I looked at myself in the mirror and assessed. As we do.
Not terrible, I thought, which is much kinder than I usually am to myself. My 32-year-old body has never borne the burden of birth and so, for the most part, while things might not looks as fresh as they did when I was 22, most pieces are still in their proper places. Mostly. My hips are oddly misaligned, and I'm willing to forgive the slight pooch my lower abdomen has decided to adopt in lieu of child. I'm actually stronger than I've ever been. My arms have definition, my triceps don't flap independently from the rest of my upper arm when I wave, and I can almost -- almost -- complete a chaturanga transition without breaking form.
I consider this a feat.
The only thing, really, that makes me scrunch my face in total criticism, (aside from the pooch, which I apparently haven't forgiven as much as I thought), is the white glare of my breasts. They stand there, still pretty and pert if no longer completely gravity defiant, yet they mostly resemble two blinding high beam headlights against the gentle spring tan of the rest of my skin.
Why is it, I thought, that when my husband takes his shirt off at night, he isn't forced to expose nipples brightly highlighted by the pasty white triangles of his bikini covered skin?
My friend Ava was flustered. "You won't believe what happened at the base pool," she said. She'd recently given birth to twin boys and was somehow managing to maintain a breastfeeding regimen for both of them. It wasn't uncommon to find a baby attached to Ava's breast throughout most of the day because it turns out keeping an infant nourished -- in her case two infants -- is a hell of a lot of work. Apparently she was doing that, nourishing one of her infants, covered, at the base pool, when a lifeguard asked her to stop. Incredulous, she looked around at the other women there who were scantily-clad in tiny bikinis, and then at many of the men baring even more. Stomachs spilled over the tops of swim trunk elastic, tattoos were exposed, freckles speckled shoulders and zits spackled backs.
It's the human condition, my friends. Un-airbrushed and hairy.
And of course totally acceptable. Ava wondered how that was less offensive than her feeding her child.
And I have to wonder, too.
"You're going to nude beaches in Spain?" people would ask. "With your sister-in-law?" they squealed. "And her boyfriend?"
Fear of exposed female breasts is likely a cultural issue derived from a country settled by Puritans. Just as it's culturally accepted in some parts of the world to physically deform clavicle bones with heavy rings and in other parts of the world to eat dinner with your fingers, a practice has to be long-standing or common before it's socially accepted.
The fact of the matter is, not all parts of the world view female toplessness as taboo. Or even nakedness in general. And while I only had the courage to slip my bottoms off once in Spain, beneath the water, for about seven seconds, the truth is that it didn't take long for me to get used to the idea of letting the girls fly free. It felt so much better -- less sweaty, more breezy and a helluva lot more fair. Neither my husband nor I brought souvenir headlights home from Formentera.
But I Don't Want to See That
The biggest excuse I hear against female breast exposure is, "But what if she's... you know... well endowed? And like... they're just hanging there, you know? It's gross. I don't want to see that."
Well guess what?
There are a whole lot of things in this world that I don't want to see but have been exposed to against my will at some time or another, the least mentally burdensome of which is a low-hanging pair of mammary glands. I didn't want to see poverty in Georgia. Or my dog die when I was 13. And I certainly didn't want to see what's really inside a chicken nugget, but you know what? Like in the case of the nugget, I'm fortunate enough to have the human ability to selectively choose ignorance, despite what I've seen.
It's a beautiful thing.
Speaking of beautiful things, unchecked judgement and ridicule of another person's body is one of the ugliest of all human traits.
But I DO Want To See That
The other big excuse is the hypersexualized status the breast has reached in this country. It's not just breasts, it's "OMG BOOBIES!!!!" And people who might like to look. "I don't want my small child or teenage son to see that at the beach!" mothers scoff.
Well guess what?
Your small child doesn't see breasts and think, "BOOBIES!!!" He sees breasts and thinks, "LUNCH!" Or, if he wasn't breastfed, he thinks nothing, because he hasn't learned to sexualize that part of the female anatomy yet. And if your heterosexual teenage son hasn't yet seen a pair of breasts in a magazine or on HBO or in the real, pasty-white flesh, he's lying to you. Or you're selectively ignorant. (See "But I Don't Want to See That" above.)
This type of mentality is the same as banning girls from wearing tank tops to school because it might distract the boys. It's ludicrous, and here's why: When they grow up and graduate, boys are going to see all kinds of things in the world that might make them feel lustful -- a low-cut top, a high-cut skirt and maybe even a set of real life breasts at a nude beach in Spain. And if you think they're incapable of learning how to control themselves as teenagers, by that same logic they will not be able to control themselves as adults. And that, you guys, is how rape culture is born. It's why "Her breasts made me do it" actually sounds like a viable excuse to some men today.
I think that all of us are better than that.
If I saw shirtless Channing Tatum washing his car in his driveway, sweat dripping off of his freshly-waxed chest while the water runs down the hood of his freshly-waxed sports car, society and general decency (and probably Mrs. Tatum) would dictate that I manage to control the urge to plaster myself to his muscular back and instead just keep walkin'. Is it really unrealistic to hold men to the same standard?
The only real way to overcome the naughtiness of it all is to make it mainstream. Normal. Not that big of a deal.
I'm not saying the top half of women's bodies should be completely desexualized, and I should be allowed to walk around Nordstrom Rack (tee-hee) without a shirt on. All I'm asking for the right to bare my female breasts in all of the same places a male can bare his man breasts. We're currently dealing with a double-standard, and no one should be okay with that.
I'm also asking that, occasionally, female breast exposure be allowed even where a man's typically isn't. Like if a breastfeeding mama happens to let a nipple slip at a restaurant or party even though she's remained mostly conscientious of staying covered under the "no shirt no shoes" umbrella, she shouldn't be persecuted or made to feel dirty. And she certainly shouldn't have to isolate herself in a bedroom or cold bathroom stall like she has some kind of disease.
This is America, kids. Land of opportunity. Of freedoms. Of hopefully, one day, equality.
This is about the right to bare breasts.
Who's with me?
This post first appeared on Domestiphobia.com.