From milk-filled funbags to very real weapons of self-expression – why women are finally reclaiming the power of the breast
Is it just me or are breasts everywhere right now? They're storming stages, shutting down Instagram and slipping out on talkshows – and all, for the most part, on purpose. It's weird. Suddenly, breasts – in all their shapes and sizes – have gone from being sexy milk-filled funbags to very real weapons of self-expression. Spurred on by the new, wipeout wave of feminism that's come flooding back into the mainstream over the last few years, women are now beginning to reclaim the bodies they're attached to. You don't have to be preened and perfect for the pleasure of a partner anymore. You can now, in theory, be whatever you want to be.
Well, sort of. Admittedly we've still got a hell of a way to go before that actually happens. But while the fight for equality rages on, we thought it would be nice to take a quick moment to celebrate the women who are doing their best to change all that – chiefly by using the gifts their mother gave them. What's more inexplicably provocative than a pair of tits, after all? (...judging by this lot, apparently not that much.)
In the UK, where nudity is techically legal, the idea of “freeing the nipple” doesn't seem like that big a deal. In the US though, it's an entirely different story. Women are not allowed to be topless – even for breastfeeding – in 35 states, with places like Louisiana shelling out three year jail terms and $2500 fines to any offenders. Trying to right this injustice is Free The Nipple, an equality campaign that's already gained notoriety for its ‘provocative’ imagery and high profile supporters. “I wanted to direct a feature about women topless challenging the censorship laws in America for equality,” explains the movement's founder, Lina Esco. “It was nearly impossible to release the film, and that's what prompted me to start the movement in 2013. The movement took off and other public influencers jumped on board and helped continute the conversation to get louder and louder.”
From Alexandra Marzella's explicit exhibitionism to Molly Soda's self-leaked nudes, Instagram has become a breeding ground for art that questions the way we see our bodies. Despite the site's strict 'no nudity' rules – which are almost constantly being violated – it's become a perfect platform for artists eager to reclaim and reinvigorate how women are perceived. And, using breasts, body hair and blood to make their point, it can be pretty tough viewing. “The way women are perceived online is just a heightened reflection of society and the way women, and particularly their bodies, are treated in real life,” Soda says. “Everything you put out there essentially invites others to criticise and interpret your image. As women, we grow up learning to be critical of our own bodies, as well as other women’s bodies – there is a great sense of shame embedded into all of it.”
GENDERFLUIDITY AND LGBTQ VISIBILITY
It seems like we've slowly started to swoop into a new age of acceptance when it comes to sexuality. Trans people are making headlines (mostly for all the right reasons) and genderfluidity is on the rise – which means we're the probably the most open we've ever been. Bodies of all shapes and sizes are being flaunted, and the heteronormativity of gender roles is finally, at long last, being questioned – whether it's by pansexual Miley Cyrus or New York fashion darling Hari Nef. “All the things that make me uniquely and beautifully trans – my big hands, my big feet, my wide shoulders, my deep voice – all of these things are beautiful,” Orange Is The New Black star Laverne Cox shared recently. “I’m not beautiful despite these things, I'm beautiful because of them.”
Perhaps the most controversial feminist group of modern times, Femen have been polarising the world since 2008 with their raw and raucous activism. Courting controversy earlier this week by storming a muslim conference, they've also stripped off in front of the pope and pissed, shat and menstruated on the Islamic state flag – but all in the name of equality, of course. “Our main enemy is patriarchy and its three manifestations – dictatorship, religion and the sex industry. These issues are universal,” founder Alexandra Shevchenko told The Guardian in 2013. “Femen is like the commanders taking the frontline to remove the mask and show the ugly sexist face of society”.