On a gorgeous summer’s evening, celebrities and models alike congregated at the Valentino Haute Couture show. Revealing their Autumn-Winter 22 collection in Rome, celebrities like Anne Hathaway, Kate Hudson and Naomi Cambell rubbed shoulders. Florence Pugh, known for her many roles in films such as Midsommar or Little Women, arrived in a sheer fuchsia dress. Despite the star-studded guest list, all eyes were on Florence Pugh.. ‘s nipples?
On Instagram, Florence captioned her post: ‘I was excited to wear it, not a wink of me was nervous. I wasn’t before, during or even now after....t isn’t the first time and certainly won’t be the last time a woman will hear what’s wrong with her body by a crowd of strangers, what’s worrying is just how vulgar some of you men can be...Grow up. Respect people. Respect bodies. Respect all women. Respect humans. Life will get a whole lot easier, I promise.’
It may appear almost strange, in the same summer as the performative runway piece of Coperni whereby Bella Hadid emerged on stage in underwear with her nipples spray painted, while a team of specialists sprayed her with spray-on-fabric, to create an elegant white slip dress. This was met with great reception, yet Florence was met with disgust. So why was this?
Perhaps, if we take a look back on the past two decades, it might be clearer as to why we are, where we are:
Some notable boob-bits of the past 20 years
2004: Janet Jackson’s career took a major blow after Justin Timberlake ripped away the fabric of her corset, exposing her right breast at the 2004 Superbowl. Though it appears Timberlake was choreographed to rip 1 of the 2 layers of fabric off, the entire cup came with it. Live. In front of 140 million people watching from home. Despite this accident, and apparent mistake, the internet brutalised Janet Jackson, with major giants of the industry following suit. Les Moonvse, the CEO of CBS, reportedly became obsessed with ruining Jackson’s career. As Timberlake and Jackson were banned from the Grammys, Mooves was said to have ordered VH1 and MTV (both owned by Viacome, the then-parent company of CBS) to stop playing Jackson’s music, boycotting her from the industry1.
2017: The world was thrown slightly off kilter as Kendall Jenner made her runway debut with bleached eyebrows, and a sheer V-neck top. Jenner commented on this in a recent Vogue interview, stating ‘I was pretty chill, even though my boobies were out’2. Of course, the media were quick to elbow in with some unsettling comments. ‘Kendall Jenner is baring her barely-legal breasts in the classiest way possible’3 – ew?
2022: In February of this year, Adidas revealed their campaign that showed breasts of all shapes and sizes to promote their new range of sports bras. As people’s chests are so different, it appears strange to only produce one type of sport bra. To resolve this, Adidas released 43 styles of bra. This was met with significant praise! However, it was their advert of 20 bare breasts that caused controversy. The mosaic of breasts was taken down after only 24 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)4. As FemLegal writer Emma Lynas commented, ’There are 3.9 billion women in the world. But the opinions of 24 people have ensured that Adidas’ advert displaying an amazing, diverse range of breasts […] will no longer be shown to us.’5 This advert was posted onto the FemLegal TikTok account. Within a few hours, thousands had viewed it, and we had received hundreds of comments thanking us for sharing it. Every single comment praised the advert, thanking Adidas for promoting normal bodies and helping women finally feel ‘normal’. People shared the heart-breaking stories of feeling alone and strange after going through puberty, hence why imagery like this is so vital for women, particularly young women. However, after less than 24 hours, our TikTok was removed for violating community guidelines.
2022: Katie Price underwent her 13th breast surgery, to which the Daily Mail had an absolute field day over. This surgery alone was reported on eight times by the Daily Mail in the span of 3 weeks, as the paper rallied for people to laugh and gawk at Price’s augmentation.
‘for 43 she looks horrible. All those surgeries are not doing any good. She has no curves…..’
‘she looks worse than a Kardashian and that is saying something. I feel for her. Self-love is essential and not selfishness’6
As these snippets of boob-bits within pop culture show, the army of tit-trolls have now shifted from behind the tv screen to social media. With Janet Jackson being forced to apologise, as her breast was exposed (by someone else), it appears almost ironic. Women are encouraged to get as close as possible to nudity, but any further, and it is a disgrace. Janet Jackson was meant to have 1 out of 2 layers ripped off, and had this happened, it is likely the Superbowl would have ended as a hit.
The irony of near-nudity versus the disgust of the naked female body is stark. At the peak of its time in 2011, the Victoria Secret Runway Show had 10.3 Million viewers7. The public idolised these models, yet only years prior shunned Jackson out of high-stardom. Let’s take Kendall Jenner, a model who featured three times in the Victoria Secret Runway Show, as an example. Jenner only sparked body-controversy when she took it that unthinkable step further, in semi-exposing her breasts. Again, in the name of fashion. However, this time, in 2017, as Jenner made her high fashion debut, the public couldn’t quite take it. Perhaps with Bella Hadid’s Coperni piece, as her actual nipples were never seen, it didn’t have enough to cause the same type of stir.
Looking back to Adidas and Katie Price, and comparing the two events which took place only months apart, it seems that the image of natural and diversely shaped breasts is deemed inappropriate, yet altered breasts are a spectacle to laugh at?
Whilst this may appear trivial, these attitudes translate into the law and societal norms. For example, in France, this attitude of disgust towards breasts is reinforced by the law, as nudity in France is associated with ‘sexual exhibitionism’, and can cost women up to €15,000 and/or a year of imprisonment8.
With these as only recent and a few examples, it appears it is not the breast itself that offends, but the attempt to reclaim it as your own. A boob poking out used to be almost a comedy gag, something to laugh at in another’s expense. But when women freely show their breasts, it causes a great sense of uncertainty, as the power dynamic is challenged. In reclaiming something that the public would usually laugh at, or hold against you in ridicule, the body becomes woman’s own again. This clearly unnerves people.
Unfortunately, it appears we have a considerable length to go before women may show their breasts without sparking controversy. However, small but potent moves, such as Florence’s at the Valentino show, encourages conversation and challenges the power dynamic. Nipples are harmless, natural, and beautiful. So, why do we give them so much power? Or rather, why do men yield this power?
8 Article 222-32 of the Criminal Code on Sexual Exhibition
Written by Katie Wills