One of my first times covering New York Fashion Week (I think it might have been for Bazaar at the time), I remember Michelle Harper making a grand appearance in a her signature sweeping train at a Zac Posen show, delicate Plaza Hotel gold chairs tumbling in her wake, all eyes on her razor sharp bone structure and even sharper undercut. DARLING she screamed across the room at a French editor of starkly contrasting bed hair, bed shirt and oversized denim garb – someone told me that you got in trouble from Instagram for that picture you posted of me yesterday!
The day before, Michelle Harper had done her daily groceries and showgoing in the New York February freeze, bra-free (my preferred method of groceries and showgoing) and in a sheer white organza tee (not my usual jam, particularly in sub-zero mercury).
I’m so sorry, she continued – I just can’t understand it. I have such modest breasts! Do you know anyone
at Instagram? I need to tell them that my breasts are the most inoffensive things! The editor giggled chicly in agreement, and thumbed nervously at her box of cigarettes.
It’s hardly pornographic! They’re just nipples! she shouted one last hurrah over her train. Plaza staff helped her tuck the mass of tulle under her seat, and the show began.
It’s true that Michelle Harper’s breasts are, in her words, modest. She has fashion boobs – and a fashion everything else too – super lean, petite, conducive to coat-hangering even the most clingy film of fabrics. I would agree, too, that they’re very much inoffensive. What was Instagram protecting the world from? After all, in Harper’s words: they’re just nipples.
I suppose, if you really want to get down to the anatomy of #freethenipple, women’s nipples do serve a different purpose to men’s (the more I think about it, I’m actually quite unsure as to why men even have them – if someone can enlighten me as to their evolutionary function,
that would be great), and maybe that does mean that they’re perceived as inherently sensual in nature. But not sexual.
That’s where #freethenipple weakens. Whether it was intended or not, the movement hinges on sexual aggression – which is totally fine, but probably beside the point. Surely the whole point is to desexualise boobs so that they’re no longer restricted by taboo. Women will wear whatever bra, no-bra or organza they like, and it’ll make no difference.
Which is never going to happen.
That would require all breasts and all presentation of breasts to be uniform. Instagram’s community guidelines peg that uniformity at porn – and if that were true, then of course no boobs should be allowed on Instagram. Because porn. Obviously, this isn’t the case outside of a Silicon Valley meeting room vacuum, but I suppose it’s the best we can do. Kind of like adversarial legal systems, or politics. It’s the lesser of all too many evils.
In a way, the fashion industry (and I’m talking fashion as in design – not fashion as in Victoria’s Secret, and certainly not fashion as in Terry Richardson) has it right to a point. The argument as to the sexualisation of fashion models by virtue of, say, walking a show in a sheer top and no bra, doesn’t really have legs (unless the model feels uncomfortable, upon which nobody has any right to force her to do or wear anything, and if they do, they’re a class-A asshole).* In non-commercial editorial and show environments, industry is not looking at an 18-year-old’s boobs as a symbol for sex. Nobody’s even looking at the sternums on display. We’re looking at the clothes. Clothes on coathangers. In fact, Marchesa’s addition of nude nipple pasties under a black lattice gown (above) had the adverse effect of turning our attention to nipples, when nobody at the show even had boobs on their mind in the first place.
We’d been all marvelling at the incredible grandeur of the house’s gowns until a stylist’s decision insinuated that there was something to hide.
Certainly, in an every day commercial context, it’s a bit of a different story. The day before fashion week started, I caught the subway out to a shoot job past Prospect Park (Brooklyn) in a tank, no bra, and a skirt that covered my ankles. I spent the 500m walk from the subway exit to the studio door flipping off more counts of this commentary than words I’d spoken to anyone between landing in NY and getting dressed that morning. And I’m a small nerdy Asian girl.
Some mornings later came the indecision of whether I ought to wear a nude or black bra under this lacy Zimmermann affair. Should it look as if I wasn’t wearing a bra, or should I make a point that I was wearing a bra to avoid any unwelcome confusion? Like Marchesa’s nipple pasties, would the black bra make sexual what was not actually sexual? I thought myself in circles about succumbing to social pressures and ended up going with the black based purely on aesthetics, and because it was actually a bikini top.
On the flipside, my legend of a guide, Youssef, who I travelled with for two weeks in Morocco also had it right. In conversation from Chefchaouen to the edge of the Sahara, we talked about headscarves and covering up. Why would a woman even need to share her body with anybody but the partner she cares about? he mused. Self-expression? I offered, somewhat lamely.
So it’s settled.
Society at large isn’t ready for boobs.
I’m probably not ready for boobs.
Vent your spleen.
LOOK 2 & 3 from Marchesa’s SS16 show at the St Regis Hotel in New York
LOOK 4 from TOME’s SS16 show at Skylight Clarkson Sq in New York (featuring Gentle Monster sunglasses)
LOOK 5 from Delpozo’s SS16 show at Pier 60 in New York
LOOK 6 from Wes Gordon’s SS15 show at Milk Studios in New York
*unfortunately, this does still happen at times in fashion, as it does in other creative and non-creative fields, and it’s going to take a lot more than #freethenipple to overcome that.