The Nipple Has Been Freed

Brooklyn women have finally burned their bras.

Art by Catalina Canizales

I turn the corner onto Bedford from North 7th St. in Williamsburg and I’m greeted by a woman’s nipples pointing through her thin t-shirt. While the women of North Brooklyn have always been boundary-pushing with their fashion choices, I realize I am definitely witnessing something, some kind of movement, because these nipples are not a one-off, but a pair part of something larger. I do a quick google search to confirm my suspicion and find Just Nips; a recently launched company offering pasties with a pearly “nipple” in cold or freezing varieties, designed to give yours an extra push through fabric, a poke over a padded bra, or the illusion of a nipple after a mastectomy.

Nipples are not a trend. They’re a body part that we all have. Still, we are fascinated by them—a sexually-charged fascination sprung from inequality and misogyny; rooted in the male gaze. This obsession lends to the horror and anticipation of “the nip slip” and led to the long overdue Free the Nipple Campaign emerging in 2012. But right now nipples are having a moment of a different kind: At some point last summer, the women of Brooklyn decided collectively to take off their bras.

The question is if we’re doing it because it’s fashionable, or for something more pointed.

Fashion has always gone braless—the artful, softcore we enjoy in V Magazine and the like—but on a skinny girl who’s flat-chested, ditching a bra is not a huge statement (sorry.) What I consider revolutionary is bouncing, rippling, real and heavy boobs finally released from decades of constriction.

In my short lifetime, bras and the ways we choose to hold our boobs have certainly had ups and downs. I’m from California, where a boob job is as normal to discuss as the traffic you got stuck in on the 405. Big boobs are worshipped and flaunted. But it’s a cult that glorifies unnatural, stiff perfection, and expects tiny, skinny girls to have the curves of a much larger woman—breasts that float and never fall despite their disproportionate size and globular shape. In 6th grade, perhaps prematurely, I bought a red bra at BeBe. It was an A cup with underwire and completely unnecessary, but it felt like getting a ticket to womanhood—the beautiful part, not the gross part that was associated with having a period. I knew that having breasts was considered “beautiful”, so putting a bra on them seemed like an affirmation.

The age of Victoria’s Secret coincided with my puberty. Many women can recall their formative years spent in these contraptions—the kind that had molded foam cups to give you padding and shape. The bras were colorful and cheap, designed to push and pull our bodies in the same way our extremely low-riding jeans were doing at that time. It hurts me just thinking about it.

My brassiere journey took a surprising turn when I studied abroad in Paris . Victoria’s Secret simply wasn’t an option and I’m forever grateful for it, because the lack pushed me into a new world of underthings. If Victoria’s Secret sold “bras”, Paris sold “lingerie”. Lacy, sexy, expensive, it felt mature. I took note of the nuances of reserved French sexuality. Sure, they were notorious lovers, humping on benches throughout the cities, but women in Paris did not show their bellies or let their underwear hang out as generously as we did at home. Their sex appeal was understated, alluring in the mystery and the authenticity, and all the layers you had to take off to get to it.

I became less eager to push my boobs up and together. It was like French women didn’t have breasts in the same way they didn’t get fat, they were so played down. I took to wearing unlined lace bras, ones that barely lifted me, but instead let my boobs chill and be themselves. And I was relieved.

After my French education, I never wore a padded bra again. Even though I always had the option to create car-stopping cleavage, I felt I was indulging in something much more risqué at the time—exposed nipples. This was a renegade move back then. In contrast, my friends took extra care to conceal their nipples in clothes, and when going braless, resorted to pasties to cover them. Your nipples showing through a shirt was a reason not to purchase it. No more.

Flash forward ten years, and the staying-return of 90s fashion. While 90s staples like slip dresses and Adidas Superstars feel like they’ve been back in style forever, nipples seem to have appeared nearly overnight, sometime last Spring. Does it have something to do with Kendall Jenner’s ubiquitous nipple piercing? Even more nipples than usual walking down the Fall runways last year? There was the recent internet sensation gushing over Jennifer Aniston’s nipples on Friends, but this Tumblr glorifying them has been around for years.

The nipple trend could signify a few things. Maybe, after years of focus on the butt, we gotta switch it up. Here’s a new thing for us to obsess over and fetishize. But when it comes to nipples, the notion seems somewhat equalizing: everybody has generally the same ability to get them to stick out and flaunt them. Seems like something to celebrate. Is it sexy or subversive? That probably depends on the owner of the nipples. But everything is political right now, and women have a lot to say. By freeing themselves of the restrictiveness of a bra, they’re shedding at least one grasp of the patriarchy.

I like to think that this is the post-Trump young woman’s way of saying, “fuck off.” Eff your standards for beauty and my body, and while you’re at it, keep your hands off my Planned Parenthood. I have always been a proponent of normalizing nipples—it’s time. Imagine being a new mother with a hangry baby having to worry about getting gawking looks from creeps and puritans. Nope!

Brooklyn women have a reputation for being unapologetic about their bodies and beliefs, which is why we practice fashion as self-expression. Nowhere else in the world would I be more inspired to put myself together before going on a run to grab toilet paper at the bodega. You always have to be dressed, because you never know who you might see, but more importantly, we want to be seen. Sometimes it feels like we’re trying to out-dress each other in terms of who can be more stylish or provocative, but collective bralessness feels more like a high five.

Our bodies are ours to employ and exploit, and nipples still carry enough taboo to feel like a meaningful reveal, which is why they’re every Instagram influencer’s must-have accessory. But I’ve seen them making bigger statements diving in the waves at the LGBTQ Riis Beach, the part way down from the boardwalk where topless sunbathing is more common than clinging to a flimsy top, and at a trans party I attended in Crown Heights celebrating Carly Rae Jepsen—the queen in charge had her new boob job on display, wearing only a string connected to a choker on one side and a thong on the other. Her nipples were OUT. My friend’s Instagram picture of the host reigning supreme was promptly flagged and removed. Clearly we’re not there yet.

Whatever the destination, we’re embarking on a groundbreaking body-positive journey towards a better world for women and their nipples, and it’s the fuck-all attitude that’s really alluring to me. I picture a woman who has always strapped them in, deciding to let them go totally free, the feeling of taking your bra off after the longest day. At a G cup, my bralessness potential is somewhat limited, but even I untied my bathing suit top this summer and freed my girls under a dress to go out to Rockaway Beach Surf Club. “Do my boobs look too extra?” I asked my friend. “I think you look great,” she answered.

With the onset of autumn and fashion week officially over, where will they go? Will they be forceful enough to poke through a sweater as temperatures plummet? I hope so.