Why Free the Nipple (or not)?

“I’ve always questioned the fact that women are not equal to men and that really bothered me’ ‘Lina Esco, who famously established the Free the Nipple campaign and shot the movie back in 2012, “It’s not about going topless, it’s about equality.” It’s a campaign to make a woman’s body her own.

Free the nipple is an equality movement focusing on the double standards surrounding the censorship of the female breasts. “Just because our movement is called ‘Free The Nipple’ doesn’t mean we want the whole world to go on a topless revolution. It’s about having that right and that choice,” Esco said. Rather, it is aiming to strip the society of its tendencies to over-sexualize the female upper body, addressing the hypocrisies and inconsistencies of the legal and cultural systems that enforce female breasts as taboos while it is simply normal for men have their nipples visible.

A quick look at the history of the campaign

Esco started the idea to revolutionize the way we perceive women’s breasts throughout the movie with the same name. What began as an idea for a fiction film has become a larger movement about gender equality after Esco and her team got the idea back in year 2010. Unable to start filming until 2012, Esco and her cast, crew and armies of topless women took the nipple out in the streets of NYC, in an attempt to end the crusade against women’s breasts. Esco and her crew got permits to shoot on Wall Street, but once she yelled “Action!” and the actresses went topless, a cop interrupted. “He’s like, ‘You can’t shoot with topless girls because it can seem like you’re shooting porn to passersby.’’ said Esco, remembering the difficulties she faced shooting the movie. But the hardships did not stop with the filming, after completing the first cut of the film; Esco’s lawyers informed them that unless the film was cut, the film was going to be given a NC-17 rating (AKA The kiss of death, as Esco describes) from the Motion Picture Association of America. With many attempts later Esco managed to get her film to reach the viewers, but the difficulties during shooting led her to launch the campaign first on Facebook followed by various social media outlets. The first positive outcome was from Facebook when the bans of breastfeeding pictures were lifted which Esco counts as the biggest achievement of the campaign. But for instagram things were not looking as pretty, the pictures published by Esco and her team were taken down faster than they could put them out. ‘Why can you show public beheadings from Saudi Arabia on Facebook, but not a nipple? Why can you sell guns on Instagram, but yet they will suspend your account for posting the most natural part of a woman’s body?’ Esco claims. As for today, the 2014 film is available to watch online and the campaign has reached more than a million followers.

The Power of The Nipple

According to Esco; ‘It’s a symbol of the oppression of women. It’s all behind the nipple. There should be a flag and one nipple because this nipple is apparently doing all kinds of things. I don’t think I knew that the nipple would be the Trojan horse for all these issues of inequality. It was funny and engaging, and it all comes down to the nipple. The point is to own it.’ But is going naked the way to stop the oppression and fight the inequality? According to Esco it is, well, sort of. ‘On an interview a reported asked Esco ‘Why are you making a movie called Free the Nipple and why are you going topless to prove a point about equality?’ The response was right on point; she said ‘If I would have made a movie called Equality, and no one was going topless, nobody would be talking about it.” One might think that Esco is doing the same thing as what she is fighting against using the sexuality of the nipple but is it really the same? Think of it, if this was a movie that is actually called ‘Equality’ and it showed bunch of women talking about how they deserve the same rights as men, being able to own their breast in a non-sexual way would the campaign have the same effect? I think not. After talking to Esco I realized that the success of the campaign comes from women owning up their sexuality, using the objectification of the breasts to make a point. The ends justify the means. “You can objectify her breasts, but a woman can’t own her body” is what this is about according to Esco, the fact that sexualization of breasts are okay if the nipples are covered but when a women chooses to simply not wear a bra or cover their breasts up, they are redeemed indecent by laws of cultural concepts even when it is for the most natural acts of nature, like a women breastfeeding their infants. “Women’s breasts are not the problem,” claims Soraya Chemaly, one of the activists who lobbied Facebook to end the censorship of women’s breastfeeding photos. “Sexual objectification is the problem. There’s a difference between sexualization and sexuality. Breasts don’t hurt children, breasts feed children, and it’s the sexualization of women’s bodies that’s actually hurting children the most.”

Public Opinion Towards Free the Nipple Movement

In March 2015, Esco and Liz Plank, an author for Mic, took the streets to ask people about what they would do if they saw women or men walking topless on the streets. While nobody said they would be disturbed if they saw a men topless the answers they got for a topless women were face-palm worthy. While most women said they admired the courage, men gave answers such as “I wouldn’t be able to take my eyes off of them.”, “Women are more sexual than men.”, “Because with guys, it’s different.”, “You don’t get aroused when you see a men’s nipple” . When asked if they would stare at a man’s nipples it they saw a guy walking topless the answer was ‘No, definitely not.’ When pointed out that men and women do indeed have the same anatomy, some men responded by saying women’s breasts contained fat. ‘But so does men’s.’ Plank replied. So is it just that the image of women’s breasts that makes it unacceptable to be shown in public?

According to Esco the campaign is to simply claim the right that is refused to women. ‘Being topless does not equal to nudity and that’s a big misconception… It’s about having the choice… This is all about Equality and nothing else. There is a power in women owning their bodies in whatever capacity… Why is it that we can sell breast but we can’t wear them? We need to create more healthy images of women, all races, all sizes because they are all beautiful and perfect.’ Therefore it is not the sexuality of the breasts that is a problem, it is the sexualization. For its September issue Time Magazine asked Lina Esco and actress and breastfeeding advocate Alyssa Milano to write the opposing views for the Free the Nipple campaign. While Esco continued to defend her case that the movement was about equality and nothing else ‘You can pay to see women topless in videos and strip clubs, but the moment a woman owns her body its shameful’, Milano an advocate for breastfeeding said ‘I worry that the images shared by the Free the Nipple campaign are defeating gender equality by encouraging women to be objectified.’ Milano emphasized on the primal function of women’s breasts, which she believes is breastfeeding. ‘Normalizing breastfeeding will be a lot more effective in advancing women’s issues and desexualizing breasts. Yes, they’re pretty. And yes, they have a purpose in women’s sexuality. But their main purpose is to feed another human. And I think that’s way more special — and more relevant to humanity — than being allowed to go topless in Times Square.’ claims Milano, addressing the campaign as a distraction to what is really important. But doesn’t the nipple and breastfeeding go hand-in-hand? And is it enough to just legitimize breastfeeding? What about gender equality?

The issue surrounding the female nipple doesn’t seem to be going anywhere at least for the time being. Yes, the nipples are a basic part of our anatomy but does it make it okay to display them whenever we want as men do? (PS: It was also illegal and disruptive for men to go topless until 1930’s in US) Free the nipple is about gender equality, and going topless is just a way to raise the attention to women’s right to own her body and do whatever she wants with it. It is a protest to objectification, over-sexualization, a way of woman claiming their rights, not a fight to walk around topless in public. So, let me ask you, will you free the nipple or not?

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