How Free do We Want Our Nipples?

The Instagram campaign makes perfect sense — but I'd also never confronted a topless woman in public before.

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My hot yoga class gets hot. As in, really hot. When I ring out my mat out after class, best-case scenario is that all of the sweat belongs to me, not Mr. Natural Deodorant in the back row.

I wear as little clothing as possible and do, admittedly, get a bit jealous when the men in class pop their shirts off. But I had never actually considered joining them — unlike the woman in my class this past weekend.

About halfway through the opening sequences she peeled off her tank top off and finished the class bare-chested. No clingy shirt, no restrictive sports bra, no fucks to give about the weird looks (of which there were plenty) directed her way.

Now, like any Catholic school expat worth her knee socks, I’m admittedly uncomfortable with nakedness. My nakedness, your nakedness, a stranger’s halfway-nakedness — pass, pass and pass. That said, my topless classmate looked more comfortable than me, and way more comfortable than the woman who kept scrunching up her nose in disapproval across the room. If it’s difficult to execute a headstand while dripping with sweat, it’s even more difficult to do so when dripping with spite (both have cost me a bruised tailbone).

This isn’t the first time that a stripped-down yogi struck a pose in Philly. Activist and yoga instructor Moira Johnston swung through during the summer of 2013 while on a topless tour to remind the public that — whether on the mat or on the street — women have the right to take off their shirts in public, too.

The argument, of course, makes perfect sense: A nipple is a nipple is a nipple, no matter who it belongs to. That’s the simple idea behind the Free the Nipple campaign, a protest against Instagram’s archaic censorship policies that inspired everyone from Miley Cyrus to Chelsea Handler to post topless photos to their accounts.

On the Internet, #FreeTheNipple seems impossible to take issue with. If Justin Bieber is allowed to show his, Cara Delevingne should be allowed to show hers (which are, I think most of us can agree, far, far superior nipples). Played out by celebrities on our screens, there’s very little about nipples to rationally argue about.

In reality — or at least, in Philadelphia — it’s a little more complicated.

Because while Johnston was permitted to practice topless here, the move didn’t go unnoticed, prompting Dhyana Yoga to ask for input on their dress code policy on Facebook. (The verdict: Maybe it was uncomfortable, but sure, in the interest of fairness, shirts should be optional.) Although no one protested at my Sunday class, the side-eye and post-class whispers were plentiful. Even breastfeeding — a natural, beautiful practice that supports human life and prevents babies from screaming in restaurants — is still taboo in public.

To argue that a man’s chest and a woman’s chest is exactly the same is naïve, of course. But to argue that this should be a burden to women’s comfort and giving-a-damn capacity is just as naïve.

Personally, I’ll be keeping my shirt on — aside from being pathologically repressed, I look thinner in a bra, and faux-thinner wins out (at least until I start going to yoga more often). But from Instagram to yoga class, I’m with you ladies: Free the nipples.

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