The history of topless, which should not be a cause of scandal anymore

There are more than 4 million Instagram posts responding to the hashtag #FreeTheNipple, and it is exactly with this battle cry that today we are launching, here on Chitè magazine, a new column in the name of the female body liberation movement. #FreeTheNipples wants to highlight crucial historical moments in the evolution of feminism and, above all, to take stock of the situation regarding one of the most controversial topics ever: women’s nipples, between modesty and freedom.

Let’s repeat it together, women’s breast is not a taboo: loving, celebrating, respecting and appreciating your breast is absolutely essential in order to feel self-confident and serenely live the relationship with your own body. Yet, what is it that still makes many (and many) people feel nipples as something improperly “obscene”? For example, let’s consider Instagram for just one second: the social media guidelines prohibit the publication of photographs where nipples are clearly showed. Of course, we are not talking about photos that imply (or reveal) a commodification of the female body as an explicit declaration of sexuality. We are talking about artistic nudes, professional shots where a nipple is nothing more than a detail in a much more general picture aiming at being the purest celebration of the female body. With regard to this, the male audience might be grinning a little bit: of course not, the alpha man may not mind (any nipple) at all. But before falling into unnecessary pitfalls (which are a bit of a sexist at the end of the day, aren’t they?), let’s try to understand why topless still annoys society nowadays.

Should going topless be considered as a crime? No, reports that in Italy there are no specific laws about it. In most cases, it is only necessary to appeal to your common sense and the place where you want to go semi-naked. However, whether it is a crime or not, the uncomfortable feeling experienced by those meeting a topless woman on a beach still remains. Even Rihanna, at the 2014 CFDA Awards, asked the reporter who was interviewing her if her exposed nipples under a crystal dress were somehow making her feel uncomfortable. The reflection triggered once again by is very interesting: in a certain sense, #FreeTheNipples could be the (explosive) reaction to a previous involution process. Indeed, it seems that only from the seventh century did Islamic women begin to cover their breasts (following the spread of their religion). “In Indonesia – adds the source – women began to cover their breasts in 1200, with the spread of Islam”. In India, before the advent of Islam, covering the breast was “a symbol of belonging to some castes”, such as that of the brahamini (the religious caste) and the kshatriyas (the warriors).

But now let’s get to more recent times. Today, topless has become the means (and symbol) of the feminist movement: it was 1964 when model Peggy Moffit wore in the USA the first monokini designed by designer Rudi Geinrich. Her behavior was illegal, but – again in the USA – men had already gained the right to be shirtless in the public since 1936. Just two years earlier, in 1934, the Hollywood film industry had ventured into producing the film It Happened One Night, in which actor Clark Gable caused a scandal by appearing shirtless. But how could all this be considered a scandal if, only two hundred years before, the French aristocratic women (think of Paolina Bonaparte) used to show their nipples as well as darken them with specific make-up?

Today, topless women on the beach keep generating controversial reactions, amazement, appreciation and WOW reactions (well, these ones only for lovers of the female body). A universal truth (perhaps) does not even exist: all that matters is going topless and feeling comfortable rather than just flaunting something about oneself. Mother Nature has endowed women with a body and, although each of them is completely unique, they are all basically the same. Yet, one question remains: what if someone is bothered by topless women? They’re more than welcome to turn to the other side.