As I sat glaring into the Bournemouth beach sun, I glanced over to my left, to see a woman sunbathing topless. I also saw the harsh glares of parents walking by with their children. I felt ashamed that people should be discussed by a human body, a natural thing.
I find it almost impossible to comprehend as to why public nudity is legal in the United Kingdom but only on some designated beaches. Both England and Wales, regulate nudity by the 1361 Justices of Peace Act, the 1986 Public Order Act and the common law offence of decent exposure. However, these regulations are ones that I seem to find, amongst many others, to be affecting women much more than they do men. Countless times, the question has been asked: “Why can men walk around topless and women can not?” It’s very clear that the issue of gender inequality has been around for (far) too long and women and men across the world are trying to put a stop to it through the campaign Free the Nipple.
Having spoken to a feminist activist, Samantha Pressdee, I was able to dig a lot deeper into the issues of female body exposure and how women are sexualised. “A woman’s body should be seen as equal to a man’s,” said the 35-year-old actress. “Breasts are not a sex organ. If a man can take his top off on a hot day, a woman should be able to as well. By seeing breasts as sexual it also makes it uncomfortable for women to breastfeed in public. Seeing breasts as only or mainly sexual is perverted. I’m not saying they can’t be sexual in a different context, as a man’s chest can be sexual too. It’s about challenging perception, as flesh alone should not be seen as an invitation.”
Mesmerised by the whole idea of standing up for women’s rights and engulfed in conversation, Samantha opened up a subject topic that society has connoted with topless women, rape. “I’m a rape survivor,” she bravely admitted, “This happened after a bikini contest in my 20s and I’ve also experienced slut shaming a lot.” This opened up huge gaps in my knowledge of our own society. Why should we be shamed or looked down at for expressing sexuality, when men are so often congratulated? Why should women not be treated equally to men and be able to feel safe in their own bodies.
Samantha’s experiences conjured copious amounts of intrigue in me. The self-titled ‘Sex Positive Feminist’ had joined the campaign following the removal of the infamous Page 3, as “their supporters were shaming glamour girls and sex positive women on Twitter.” Feminism is about equality and respect rather than telling other women how to behave and dress. Many existing publications are nude-free which raises the question of why Page 3 had to be removed.
February 2015 saw the first full month without Page 3 and the Sun recorded its lowest sale it had seen since the year 1971, selling an average of 1.842,284 copies per day. This was 10.09% fewer than in February 2014. Does this mean the public want Page 3? Or, does it call for a comeback of the page for a month to see if sales are affected?
Where women worldwide are baring their chests in protest to nudity laws, I was inclined to see if there were any men that were backing the campaign. “I myself am a feminist and I don’t believe that to be any less manly that not being feminist” stated campaigner, Dan Broad, “I fail to understand why society hasn’t come to terms with the fact that both women and men are born with nipples, it’s a natural thing. Why should clothing, which is only the norm due to years of its existence, be more necessary for women than men?”
The Free the Nipple campaign released a true-life, feature length documentary-style film in 2014 in which a group of women launch the revolutionary movement in order to decriminalise the female body. This created social awareness with the topic trending on social media sites taking the issue global with the help of celebrities including Bruce Willis’ daughter, Scout Willis, and Miley Cyrus promoting the campaign. Scout Willis took to the streets of New York City topless, causing a stir as she protested against internet censorship.
I found it only necessary that I took to social media to see the damage, and it wasn’t long till the first (of many) examples of censoring popped up. While an image of a hunky, topless David Beckham was so innocently being shared around the world, an image of a woman breastfeeding her new-born was deleted by the site. The reaction of many was outrage and disappointment which was expressed through heavy-worded comments. One twitter user commented: “Outrageous! How can it be worse to see an image of a natural, beautiful bond between mother and baby than an image of a topless man posing?!” And, upon asking Free the Nipple Instagram account owner on the matter, it was clear that “this just shows that in order for us to make our point clear that this is unacceptable, more women and men need to get involved in the campaign and more action needs to be taken.”
Free The Nipple is still, ever-increasingly, growing as a popular movement on a global scale through social media platforms. Due to this, various events happen around the world to host the campaign such as World Naked Bike Ride and Free the Nipple Rally. The world is responding to the need for things to be changed, and I hope it is only a matter of time before things do.
Link to PDF version: Final Feature PDF