As a 17-year-old, I am very absorbed in and influenced by various social media outlets and am becoming more aware about my own body and the perceptions of what is and isn’t acceptable to do as a young woman. I had heard of the Free the Nipple campaign only last year when the celebrity magazines I used to read became outraged by the actions of Tomorrow When the War Began actress Caitlin Stasey, when she bared herself on Instagram with the hashtag: #FreeTheNipple.
I didn’t understand the meaning of that hashtag or the powerful message behind it, only that this young woman had done the unthinkable and shown her naked body on a social media site, and according to the magazines I used to read, cheapened herself, “gone off the deep end,” and did something totally taboo. I asked my own mother what was meant by this hashtag, and she told me that this girl had done something very silly in order to gain attention to herself by doing something controversial.
I accepted her point of view quite readily because I didn’t have any information about the cause and was also heavily influenced by the trashy magazines I was reading at the time, which stated this was a bold but meaningless statement. These were the same magazines that gave me, a young 16-year-old girl, tips on how to keep your boyfriend wanting you, how to keep my body bikini-ready for summer, and what the current fad diets were and how they could be beneficial to me. I put aside all thoughts of #FreeTheNipple and turned the page to read on about what was the next scandalous thing that Miley Cyrus had done.
It was only this year that I began to gather an understanding of the campaign and how it affects me. I am an art student in my final year of high school and for an assignment we were instructed to immerse ourselves in a topic political, personal, environmental or otherwise and portray a transformation of this in our artwork. I chose to immerse myself in my own body and show a transformation of my acceptance of it and the flaws that mark my skin, to portray my own vulnerabilities as well as those of my peers and other young girls. These photos that were taken of me were from the waist up, and I subtly covered my naked breasts in a way that would not get me, or my wonderfully passionate teacher, into trouble.
Or so I thought.
As I was going through the photos one weekend, my mother came up behind me and stared at my computer screen in horror and disbelief. She demanded to know what I was doing and why I was naked. I tried to calmly explain how this was my art project and what I was trying to convey. She refused to listen to me and could not seem to look past the fact that I was naked. After a long argument, the photos were deleted, with no means of recovering them all again. This event was central to my understanding of the campaign, in the sense that I had never been censored before. I had never had a photo of myself deleted or taken of me without my permission. I had never had to think about what my photos mean to others and the effect that they could have. Like Caitlin, my photos were removed and taken down because of an obtuse, outsider view that could not see past the nakedness of the female form.
My understanding of the “Free the Nipple” campaign is this: It is not simply just about being about to walk up and down the street without having to wear a top like many of the opposite sex do, but a way to strive for equality and to take control of our own bodies again. Women’s breasts have been over-sexualized through all forms of media, and especially through the widespread usage of pornographic materials and media. Social media outlets such as Instagram ban any form of nudity but will allow violent and hateful things to be posted freely.
Now, I’m not saying that the nudity ban should be lifted completely and allow for even more pornography to be spread around, but I am saying that if a woman wishes to show her breasts, she should be able to without being censored. The breasts of a man and woman are not very different, only that one can nourish and provide life to a child. Breasts are not actually sexual genitalia but are perceived to be through the widespread influence of media and constricting views by the older generations who encourage innocence and prudence in women above all.
It is because of those who salivate at the idea of women being able to walk around without a shirt on that a woman’s breasts may always be censored on social media and real life. It is because of this over-sexualization of a woman’s body that this censorship is prevalent in today’s society. The campaign, by my understanding, is about eliminating this portrayal and perception of our breasts, and regaining control of our bodies. It is a stride toward equality about what we as women can and can’t show, but also for women to be able to portray their bodies without being censored or shunned for it.
As a 17-year-old, I have no particular desire to burn my bra (they are too expensive for me to replace to do that, honestly), and I don’t really want to walk down the main street of town without a shirt on because I receive enough catcalls and comments as it is in a pair of denim shorts, let alone without a shirt. But I do want to regain control of my body. I want to be able to portray my photos without scrutiny or censorship from others. I want to be able to decide what I can and can’t show as a young woman. I want to have the choice to show myself in a way that I am comfortable with, and not be censored for doing so. I want equality in this portrayal.
The “Free the Nipple” campaign is important to me because it is the beginning of being able to take back what is mine and to stop the over-sexualization of my body. It is because of the bold actions of Caitlin Stasey that I understand the need for there to be this freedom and equality and for that I cannot thank her enough. To those who tell me to get my “nipples out of a twist” I say this: They have never been in a twist, only constrained and censored by the constricting and obtuse views of an over-sexualized society.
Addicted to Nutella and Chris Evans, Bianca Snodgrass mostly spends her time on Tumblr or engrossed in a novel and doesn’t leave the comfort of her bed unless there is the threat of a zombie apocalypse. She is in her final year of high school and wants Beyoncé to sing at her graduation ceremony but would still accept the Spice Girls if they ever got back together. She is a coffee and chocoholic and has more jewelry than she could ever wear.