#FreetheNipple: The Nipple Is Having a Moment

What I don’t get is why anybody — male or female — would want to show off their nipples.

The Ta Ta Top

The Ta Ta Top

2014 is shaping up to be the year of the nipple.

First Scout Willis pranced around New York City topless. Willis was — justifiably — outraged by Instagram’s asinine community standards, which state that female nipples cannot be posted but extreme scenes of graphic violence are acceptable. Then, Rihanna got booted from Instagram for posting photos of a French magazine cover on which she appeared bearing her nipples. Meanwhile, actress-turned-filmmaker Lina Esco launched the hashtag #FreetheNipple and held a topless event in New York’s Washington Square Park.


“It's not about sitting at the cafe with a glass of wine and no shirt on — it's about the fact that a woman cannot sunbathe without her shirt on next to a man that has every right to do so,” Esco, who is making a film about the movement featuring Janeane Garofalo, told the Huffington Post in April. Since then, the #FreetheNipple movement has grown in popularity, bolstered by the celebrity support of Willis and Rihanna.

Nipples, it seems, are having a moment.

Just this week, the Internet collectively cocked its head to the side when posts began popping up about the Ta Ta Top, a bikini top featuring anatomically correct nipples in the proper place. For women of a certain skin tone, it would be a very believable representation of what their own nipples look like. Wearing this top is not quite the same as baring it all, but it’s a pretty good proxy.

I totally get where these strong, powerful, vocal women are coming from. In the ’90s, female punk bands featured riot grrrls writing “slut” or “bitch” on their stomachs in lipstick. In 2014, Rihanna posts pictures of her nipples. It all comes from the same place of women wanting to reclaim ownership of our bodies, our minds and ourselves. The motivation is inherently good for individuals and good for women as a whole

What I don’t get is why anybody — male or female — would want to show off their nipples. Of all the amazing, fascinating and glorious parts of a woman’s body to become a feminist zeitgeist, we’re focusing on the nipple? Really?

I feel about visible nipples the same way I feel about asymmetrical haircuts and high-heeled sneakers: If someone wants to rock that look, power to ’em, but it’s not for everyone.

But anatomically, nipples are, unquestionably, about function over fashion. They exist so that women can feed their children — assuming they decide to have children and they choose to forego formula for breast milk.

Breastfeeding mothers have to make calls about where they want to do that. I’ll never understand why anyone would want to do it in the pasta aisle of Whole Foods or on a bench in Rittenhouse Square, but I also don’t understand why men are born with nipples at all.

There are things in this world that I just can’t wrap my brain around — and the nipple as a symbol of female empowerment is one of them.

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  • Ashley Kuhn

    Maybe because the baby is hungry in Rittenhouse Square? Do you ever enjoy lunch on a sunny bench?

  • humbleopinion

    I love this article. I agree with everything you said! I believe mothers have a right to breastfeed or not breastfeed. But doing it in public and not making an attempt to cover up is disrespectful to everyone around you. Covering yourself does not hinder your baby from feeding. It’s inappropriate and done for attention. That’s my opinion and I have every right to have one. Our society has become so narcissistic, nobody cares about anyone but themselves.

    • Susan

      I don’t see, in any way, how not making an attempt to cover up is ‘disrespectful.’ Many babies will refuse to take if they are under a cover. You cannot correctly assume anything about the situation a mother is in when she is breastfeeding. There is nothing inherently disrespectful about the way a mother breastfeeds.

    • phillysportsfan

      you have the right to your opinion. you have have the right to determine what is “disrespectful” and “inappropriate” and “done for attention,” in your opinion, but that’s as far as it goes. what you don’t have is the right to change anyone’s behavior based on your opinions. that is the height of narcissism.

    • Mark Cofta

      “humbleopinion’s” idea that the sight of a nipple is “disrespectful” highlights the absurdity that Ms. Palan’s piece explains so well. Female nipples have an unusual allure in our society because they’re forbidden, everywhere from Facebook and TV to pasties-required strip clubs — where, in all of these, the rest of the breast and plenty other flesh causes no controversy. If we suddenly banned the sight of naked female elbows, they would become as provocative as nipples. Once nipples and breastfeeding are accepted calmly by mature adults, they’ll lose their magical ability to disturb people.

      Oh, and if you think mothers should cover up their hungry babies, do the same with your mean face. When you sit down for a meal, put a blanket over your head! Not so nice, is it?

      • Normal Guy

        My wife responds more to me touching her nipples than she does to me touching her elbow. Not sure about yours…

        • Mark Cofta

          This discussion is about the SIGHT of body parts. Touching is a whole different matter.

          However, I don’t think my wife would like you touching her nipples or her elbows.

          • http://wwtf-world.info/ Diva B.

            THIS!!! The problem is that the objectification of the female body has lead men to believe that our nipples are solely for pleasure… yet… the only nipples in the human race solely for pleasure are found on men. I don’t have children, but seeing a woman breastfeed will never ever bother me. I love seeing babies being loved and nurtured. That’s what this is about.

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  • Kate Summers

    Well said Ashley. Erica your comments about breastfeeding are beyond ignorant. Don’t pass judgement until you have your own hungry, screaming baby in the pasta aisle at whole foods with you.

    • Nicole Chaney

      well said Kate!

  • Nicole Chaney

    Dear Erica,

    Although you are entitled to your opinion, women in Rittenhouse are entitled to breastfeed in public covered or uncovered without your judgment. These women are protected by Pennsylvania and Philadelphia law (Freedom to Breastfeed Act, 35 Pa. Stat. Ann. §§ 636.1-636.4., Philadelphia Code § 9-1105(A)(1)(c).). I suggest before you publish your opinion in a large circulation magazine you educate yourself a bit more. Humans learn by watching, seeing things repeatedly, especially from a young age. Breastfeeding is normalized in cultures where people breastfeed in public and its just normal, we eat, baby eats. Go to Ecuador, Spain, countries in Africa and you’ll see how women know how to breastfeed when they have their babies because they have grown up watching babies eat. Women struggle with breastfeeding here in the United States, especially African-American women. Year after year we don’t achieve our national public health goals for breastfeeding. If you’ve ever experienced a woman struggle with breastfeeding, if you’ve ever seen a women have an extremely premature infant struggling to provide that baby with life saving colostrum, or if you’ve ever seen a mama be so proud of herself for achieving her breastfeeding goals, maybe you would be more supportive? Breastfeeding in my humble, but educated opinion is one of the top public health initiatives both globally and locally. And normalizing and seeing it in public is an important step to success. It takes a village to raise a child, and we are all apart of the women in rittenhouse’s villages.

    If you ever want to learn more about the women behind the boob, and about breastfeeding in Philly in general, feel free to contact me.

    Women in Rittenhouse Square deserve to be thanked for breastfeeding their child instead of judged. You can thank them for a million things, giving you a free breastfeeding class or decreasing our Healthcare and Education GDP one drop of breastmilk at a time. It’s intimidating to feed your baby in public, let’s put our judgy energy towards people peeing or using heroin in public.

    Thanks,
    Nicole Chaney, RN, BSN, CLC, philadelphia baby and mom lover

  • Krys Belc

    “forego formula”? i have no problem with people choosing formula but the following statement: “assuming they decide to have children and they choose to forego formula for breast milk.” is a bit much. formula commercials often include something like, “and it’s closer than ever to breastmilk!” for a reason: those who formula feed are foregoing breastmilk, not the other way around. framing the decision this way makes it seem like breastmilk is a somehow unnatural choice.

  • Ashley Agloro

    First of all I would like to say that I am completely fine and comfortable with seeing another woman breast feed their child, as should all mature adults. However, men are what make this innocent act seem unclean/dirty. Some of you argue that women should be able to go out topless, and as it becomes more common men will in turn lessen their desire for the nipples. If women started showing their nipples, maybe it will change mens’ attitudes about “the nipples” and their mystery/grandeur. But the increase of nip-slips may also lead in the increase of unwanted attention, harassment, and rape. Also. Do women really want men to not see the breasts as awesome sacks of wonder anymore? Don’t we WANT to have men wonder about your womanly body, at least a little?