Just this September, I went topless  — in public — for the first time. Laying on a towel by the river in Eugene, I had untied my bikini top. I felt free. Confident. Empowered.

Luckily, I live in Oregon — where it’s legal for a woman to be topless in public. If I’d been in, say, Washington or Nevada or Michigan, I could have been facing thousands of dollars in fines. If I had been in Utah or Tennessee — one of three states in which toplessness laws are so strict that a woman can’t breastfeed in public — I would have been screwed.

This makes me angry. Really angry.

I’m far from alone. So is Miley Cyrus, who wrote a song about freeing the nipple. And Kiera Knightly who posed topless — photoshop-free — for Interview Magazine. And Chelsea Handler — who engaged in a battle with Instagram after a photo she posted of herself topless on a horse was taken down — three times.

You might call these women, and many others like them, a part of the “Free the Nipple Movement.” They want to go topless on the streets and not face a $1,000 dollar fine. They want to feed their babies in public. They feel a female’s body doesn’t always have to be a sexual body. Sometimes, it’s just what it is: a body, with nipples and breast tissue and areola — just like men.

The movement has gained so much attention, there’s even a movie about it: Free the Nipple, which follows a young female journalist as she reports on women protesting nude in New York City. The movie is based on the real-life efforts of a group of women who fought the body-censor laws in New York and whose protests eventually led to the 1992 law legalizing public toplessness for women (even though women in New York still face fines for toplessness).

In fact, it might have been the director of this film, Lina Esco, who popularized the movement. In an article for the Huffington Post last year, she argued that there are “hypocritical contradictions in our media-dominated society” that allow an American child to see over “200,000 acts of violence and 16,000 murders on TV before they turn 18 and not one nipple.” Why is it okay, she asks, to show so much blood and gore in movies, but not Janet Jackson’s nipple after the infamous Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction? What was so wrong with her nipple that we had to censor it by using a metal “nipple shield?”

And why — she asks — are women’s nipples so much different from men’s? It’s a double standard that’s difficult to ignore, and the implications are clear: A woman’s body is always a sexual body. It is a shameful body. It’s a dirty body —  and a body that is not our own.

Women should have the choice to take off our shirts on the soccer field. To take off our shirts just because we’re hot. Or we want to feel the sun’s rays on our chests. Or just because we feel like it.

Fighting censorship of women’s bodies is a fight for rights and equality. So let’s free the nipple.


Please consider donating to the Emerald. We are an independent non-profit dedicated to supporting and educating this generation's best journalists. Your donation helps pay equipment costs, travel, payroll, and more! 
Donate