Free The Nipple started in 2012, when documentary maker Lina Esco make a film of herself running topless through the streets of New York. Since then, the movement’s gathered pace across the world as women have marched topless to highlight one of society’s grossest double-standards: that men can bare their chests in public whilst women can’t. Just as pertinently, they march to say their bodies are not shameful and to reject the intense sexualisation of breasts perpetuated by an image-obsessed media and society.
Brighton has seen two Free The Nipple marches and is run by a dedicated, creative team of people that believe in the realness of the cause. This year it’s taking place on 7th July. It will start at Old Steine Gardens and make its joyful, glitter-strewn way down the seafront, before a party with local party starters Tramfrau keeps everyone bouncing (pun not intended) until dawn. The chief organizer dude is Bee Nicholls, so we got her on the phone to chat all things FTN.2018.
Hey Bee! What are your big hopes with Free The Nipple this year?
The noise we make is a lot louder online, as you’d probably expect. This is still important – it means people are having the debate – but I’d love to see the amount of people engaging online reflected in the turnout.
So the message is: get away from your screens and come down and support on the day?
For a lot of women, getting topless in public is still a pretty big hurdle to cross, isn’t it?
100%. And it’s totally understandable. People still have massive hang-ups about topless women, even ones who are breastfeeding.The mental and physical image of a topless women is still so heavily sexualized it can be hugely uncomfortable.
Do you personally find going topless hard?
Definitely. I’m 27 and have been involved with Free The Nipple for three years but that’s 24 years where I’ve still grown up in this society and had these messages that my body is shameful. That it’s unsightly to see breasts. That if breasts don’t look a certain way they’re disgusting or somehow wrong. I am a product of that conditioning as much as anyone else and it’s not something that’s easy to shed. But going topless is exhilarating. To feel the fear and do it anyway.
Can people come support the march and not go topless?
Of course. It’s great just to get your support. Add your voice to the noise! It’s a very positive experience. People can come with families and kids and it’s a very wholesome experience; Free The Nipple isn’t about nudism or exhibitionism. it’s highlighting double-standards that exist across all levels of society. It’s about the fact that women and trans folk don’t yet have full autonomy over their own their bodies.
What was one of your biggest take-homes from last year’s march?
All the different types of people and bodies! The sizes. The shapes. The colours. The varieties.
There’s so much beauty in that variety and realising the way we are is fine. Just going along to the march reminds you that you’re fine. You’re normal.
What about guys. Are they welcome?
We try to make it really clear that the march is not predominantly for men and that the issues we’re promoting affect women and trans people. But men are very welcome to come and support. My boyfriend came and had a great time!
Have you had opposition to the march?
We’ve had trolls online. Last year, The Argus covered it and they were some really hilarious comments underneath. People saying stuff like, “Why don’t these women get jobs?” We’ve all got successful careers! But, on the other end, we had some blokes turn up and made an anti-march video and that had some really sinister comments underneath when it posted online. It all just highlights misogyny we’re fighting against. It’s the reason we have to do this.
Is now the right time for a movement like Free The Nipple? People are more politicized than ever.
There’s a growing momentum of people standing up to injustice. Taking part in a bit of fun and light-hearted activism can help people feel positive and it helps to deal with all the stressful and horrendous things that are going on around us. Feminist issues are gaining wider support which is great to see. We had a lot of men on the march and they’re good allies. It’s not easy for guys either! So much about masculinity is built around a normalized version of heterosexuality and it’s not necessarily guys’ fault that they act in a certain way. They should be given the chance to change.
Finally, what can we expect from the afterparty?
We partner with Tramfrau, and they put on amazing immersive club-nights. They’re a kind-of queer and intellectual alternative playground. It’s very arty. Very cool. It’s going to be at Rialto Theatre and is a space for everyone – straight, homosexual, trans, whatever – to act how they want. It’s going to be amazing!