The crowd gathered haphazardly in front of the gelato shop, disrupting the current of shoppers flowing into the Pearl Street Mall.
Men, women, and children, different ages, different stories, murmuring together in excitement. Everyone was naked from the waist up, bare breasts publicly soaking up the last rays of the summer sun.
I dipped into the crowd and pulled my shirt over my head.
The Free the Nipple Movement, started by the filmmaker-cum-activist Lina Esco, is an equality movement that aims to deconstruct the sexualization of the female chest. The campaign encourages women to challenge the societal taboos, legal systems, and misogynous behavior that enforce the criminalization of the female upper body.
There were a few men in the crowd. Women drew on each other’s chest with henna. Someone started playing loud disco music on a stereo. I giggled nervously, aware that passerby’s were staring at us. I was afraid to look them.
In that second, I realized how programed I had been to be ashamed of my bare breasts.
We marched around the mall and into the farmers’ market. People crowded, anticipating the train of nipples. Men and women took out their phones to take pictures of us. I became enraged.
“You want to take pictures of me?” I shouted at a man with his iPhone aimed at my tits. “Then you take off your shirt, too!” But he didn’t.
The Free the Nipple movement is a campaign that aims to empower women in America and the western world. The ultimate goal is global gender equality.
I tried to explain this to my father the next day on the telephone. I posted a picture of myself at the rally on Facebook. I was topless and wearing a mustache and sunglasses, which my attempt at going incognito. On my face was a big, dopey grin.
He was angry. Very angry. There wasn’t anything I could say. After our conversation, I spread out onto my couch and watched the ceiling for an answer.
Later that night, a woman posted her response to the rally online. She was appalled that we would dare walk around topless in public (despite the fact that men do). She was disgusted. Her question was: why can’t you fight for Women’s Rights without taking off your shirt? She described how she tried to keep her husband and son “safe” from pornography.
“If you want to protect your husband and child from porn,” I responded, “you can start by not making my body into porn.”
The next day, someone reported my topless-mustache picture from the rally on Facebook. It was taken down by the site. Freeing my nipples caused a lot more ruckus than I initially thought it would.
The next morning I lingered around my apartment sans shirt, occasionally staring at my body in the bathroom mirror. What about this was so wrong? Could I really fight for feminism without taking off my shirt?
The answer to that question, I discovered, was yes. I most definitely could fight for gender equality without my shirt on…but doing it topless was just as valid as going with a shirt. The whole point of the gathering was to challenge the constructs society had created. What I and other women did was not “slutty,” “disgusting,” or “immoral.” It was natural, the way things were supposed to be.
When I freed my nipples, I freed myself of any shame.
Now that winter is almost here, it’s too cold to walk around topless in my town, but as soon as the sun comes out and the weather lightens up, I am going to exercise my right for equality.
Author: Jan Farias
Editor: Emily Bartran