#Personal Stories

United by Nipples but Divided by Society?

Nipple-Shaming Women
Free the Nipple Movement: A man shows nipples and its okay? And when a woman shows it’s hawwww?

Thursday, 11 am. Reading the news has always been my least favourite activity of the day, and that day was no different. Exasperated, I sat on my bed going through the headlines, when suddenly, the bell rings. It’s my mother, exhausted after a long day of work. I come out to the drawing room with a cup of hot brewing coffee in one hand and my newspaper in the other, greeting her with a smile.

She grabs a bowl of fruit for herself and sits down on the couch, savouring the tiny cut pieces of watermelon. The television is running a cliched minsogynst Bollywood movie, but no one is paying attention to it, as usual. All was lost in thought until suddenly my mother’s eyes caught movie star John Abraham’s steaming shirtless body and a sly smile appeared on her otherwise tired face. It seemed as though she went all gaga over it, just like a curious teenager, in the process of discovering herself.

Few minutes into this seeming embarrassment, my mother glances at me with a look of dismay and goes “Why can I see your nipples through your t-shirt? Where is the new set of bras I just brought for you? Heights of indecency” This came across as a shock to me, considering that she just goggled at the man on the TV but my nipples seemed to be an issue. I did not want to give into this obvious discrimination and so I said, “Maa why can’t I just stay like this, I like it.” That somehow pissed her off even more, and she got did not stop yelling at me until I wore a bra. I was angry, upset and determined which is why I thought to myself that if I ever have a wedding in the future I would walk down the aisle or sit on the mandap in a blood red bikini set, hoping to offend her even more.

What must be given thought though, is the sheer hypocrisy of showing the nipple. There is, on one hand a man, who has complete rights to walk around shirtless as it is perfectly fine, more so accepted and encouraged for him to flash his bare chest and nipples but I, a woman can’t do the exact same with my body, simply because I have extra mass in place? Same nipples, but different perceptions by society?

It was okay for John to show off his nipples but it’s against the so-called misogynistic culture that if I do something it’s deemed to be “public offence” even though its my body, and should technically be my choice. Luckily at the same time, I came across this show called “The Bold Type” a feminist and fresh series about three close friends fighting patriarchy, racism, queer phobia, body images and, you guessed it, the nipple equality movement.

Episode 4, Season 1. Kat, Jane and Sutton the main leads, walk poignantly into the middle of Central Park along with hundreds of other women and confidently take off their shirts in support of the free nipples movement, a movement that dates back to awareness regarding breast cancer. They faced some creeps but zero criticism, in a country where showing your nipples is not illegal for both men and women in most states. Imagine doing the same thing here in India. Hard, isn’t it?

You would be charged with public indecency, slut shammed and put through a life long sentence of harassment, at least if you’re a woman. Another element that holds us back as a society besides our regressive and prude culture is how a young country like ours is getting affected by social media policies which are completely chained to societal norms. For instance, have a look at how nipples have been so dramatised and sexualised on platforms such as Instagram.

According to their guidelines if a man poses with his nipples then it’s perfectly acceptable and a style symbol, but a woman doing the same isn’t and her post is considered to be against public guidelines and removed off the platform.

Sexualising a woman’s breasts is something that has been going on for far too long and now it’s normalised to the point where anything otherwise is considered indecent.

While I write this I am reminded of the times I have been body shamed (as if being a woman was hard enough in this country), times when I’ve been told how I need to learn to dress ‘according to the occasion’ and ‘dress modestly’. So this is to all the aunties and uncles and neighbours, I’ve stopped caring about your norms and you will be pleased to know that I’m writing this piece in the shortest crop top in my cupboard without a bra. And no, that’s not an invitation for anything from anyone unless the thing that you are offering me is positivity.

All these mini little puzzle pieces led me to a path to discover the connection between feminism and the free nipples movement. Questions like, ‘how is stripping in front of a crowd ensure equality?’, ‘Do our nipples have so much value?’, ‘Is this a form of extreme feminism?’ and so on.

But then through thorough research I slowly started to understand the connection between free nipples movement and feminism. The entire concept of nipples free movement started around 78 years ago, but it caught global attention through Netflix’s 2014 documentary “Free the Nipple”. Through this campaign millions of women gathered as a protest and removed their shirts in solidarity to the movement, which forced the American Government to reform and equalise the nudity clause.

But India is lagging way behind such a powerful reform because we are still tied up in regressive culture and refuse to start thinking a little more liberally. The problem lies in the fact that any western influence is considered uncultured and that we refuse to abandon the image of the ‘Ideal Indian Naari’ with a red sari draped over her body, vermillion on the forehead and all our body parts covered.

These laws that we still abide by are made by some old, bald, misogynistic men who believe that it’s their responsibility to protect a woman’s modesty. So here comes my second shout to those men, we hereby take our responsibility on ourselves to protect us, just do us a favour and raise your sons right with respect and dignity and teach them to project that on all the women around them.

Nipples and The Feminist Movement

I believe that the main motive of this conversation on nipples is to ensure women reclaim their bodies, sexuality, choices and safety. The campaign does not force women to come into public shirtless, instead it aims in removing the social stigma behind women’s breasts by equating it to a man’s chest thereby removing the stigma around nipples.  Isn’t it time we normalise all kinds, types and forms of breasts be it on a man (conventionally known as ‘moobs’), woman or any other human being regardless of how they identify themselves.

Respecting another’s body stays untouched. Using human anatomy as a form to bridge the gap between men and women is one of the most significant ways to reduce the amount of gender- based inequality and discrimination. The faster the people in our society understand that nipples are just another part of a human body and nothing beyond that is the day when we truly start vocalising gender equality. Many Hollywood celebs like Miley Cyrus have been vocal about this movement and keeps her feed updated with this images of her nipples in order to promote nipple equality, and its such kind of influence to a bring a positive change.

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