Boobs. Tits. Breasts. Call them what you will, but right now, they have never been so political. It is not straight forward though, they bring contradictory feelings. Inciting passion and hatred in equal measures. And they’re not going anywhere. They’re in your newspaper, on the internet and in advertising. Fashionable and distasteful at the same time, where is this heading? Are we shuffling towards a zero tolerance policy where boobs will be unequivocally banned and shunned from the naked eye – no pun intended. Or are we speeding into a boob overload where you’ll soon be popping out sans bra at the supermarket while you do your weekly shop? Let’s discuss.
Boobs have been pretty topical over recent years and who better to take the whole issue head on but the fire cracker that is Rihanna. The global superstar is not shy of controversy, it almost defines her brand as much as her music. Her image is heavily sexualised but it works for her. Her body is a consistent PR machine and that’s not to take away from her music, she had was the first female artist to have six singles in the Hot 100 and she’s won more awards than you can shake a stick at. But her recent foray at CDFA’s wearing a completely see-through dress embellished with Swarovki crystals has set alight critics and supporters alike. The naked dress hasn’t even really been assessed for fashion merit, we’ve been fixated with THE NIPPLES. A see through dress, on the red carpet, photographed and photographed and photographed. The irony is that this was an event where she was receiving an award for being a fashion icon, from the matriarch of fashion herself – Anna Wintour. There are reports that the dress was beautiful and not as naked in real life, but the flash lights took it to x-ray proportions, revealing everything.
But I digress, there was a collective shock about the dress, with the media ploughing in to say Rihanna was selling out and leading young girls astray. Rihanna has hit back, retweeting a Maya Angelou quote "Does my sexiness upset you? Does it come as a surprise that I dance like I've got diamonds at the meeting of my thighs?" And why are we so upset by it? Do we not allow Page 3 girls to be topless in the biggest-selling national tabloid newspaper every day? Is it because we’d all be happier if she just wore jeans and a tee and stopped being so bloody sexual? She’s also hit out at the band TLC, who criticised her naked tactics, by finding a picture of the duo topless and made it her header on Twitter. She also supported Scout Willis in her recent trip down a street in New York baring her breasts. The daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore was censored by Instagram for an image of a jumper which had a picture of two topless women on it. Taking offence, she posted a picture of herself on Twitter looking like she was off shopping just minus her top with the hashtag #freethenipple. And earlier this month Eva Green's slightly provocative poster for Dim City 2 was banned in the US for offending reason of 'curve of under breast and dark nipple/areola circle visible under sheer gown.' Presumably no problems with the posters of Sin City 2's suited and booted men, or Jessica Alba in character as a stripper wearing a bra or Rosario Dawson in a leather basque, stockings and suspenders?
And what is it about Rihanna herself who continues to battle through and brush off criticism to rise and rise? Women, especially, respect her. How many times have you heard ‘I LOVE Rihanna.’ Rihanna the relatable touch point – so strong for women – the woman who was told by her record label in the early days not to cut her hair, so she did, and her boobs are real boobs, not fake or plastic. Her album titles spell it out ‘Unapologetic’ – her whole brand and ethos is not to care what anyone thinks. She’s not the first though, Madonna was the pioneer of the pop controversy – remember her ‘coffee table’ book just named SEX? Full of provocative images of Madonna herself in the 90s, and even recently she’s been getting into trouble again for her nipple flashing antics at a gig in Istanbul. And these days with the exposure from social media, it’s upping the ante and women are now in competition with each other on a world stage. Take the extreme costume antics of Lady Gaga, or Miley Cyrus’s foam finger, or Janet Jackson’s ill-advised ‘wardrobe malfunction’ – it all means headlines and as they say, there is no such thing as bad publicity.
Instagram doesn’t seem to be changing their mind – it’s not exactly the kind of thing that you can imagine tanking the social media channel. There are plenty of places to look for breasts if you are so inclined. And let’s not forget common decency. As much as you can exercise your right to go topless, what about everyone else’s right not to have to see it. And while Instagram takes offence to female nipples, the male nipple is a controversy free zone. In fact, men seem to have the nipple loophole. Only last month, David Beckham was on the front cover of the Metro in only his pants. I was fine with this, in fact I quite enjoyed it, but how would I have felt if it was a nearly naked Victoria instead?
Double standards are prevalent across the board. At the Oscars this year, the host Seth MacFarlane sang a song called "We Saw Your Boobs" listing each Hollywood actress and the film in which he saw their boobs. Not only are women forced to accept nudity in order to get the top jobs but now it’s laughable. Called up in front of a world audience and their peers at an awards ceremony which is supposed to look at the acting. And does size and youth come into play here? Are we only really happy with breasts when they are young and dainty? Actress breasts or supermodel fashion boobs? Are Kate Moss’ a lot more acceptable than, say Katie Price or Kelly Brook? Speaking of Kate’s, what about Kate Middleton and the uproar last year over the topless France pictures. The royal breasts were well publicised and discussed, as if objects entirely separate from the Princess. Quelle horreur that 1) she has breasts and 2) she went topless, on HOLIDAY - scandalous. Some countries would probably wonder what all the fuss was about but similarly there are cultures where the female form is hidden. In certain countries, Scout Willis for example would have barely made it round the block in one piece.
Yet breasts are also political and an increasing sign of political protest. Take the FEMEN group in France, they’re going topless as a symbol of revolution, of uprising, painted with messages, these women are a million miles away from Rihanna and her crystal covered dress. I just wish we could feel powerful enough, and our voices could be heard without having to take our clothes off. I’d like us to be on a level playing field, and you certainly don’t see Pharrell walking round with his trousers down, or One Direction greasing up and taking their shirts off whenever they have an album launch.
We’ve gone from burning our bras in protest to dispensing with them altogether. And where do we draw the line? Who decides if this is a feminist display that is empowering to go topless? Or are we degrading ourselves by doing so? I don’t think this will be the last display of controversy either, there is one more act of defiance still to go. Imagine that Rihanna had taken to the red carpet knicker-less as well as bra-less? If so, the nipples would have just faded into the background.