Someone walked up to me once on a rainy day and said, “Hey, there. I don’t mean to be rude, but I think you forgot to put a bra on today.” It was February. I was wearing winter white, my hard nipples poking through my Polo sweater like middle fingers to the haters.
Flashback to seventh grade: C and I in the middle-school bathroom, binding our upper torsos with packing tape to give our tween twins a semblance of cleavage before homecoming. Visions of playmates danced in our heads, and shiny silicone twinkled in the whites of our eyes as we looked in the mirror, tragically satisfied with the cleavage we managed to muster up. Cut to eighth grade biology class: me sitting there, fiddling with the straps of my two push-up bras while cursing whatever recessive gene I inherited for small tits. Anyhow, I was stunted for life.
So there I stood, telling this kid off for actually starting this conversation with me — after all, it’s 2014, and I’m not dumb enough to have accidentally left my brasier on the bus stop. “#FreeTheNipple, asshole.” I smiled.
What brought me to this point — what you could consider a full 180 from my previous “Girls Next Door” affinity — is no mystery. Indeed, the change didn’t just occur like the flip of a switch or the automatic move of flinging my shirt off at my co-op’s parties. The stiff-lipped confidence of a nude camping trip and a topless photoshoot on the cliffs of Biarritz doesn’t just come out of nowhere. From my first exposure to a Spanish beach, where everyone — thin, fat, young, old — goes tetas al aire without fear of inciting lascivious outbursts from onlooking men, to those first few lovers who went so far as to call my breasts beautiful, my current bodily pride is purely the result of an ongoing education in self-love and self-respect.
Learning to love my body, furthermore, is the product of a perpetual disassociation with grotesquely unrealistic images of female beauty that shaped my teenage self. The process also involves learning to understand that no one’s body is a cause for shame and that negative self-talk is a cultural bad habit that has got to be kicked immediately. Even more toxic than the media’s obsession with “not suitable or safe for work” tits and asses and the media’s nonstop objectification of the female form is its systematic masking of certain anatomical danger zones, the nipple being one of two highly triggering areas.
Our culture hides and stigmatizes the female nipple to a pathological extent, and my issue with the vagina must be looked over for now. But by current Instagram standards, the female nipple — right up there with the erect penis — is considered pornographic content subject to account deletion if reported by another user — rest in peace, @badgalriri. As if the only thing keeping me from licking my phone is that exposed areola, not all the other flesh on display.
I want to make it clear that I’m not taking issue with bras as such. I’m not here to deny their very useful value as sag-and-back savers, their godsent support at the gym or their masterful ability to seduce. My credo is beyond the noble bra burning of our ’70s sisters. What I take issue with is the conversion of the bra as a physical necessity for some into the social imperative for all. The bra has become a fatal crutch of femininity to the extent that the female nipple has become stigmatized as indecent and, even more, a reason to be ashamed of our bodies. It has gone beyond being a functional tool or a sexy supplement to being a gendered institution as well as an enforced measure of normative femininity.
Not only must we always strive for a bigger, perkier rack, but it is socially unacceptable to even leave the house without an artificial augmentation of our lady humps. It is for this reason that I have cause to proclaim to everyone across the gender spectrum the necessity of freeing the nipple. I want to bring in the reign of cleavage normcore and take out the hideous practice of large-scale body shaming. As my 3-year-old brother would say so matter-of-factly, “Everybody has nipples.” Despite the impossibility of such an idyllic simplicity of separating the gendered body from its political significance, freeing the nipple on a wider social scale is a powerful first step in freeing ourselves from similar patriarchal tyranny.
Boni Mata writes the weekly Sex on Tuesday column. You can contact her at [email protected].