The "F" Word: Free The Nipple

Free The Nipple

Rosaura Ojeda / The Runner

All nipples are equal. That’s the message that Lina Esco, activist and producer of the 2013 documentary Free the Nipple, is hoping to communicate through her work.

Ever since her best friend’s mother was kicked out of a church for the crime of breastfeeding, Enesco has been dedicated to the Free The Nipple campaign, specifically in its fight to liberate the female nipple from sexualization and regulation. Esco’s film, and the campaign behind it, centre on an army of breasts-barring activists who battle unfair legislation that polices women’s bodies in public spaces. They fight for women and men to have equal ownership over their bodies.

“The moment a woman shows her areolas and really owns it, [she’s] committing a crime,” Esco told Vice in a 2014 interview. “You can get up to three years jail time in Louisiana.”

Esco and her campaign have taken to holding “optional topless” rallies on the streets of the United States. On Aug. 23 of this year, as many as 300 topless demonstrators took to the streets of Manhattan. The campaign quickly globalized with similar protests taking place in 60 other cities around the world.

In her work, Esco points out that American society continues to glorify violence while simultaneously repressing sexuality, something which she argues is both hypocritical and troublingly unhealthy. Children, she claims, are overly subjected to depictions of violence on television and video games, all while an exposed female breast is demonized. In an article in the Huffington Post, Esco wrote, “An American child sees over 200,000 acts of violence and 16,000 murders on television before they turn 18 and not one nipple? Yet the FCC fines CBS $550,000 for Janet Jackson’s infamous Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction.”

Free The Nipple protesters are calling out the media and society at large for these double standards. While topless men are considered normal, women are told to cover up—and yet Western society still seems to be obsessed with women’s breasts. We exploit and hypersexualize them, use them to sell every conceivable product from cologne to hamburgers. The movement addresses and covers many feminist issues concerning the female body, from rape culture and slut-shaming to attacking women who breastfeed in public. This campaign isn’t about telling women to constantly bare their breasts, but to empower those who want to so that they have the freedom to do so.

“It’s not about going topless, it’s about equality,” Esco told EW Magazine in a 2014 interview.

Females should be able to legally go topless in public, whether it is for breastfeeding, sunbathing or the simple fact that they didn’t want to wear a shirt and/or bra that day. Men have the freedom to walk around publically shirtless without anyone questioning them, criticising them or attacking them. This is an unfair double standard.

An incident (just one of many such examples) occurred at a beach in Kelowna, B.C. when a topless, sunbathing woman was stopped by an RCMP officer who demanded she put her top back on. The woman knew her rights, knew that it was perfectly legal for her to be topless in public, but she was still hassled by the RCMP. Another incident occurred in Kitchener, Ontario, where three sisters, Tameera, Nadia and Alysha Mohamed, were stopped by a police officer for choosing to ride their bikes topless because of the heat.

“When men take off their tops in public, it’s clearly because it’s a hot day and clearly it’s for their comfort. Women should be given the same freedom,” said Nadia Mohamed. “Even though legally we have that right, socially we clearly don’t.”

Celebrities such as Cara Delevingne, Rihanna, Miley Cyrus and many others have endured harsh criticism for their nudity, and they’re fed up with it. They took to social media to show their support for Esco’s campaign. Some of them, like Cyrus, were brave enough to post photos of themselves barring breasts in public. Earlier this year Australian model Nicole Trunfino was criticized for her ELLE cover photo, which depicted her breastfeeding her four-month-old son. Society loves breasts, just not when faced with the functionality of one. Then it becomes something to fear.

We as a society more than tolerate a poster girl with plumped breasts spilling out of her bra to advertise a sandwich. Some of us even encourage it. But when a mother tries to breastfeed her child in a public space she is shamed for indecent exposure and even fined in some areas. This is an example of how women are not allowed to own or even expose their bodies unless they are being used to sell a product. Trunfino’s photo didn’t show a nipple, it didn’t even show more cleavage than most magazine ads, yet many people complained about it being inappropriate.

Our culture constantly tells us that breasts are only good for two things: advertisements and sexual pleasure. The Free the Nipple campaign is about demolishing this idea. It advocates for the equality of men and women’s bodies. No man who goes shirtless in public is told that he’s “asking to get raped,” nor would he suffer the degrading names a woman would have to endure if she were to do the same. Even when women are brave enough to go topless or nurse their children in public, they are often uncomfortable because of the treatment they receive from the public.

The more we free the female nipple the more normalized and accepted it will become, just like anything else people are constantly exposed to. Free the Nipple is about desexualizing the female nipple, demanding the equal rights to men, and taking back the right to own our bodies.

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