surely it would be men. After all, to put it simply, their nipples are a mutation; they serve no practical purpose. Women’s breasts are vital in our role as mothers. The reason our chests are different than men’s is because of the crucial purpose ours have in supporting human life. Therefore, they are anatomically more complex and, often, take up more space.
The taboo on breasts has reached such crisis level that now there are whole industries, which rely on our oppression. What would happen if women were to start roaming the streets braless, or topless even? Breasts would be liberated, normalised and accessible for all members of society. Women would have the freedom to make their own decisions, and be proud of their breast,s regardless of what their choice may be.
This all sounds rather ideal, wouldn’t you agree? What could be wrong with body pride? Oh … wait… I’m receiving an urgent message from the porn industry. Turns out women’s liberation could put them at risk. You see if women reclaim their breasts, and demonstrate that they are not merely sexual objects but just ordinary parts of the body—which serve a function, just like an ear or an elbow—pornography would no longer be able to exploit this stigma. They fear it will cause a shift in perception, and men will no longer find breasts sexy. I doubt it! Straight men are genetically programmed to find the female body attractive, liberating breasts is not going to change that. But what it will do is open people’s minds to the idea that breasts aren’t just a symbol of sex, but also represent fertility, nourishment, and femininity.
Many argue that if women were to roam the streets freely, men would find this distracting. This must stop. The fact that men cannot help but ogle at a women’s breasts when confronted with them in public is slightly pathetic and definitely not the fault of women. What needs to change is the perception. Stop viewing breasts as sexual objects and start regarding them as just one part of a beautiful piece of art. We must cherish, respect and LOVE our bodies; we are so blessed to have them.
So, how do we defy the taboo? My first advice would be to join the discussion. Have a conversation with your daughters, your sons, your siblings, your husband, friends, colleagues. Have a conversation about the female body and ask them why they think women should be made to feel ashamed of their breasts. Ask them if they think those men who have fat tissue on their chests, or ‘man-boobs,’ should also be made to cover up their indecency. Encourage girls to question the social constructs, which imprison them. Only by reaching out to the community, and unifying through our cause, will we be able to make a substantial difference.
Already, progress can be seen as a result of the #freethenipple campaign. Facebook has reviewed its’ policy on mothers uploading photos of themselves breastfeeding their baby. Up until recently, such pictures have been reported and taken down, but now nursing mothers can proudly share their joy online. This just goes to show the potential we have when we organise anarchy and rebel against social norms, as a collective. Join the conversation, support equality, and free the nipple!