Your Girlfriend's Nipples

Your Girlfriend's Nipples

‘I will let you enjoy my boobs, but that does not make them yours'.

This is an excerpt from Madison's Zine - 'Intersectional Feminism', Published by Accidental Discharge (2015). Header photo by Madison McLerie.

‘I will let you enjoy my boobs, but that does not make them yours’ - b.k

The ‘Free the Nipple’ movement focuses on double standards regarding nipples, with social and legal implications stopping women from being bare chested in public. The movement aims to empower women through sexual equality, fighting censorship and destroying the view that breasts are inherently sexual. To put it into perspective, 75 years ago it was illegal for men to be topless in public in the United States until they won the right in the late 1930s. However women are still being arrested across the US (and the rest of the world) for public toplessness , including breastfeeding. Nipples are not sexual organs, female breasts serve the purpose of feeding infants and this function alone is what differentiates between the sexes and separates them from being considered fit for public display.

Understandably a new concept to grasp for those in relationships, traditionally there is a sense of ownership over partners' bodies due to the fact that nudity is widely considered sexual. There is the view of intimacy within relationships as something purely physical, that it correlates directly with nudity. The idea that the body is for the soul viewing of a partner is perpetuated to imply that for the naked body to be viewed in any other way by anyone else would ruin the sanctity of that relationship and the intimate connection shared. All nipples can be enjoyed in a sexual manner, however it is context which outlines in which manner a person's nipples are intended to be viewed. To assume that women who chose to freely expose their breasts intend to do so with only sexual motive perpetuates the belief bodies are configured only for the enjoyment and sexual gratification of others. The physical form is pure in essence, by no accounts is it acceptable to assume another person's nudity is intrinsically sexual in nature unless the context of the situation dictates otherwise.

I began with photography by photographing friends topless at the beach. Initially they were hesitant about exposing themselves in public and uneasy with insecurity, however it soon turned into a jubilant experience. It was during this period I’d begun to explore feminism and in particular the ‘Free the Nipple’ movement, with this new found knowledge and view of the body I felt I could begin to give my art direction and create works specific to a topic I felt passionately towards. This experience was initially supposed to be a chance for me to learn to navigate a digital camera, but more importantly it was a chance to show my friends that they all had beautiful bodies, boobs included. The weather was fantastic, swimming without a top on feels wonderful, and they encouraged me to join in. I swapped being behind the camera to in front of the camera.

Similarly hesitant due to the insecurities and warped body image which has haunted me since puberty, only briefly did I consider the implications being topless would have on my boyfriend at the time, this was a purely personal experience relevant to myself as an individual in my opinion. I was taken back by the photos, as were the rest of my friends. Before this I had never seen a picture of myself in which I liked how my body looked. Looking at these photos combated the image I’d mentally developed of myself - I felt beautiful, we all felt beautiful. It was because of this, and my displeasure with the female body being viewed as intrinsically sexual even in a purely unsexual context, that I decided to post one of the pictures of myself uncensored onto instagram.

Dating a self-proclaimed feminist and artist I assumed the intentions of the post would be clear and expected support for using a new medium to explore a concept I was beginning to become increasingly passionate about. Unfortunately after a very heated and angry phone call later it was clear I’d misjudged his view on the subject. With the view that I had shamed and embarrassed him by exposing myself for his friends to see, I regrettably deleted the post. The disgust he expressed brought me to tears, not only because I felt my art and I were being unfairly attacked, but because it further proved the negative and sexual perception of nudity amongst even more open-minded individuals. In between the yelling and swearing directed at me, he explained he felt the picture was sexually motivated as I was topless and felt it wasn’t appropriate for other people, particularly his friends, to see my breasts.

This attitude regarding my body continued throughout the relationship, unfortunately stopping me from undertaking certain projects while we were together which I strongly feel hindered my creative process. It's hard to recount the incident without painting him as the villain, I apologise to him for that. Sometimes it takes a situation to blow up in order for a person to re-think their values and make the conscious decision to change. Thankfully this turned itself into an opportunity for discussion, and although it was heated and fuelled by hurt feelings, it resulted in a mutual understanding of how nudity is interpreted within relationships and by society as a whole.