Friday, August 26, 2016

Busting Out

In honor of National Topless Day-which really is about women feeling empowered by their bodies-I am reposting a version of an article I wrote that was published in June 2014 in the now no longer existing blog-agazine CityElla. 

It is totally legal for a woman to walk around shirtless in NYC. That’s right ladies, you can strut all over the city with your big apples out and no one can stop you.

But people will stare at you.

Most people are unaware of the fact that since 1992 in NYC it has been legal for women to go shirtless in any public place where it is legal for a man to do so. But even though it’s their right, most women would probably feel uncomfortable doing so. I know I would. Women get sexually harassed by men just for showing cleavage, how could they possibly feel safe shirtless? And what about all the controversy surrounding women who bare their breasts in public to breast feed their babies? If women are attacked for busting out their boobies to do that, why would we ever feel comfortable strutting our breasts down the street as say, a fashion statement?

But, as uncomfortable as others may try to make us feel about baring our breasts, there are laws in place to protect women who choose to go topless, and give us all the strength to not look at showing our breasts and nipples as something shocking, but rather as a right and as normal. It’s quite the empowering thought.

Feeling tempted to show your belief in women’s equality and go topless? Even though the sultry summer heat is here, if you aren’t ready to just shed layers and be half naked in Midtown yet, NYC seems to offer many places for women to get used to breaking free of their bras in safe, naked-friendly settings. These include naked yoga, naked paint nights, and even a naked book club called The Outdoor Co-Ed Topless Pulp Fiction Society which, with meetings in places like Central Park, aims to help remind everyone that being topless is legal and that reading is sexy. 

All of these clothing optional activities stress that sensuality is not at the root of being there naked, but that it is more about being free, being equal and not being ashamed. A man walking around shirtless is not seen as pornographic, but women’s breasts take that rating up. 

Filmmaker and actress Lina Esco released her funny and empowering film “Free the Nipple” in 2014 ( which is inspired by true events and follows a group of young women hitting the streets of NYC topless defending their right to do so. The film, which she started in 2012, has had a lot of struggles along the way with the issues that are exactly what the film addresses. The film’s facebook Free the Nipples page had been deleted and the MPAA said that it would be giving the film an NC-17 rating, limiting the theatres that could release the film. Even though Esco pointed out there was “not one sexual act in the film.” Esco said in an interview that all of this is what happens when you show aerola.

She is definitely onto something there. 

“Legal in NYC but not on @instagram”

Scout Willis, daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, protested aerola being taboo by strutting the streets of Manhattan topless and tying it in to Esco’s #FreetheNipple campagin, to get rid of censorship on the social media platform Instagram. 

Willis, in 2014, then followed up with a well done and thought-provoking article on saying:

“I am not trying to argue for mandatory toplessness, or even bralessness. What I am arguing for is a woman’s right to choose how she represents her body -- and to make that choice based on personal desire and not a fear of how people will react to her or how society will judge her. No woman should be made to feel ashamed of her body.”

So, with all of this, would I go topless in NYC? No. I didn’t think it was because I’m afraid of what others would say, or ashamed of my body, or that I don’t like being judged. In fact, if I did worry about any of those things, I wouldn’t be an actress, the quintessential career which seems to nourish those fears with constant rejection growing your self-doubt.

And I’ve even accidentally had a “nip slip” on stage. A couple of years ago I was working as a back up dancer for a Lady Gaga impersonator-(seriously)-and we were performing “Born This Way” at a Christening in Brooklyn-(you can’t make this stuff up)-and my sassy one shoulder costume just flopped right off mid shimmy making it a whole different kind of show. I laughed it off and wasn’t embarrassed. It’s just a nipple, the guest of honor baby was used to them. 

So while I'd like to assume that I wouldn’t go bust out in NYC because I just don’t like being topless, it may be because I have a size B/C chest and the thought of walking around without even a bra, my breasts flapping, seems just actually really uncomfortable. 

Running down stairs to catch a train? Running without a supportive sports bra? Nope. 

Also, if you are just wearing pants or a skirt, you have to really watch out for the always embarrassing muffin top issue. And what about sun exposure? I have only ever been publicly (on purpose) topless on a beach and even then I was pretty much solely turned on my stomach to protect my milky white breasts from ever getting what would undoubtedly be a painful sunburn. 

That time I freed my nipples on the beach.
These thoughts made me realize: these reasons are mostly just excuses to cover up the fact that I am actually afraid of what others would think? I tested myself by walking around my own apartment doing chores topless and was disappointed to find that I didn’t even enjoy that. I seriously felt weird and a bit like I was in a bizarre porno being topless doing mundane activities like the dishes and sweeping. And then I became increasingly convinced that my cat, who is a feline master of withering looks aka Cat bitch face, was in fact judging me and my saggy, pale breasts. maybe I am just a little paranoid about being judged. 

Now, I’m not saying I’m going to go YOLO, join #FreetheNipple and start heading out in NYC topless (with sunscreen of course) to celebrate the fact that women are and should be equal. But I do think the talk of topless has helped me examine some of my own unexpected prejudices and fears to realize that there is great power in separating breasts from sexualization and, more importantly, in not allowing exposure to make us vulnerable. 

We should never be afraid to get out from under the censor bar.