SO YOU WANT TO FREE THE NIPPLE?
UPDATE: New version is now live.
There is a lot of talk regarding Free The Nipple, both for and against. Though among the many tweets and occasional, usually pasty-protected, protests there seems to be a lack of formal strategy on how to actually issue in an era of topfree equality. Many not even understanding what the campaign is really about and only voicing support for their own, less than noble, self-interests.
This article is for those of who do understand what it is about.
Back in 2014 a yougov survey found that only 31% of Americans surveyed supported topless equality. A clear minority, but not an insignificant one. A year later the US would mark its greatest civil rights accomplishment of the 21st century, marriage legalized for same-sex couples nationwide.
Lets go back ten years, how many supported gay marriage? A Pew survey found only 35% support, two years earlier only 31% support. Fast forward to 2016 and it’s up to 55%, over half and no indication to think the rise won’t continue. What happened, how could so many people’s minds change all of a sudden? Could it be that the more people saw of gay relationships, in day to day life, in the media, even among family, the less harmful they appeared?
You might be thinking what same-sex marriage has to do with Free The Nipple. Or maybe you already clearly understand the comparison, how both are social and cultural movements towards greater equality of a segment of the population. Of course getting gay rights to where it is now was far from an easy process, court battles, arrests, and plenty of hate to go around. Yet somehow America has gotten to the point where same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. Probably unthinkable ten years ago.
Perhaps what’s more important than the similarities to the marriage equality fight are the differences. The media has been showing gay relationships for years, really decades, while a female nipple is still a great offence outside certain late night cable shows. While in most states it is, in fact, legal for women to be topless, most city ordinances take care to limit such equality. Attitudes programed to view a body part specifically evolved to feed a child exclusively as a sex object detrimental to the sight of that same child. This all has to change if this campaign is to be successful. A huge feat for sure, yet possible, so lets break it down.
Changing The Media
The Media is certainly the single most influential aspect to any social change. Shows like Will & Grace, Glee, and Modern Family helped to bring same-sex relationships to the forefront of popular culture, slowly easing the social stigma. Same can happen with female breasts if the majority of outlets were able to feature them without the pressure of censorship. Just as has been the case for manboobs/abs, which were quite taboo until the 1930’s.
The main obstacle in the US is the Federal Communications Commission, the government body that regulates broadcast networks throughout the country. This is the body that fines networks should they air bad words, or body parts, including, of course, female breasts. Fortunately, the FCC does allow for public feedback, even hosting open commission meetings to discuss potential changes to their regulations. If there were enough public pressure for them to update their indecency standards so as to no longer define breasts as “nudity” it would probably have a huge national impact. Not only would it unchain networks from treating breasts as nudity but it could also lead to other media outlets not bound by the FCC, such as social media, to consider changes themselves. Indeed the FCC has already proposed changing these standards before but they were met with fierce resistance from parents groups and thus backed down. If there is enough public pressure on the other side they could very well be convinced to reconsider. Commissioners can also be contacted here.
Its also worth noting channels that are not aired via broadcast are not bound by FCC rules, which is why channels like HBO and Showtime are able to be much less restrictive in content. They are, however, bound to their advertisers and subscribers. All that needs to happen here is the networks need to be convinced equal censorship standards wouldn’t hurt their bottom line. With popular, and heavily censored, shows like Naked & Afraid flourishing on cable, there is lots of room for such a change.
Other countries also have regulatory bodies that police networks. In Canada, for example, the Canadian Television & Radio Commission also defines breasts as “nudity”, which cannot be broadcast past 8pm and rarely ever is. In the UK, Ofcom regulates communications and has similar standards. Though it tends to be more permissible, even though breasts are more rare in the Kingdom’s media then they once were.
Social Media is also an important target, perhaps more influential then any other media source. Twitter may mark tweets “sensitive material” and thus will not be viewable to most people but still seems to be more permissive regarding nipples, not to mention far more explicit material. Though unfortunately most sites, such as Facebook & Instagram are beholden to their more puritanical user base. Though recent progress has been made with regards to breastfeeding and mastectomy photos, yet even still they seem to be erroneously removed from time to time. The reality is, unless their higher-ups can be convinced to take a business risk in the name of equality, just like the cable networks, they will most likely try to stay clear of controversy. A larger cultural change may have to happen first.
In the mean time, the more permissible social networks can and should be used to spread as much information and media as possible to aid in normalization. Though it’s probably worth noting a topless pic in one’s dimly lit bedroom will perhaps not be as effective in changing minds as one in normal public settings, such as at a beach with friends. Male friends who are game too are perhaps one of the best assets as it better highlights the double standard. Featuring as many body types/chest sizes as possible, male, female, and especially trans, are also great way to help promote a less binary way of thinking. Such thinking is responsible for much of the problems our world faces today.
The media is perhaps what separates American views of breasts from more European views. Not only did many European countries permit toplessness on most beaches but also throughout the media as well, no matter time of day. Morning television, advertisements, you name it. It has always been a normal part of their culture just as shirtless men have been part of ours. It wasn’t always like that, just as North America had its sexual revolution so did Europe, only they just went a bit further.
Changing The Laws
Perhaps the most ambitious way to fight for equal rights to be topless is to take on the laws themselves that prevent women from doing so. As men did 80 years ago and as women did in Europe, throughout Canada, New York, as well as most recently in New Hampshire. Though they are still working away at other local laws in the latter’s case there’s little reason to doubt further success.
The most important laws to challenge are those within municipalities that have the largest potential for national influence. Los Angeles, Miami, Las Vagas, for example, are also more weather permitting year round and thus have a better chance at allowing for desensitization then more northern cities. Getting it legal in and around Hollywood has the most potential to influence the media and thus lead to more of a national change in attitude.
It’s certainly an expensive option if one decides to go it alone, though there are avenues to help cover legal costs, such as crowd funding. The end result, if successful, can allow for more work to be done to help normalize female breasts and thereby change attitudes towards it. Certainly the more progressive your city and state/region is the more likely such a challenge will be sucessful. Not to mention, in America you have the 14th amendment, which guarantees “equal protection of the laws”, on your side.
UPDATE: on Feb 22nd 2017 a US federal judge granted an injunction preventing topless discrimination in a Colorado town, allowing for greater judicial precedent to strike down these laws nationwide.
This is by far the easiest as it can require little more then the Internet or any other forum whereby one can help others understand why this campaign is necessary. This is also something that can be done by both genders. No one will be able to change the media or any law until one can learn how to change minds.
Sometimes people will resort to some of the most ridiculous arguments to justify their body-phobia. If we can help them understand it really is just a cultural construct with no logical basis, just like 100 years ago when women were forced to cover up ankles, they could come around. It just takes some cultural conditioning and society can move past any taboo.
Of course the most effective way to change minds is to participate in the activity you want to change minds about as frequently as possible. You can wear shirts, tata tops, or pasties, all of which help to a degree, but ultimately people have to get used to the real thing. If it’s legal (check local laws), the only reason to not to use one’s rights is their own personal inhibition, which is always possible to overcome. Organizing a day at the beach, a picknick or other non-sexual activity that can be shirt optional is always a good way to work towards a sence of normalcy, for others as well as oneself. The larger the group the easier it tends to go for it and not care what others think.
If we can do all this, and I believe we can, there’s no reason why we can’t achieve full freedom for all nipples in ten years or less. If we can reach equality in this regard there’s also no reason why we can’t use these ideas to liberate all anatomy in the future. Though change is slow it is ultimately inevitable. Just remember, modesty is subjective, equality is not.
- Work to change censorship standards in all forms of media so breasts can be normlized in non-pornographic contexts.
- Use topfreedom as frequently as possible where its legal and fight laws where its not, furthering normalization.
- Spread awareness and information about the importance of eliminating this double standard.
EDIT: A previous version of this article mentioned Tumblr allowing more freedom, as of December 2018 that is unfortunately no longer true.