Recently, pop icon Miley Cyrus posted a picture of herself on twitter, lifting her top and exposing her breasts. Hiding her nipples were two hearts reading “Merry Christmas” and the tweet read, “THANK YOU NY for being one of the few states to @freethenipple.” Later, she added, “It’s not about getting your [breasts] out. It’s about equality.”
And the nation was in uproar.
I live in the GREAT state of Michigan, namely southwestern Michigan. If you are unaware, the people of west Michigan aren’t particularly known for being raging liberals. In fact, in some circles, calling someone a liberal is a downright insult. I was raised in a conservative Christian home, like the majority of my local peers, and still cling to the Christian faith. And yet, I did not feel so offended by the news of Cyrus’s tweet.
“Free the Nipple” is a film directed by Lina Esco, an LA based actress and activist, that tells a story of a woman facing several arrests for public nudity and a journalist’s investigation on the issue. According to Robin Abcarian of the LA Times in her article, “The Real Story Behind Miley Cyrus’s ‘free the nipple’ Tweet“, “The movie was partly inspired by Esco’s freespirited best friend, Sarabeth Stroller, whose mother was kicked out of church for breastfeeding when Sarabeth was 5 months old.” As a breastfeeding mom, this caught my attention.
I have chosen (and have been fortunate enough to be able) to breastfeed my daughter for the past year. In fact, I hope I can breastfeed her until she’s 2. But, it didn’t come easy. The first month of her life, every 2-3 hours, I had to hold back tears every time she latched on because my nipples were so sore. It was something I had to work hard for. I fought with the everything I had to give that gift of nourishment and health to my daughter. So when I –finally– left the house and needed to feed my daughter in public, I was overwhelmed with the feelings of fear and shame for revealing my breasts in public and I wanted to cover up. When, at times, I chose not to cover up, I received countless looks, snickers and embarrassed aversions of the eyes. And the question kept pummeling through my mind, like a runaway train, “Why are breasts deemed so wrong?” The answer to this question brings great irony to Cyrus’ tweet, for as she so desires freedom for women she is at the same time hindering it.
Being nude is not wrong. The female body is not dirty. But why is a naked women inappropriate? Why is it said that men are, apparently, “incapable of controlling themselves”, and women; therefore, need to cover up to protect themselves? Because our society is drowned in the idea that the female body is an object to be possessed and is meant for sexual pleasure (it is also through the history of our patriarchal society but I am not going to go there right now). It is through the objectification and over sexualization of women in the media and the porn industry that designates shame to the act of female nudity. Is nudity wrong? No. Objectification is, and Cyrus, like almost all female pop stars and characters in the media, willingly commit themselves to this objectification on a daily basis. While I am not throwing all the blame onto these women, by any means, I will say that Cyrus’ tweet is a little ironic. —for an educated and thorough discussion on the objectification and over sexualization of women please read “Are Women Human?” by Catharine MacKinnon—
After breastfeeding for a year now, my entire perspective on breasts has completely changed. Breasts are not sex objects, they are tools. Every time I see a naked breast in a film my first thought is nourishment of a child, and the eroticism becomes obtuse and laughable. But I have also become discontent about our culture that objectifies, over sexualizes and demonizes female nudity, leaving many mothers covered or in the other room, removed from conversation. After fighting so hard to achieve healthy breastfeeding, it just seems unfair.
So while I am not applauding Cyrus for her “daring” attempt at feminism, I will state that things need to change. It is my hope that someday neither culture, religious stigmas nor the media will keep a woman from breastfeeding, a girl from feeling proud of her body or a man from viewing a female as anything other than human, never something to posses.
Keeping Willow by Stacy Feyer-Salo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.