When I was in first grade, my mother began putting band-aids over my nipples to prevent them from showing through my shirts. Of course, that led to a few embarrassing moments on field trips when my shirt got wet and I had to remove the band-aids because they were usually neon green or pink.
And clearly showing through my shirt.
I was an early bloomer due to a medical condition called central precocious puberty and my mother's reaction to my budding breasts made me feel ashamed of my body.
It was always difficult for me to understand how female nipples could be so damn embarrassing. I never enjoyed wearing padded bras, which meant that in certain shirts or sweaters, my nipples might still poke through.
But... so what?
Why should girls and women be embarrassed about something as insignificant as the outline of our nipples showing through our clothes? We don't control whether our nipples are hard or soft, big or small, yet most of us have grown up in a culture that calls the very hint of our nipples trashy, dirty, or crass.
Men have nipples and of course, we don't shame their visibility. There is nothing inherently bad about nipples.
Nothing filthy, inappropriate, or wrong. Female nipples serve a purpose which are not sexual 99% of the time. They are not even used to breastfeed for a majority of any woman's life.
When you look at what our nipples actually do all day, they just sit there on our chests. They're simply a part of our body which we should be allowed to enjoy or celebrate however we see fit.
Breasts are gender-neutral, anyway.
All humans begin as gender-neutral beings in utero, and nipples develop before sex organs. The only reason we make such a big fuss about female nipples and breasts is that we sexualize females in a way we don't do to boys.
In fact, much of the disdain over women daring to free the nipple comes from the archaic notion that women are to blame for the sexual urges of men. It's ridiculous, yet we behave as if men have zero control over their own actions and as if women are going out of their way to make men suffer.
It's still socially acceptable to suggest that men are much more visual than women regarding sex. So, we label women sluts for ever looking too sexual.
And the very definition appearing too sexual varies according to whom you talk to. Different people are turned on by different things. Yet, we expect women, in particular, to avoid stirring up practically any man's sexual desire by the way they adorn their bodies.
But on the flip side, a woman is still expected to make herself attractive enough because men don't like women who "let themselves go."
We don't shame men for dressing "too sexually."
Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I still recall a few episodes of kids' television shows where the cool male characters at one point wore mesh shirts with holes that showed their skin. Including their nipples.
Saved By the Bell and Silver Spoon both did this if I'm not mistaken.
Wearing those kinds of shirts, the guys were bold, cool, and sexy. Occasionally awkward, yet always endeared. But girls who show "too much skin" were and are inevitably called sluts and accused of dressing inappropriately.
Most dress codes police women's bodies much more than men's fashion. And people keep questioning a woman's attire as if it somehow could have contributed to her sexual assault. Was she asking for it?
As if there are these poor men who just can't help themselves from committing a crime like rape.
And sure, nipples can be sexual but so can our ears, fingers, mouths, and feet. But it’s not just women who find breast play thrilling. Men can have orgasmic nipples too. Most just don’t know it, and many are too squeamish to let a woman kiss and lick their nipples at all.
So although men have sexual nipples, we don’t talk about that. And we don’t go into a tizzy over their nipples poking through their shirts. It’s a gaping double-standard that impacts the way women and girls view their own bodies.
Nipples are not just for sex or motherhood.
When I became a mother, I quickly got over the awkwardness of strangers seeing my bare breasts. I had to work with lactation consultants to make sure my preemie in the NICU could thrive. Pumping every 2 hours (and later nursing in public) changed the way I looked at my own breasts anyway.
My daughter fought most covers, so I wound up being one of those moms who nursed with a breast partially exposed. No more than was necessary, but I’m sure it was more than many people wanted to see.
Some of the most liberal people I know today maintain a negative knee-jerk reaction to women breastfeeding in public. If a mom doesn't dare cover up, someone is bound to complain about her lack of class.
If not to her face, they'll complain online or behind closed doors.
It’s a little bit crazy that it took 32 years for me to finally decide that I shouldn't even worry about offending others with my breasts. And it's funny, but an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood also helped reshape my thinking.
You can see for yourself that Fred Rogers got away with showing the bare nipples of breastfeeding mothers on public television in 1984 and there's nothing disgusting about it.
Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood Best Breastfeeding Video for Kids Ever!
What has happened to our culture over the last thirty years to make us so anti-breastfeeding and anti-breast? Take a…
Once I watched the video, I figured that if Mister Rogers could be chill enough to show kids real live female nipples on TV, I too could quit worrying about my nipples being too noticeable beneath my clothes.
That's when it really occurred to me that female nipples are not just about sex or motherhood. Our nipples have been used to shame us into forgetting that these are our body parts. Not yours. And not society's.
We don't owe men or society any particular image or cover-up at all.
Women ought to enjoy the same rights as men.
As uncomfortable as it may be to think about women walking around without shirts, I don't believe it should be criminalized or degraded at all.
I have a 5-year-old daughter who's just getting to the age where society tells her that she's done something wrong if she doesn't cover up her chest at the beach. Or that she oght to be embarrassed if her nipples are noticeable beneath her shirt.
Meanwhile, her brothers will get to go shirtless in the Tennessee heat with no question or ridicule.
You might not think that it matters, but shame impacts the way we interact with and perceive our own bodies.
My daughter deserves to grow up in a world where she's not ashamed of her body for being... a body. Your son deserves to grow up in a world where he's seen as capable of controlling his own gaze and sexual desire.
Men are more than their dicks. Women are more than their over-sexualized bodies. We all have brains and hearts.
It's time to start embracing our humanity instead of reducing men down to horndogs and women down to sexual temptations.
Free the nipple, fuck the ridicule for simply existing while female.