7 years ago by

I’m a born Parisian and a learned New Yorker, and as similar as the two cities can be, I’ve got two very distinct cultures diverging in my one perspective, especially on boobs. In short, I’ve always been conflicted about them, more specifically the idea of showing them off…in public.

Growing up I saw my mom’s nipples, out in the world, more times than I can count on many people’s fingers (sorry mom, and so soon after Mother’s Day…). And I don’t mean when I was nursing. I mean, my mother, like many French women in the 80s and 90s, went topless at the beach. I didn’t think too much of it and no one else seemed to either. That was just normal.

Fast forward to my teenage years in New York. By then boobs are completely sexualized in my mind and mine are…taking a while to come in. The thought of even a fraction of my areola being seen is terrifying. So like many women, I put a lot of work into hiding my nipples at all times from any non intimate parties. I’ve worn the awful cutlets that live under backless dresses to hide the shape of the nipple…I’ve battled the best of breezes, intent on exposing them! There’s an entire line of products, a whole industry dedicated to “helping us” hide our boobs… Come to think of it, it’s been a while since my mom let hers roam freely too.

The cues on boobs were always conflicting. I was seeing freer women showing theirs off in photos, in art, in protest even and I admired it. And then there were shows of boob that were not intended like the fateful day Janet Jackson’s nipple slipped out into all American daylight during the FAMILY ORIENTATED broadcast of grown men giving each other concussions the Super Bowl. And my god, it was the nipple seen around the world, the ultimate offense, the glaring double standard. The outrage was probably what pushed me to think more about my own view. Why is my nipple so offensive, what’s it ever done!? In a number of US states, baring a breast is flat out illegal and on Instagram, an areola (a female one only) is the easiest way to lose your account.

So as I enter my 30th year, fewer f***s are given. I said this when we talked about periods recently, and ill say it again, working in an office full of women has completely changed my outlook on being one! I have a much less critical and sexualized view of my own lady lumps, who finally did come in by the way. The rules for exposing them, what’s ok and what’s not ok, are much too complicated and frankly non-sensical to navigate. So you might see my nipple through a t shirt somewhere around NYC (baby steps…) and I’m ok with that…

Boobs are both beautiful and functional, simultaneously sensual and normal. So maybe in a few years, when I have a daughter of my own, I’ll follow in my mom’s boobsteps and show her that breasts are just an essential part of a woman, nothing more, nothing less!


Add yours
  • Sheila May, 16 2017, 9:53 / Reply

    Now that we are all grown ups, can’t we please stop saying/writing “boobs” and use the real word “breasts” —– boobs sounds so junior high! We are women after all! Let’s own this.

  • Thanks Sheila!

  • Agreed! Even my 8 year old daughter knows how to accurately name body parts.

  • Julia May, 16 2017, 5:59

    “Boob” is colloquial but not inaccuarate or less ‘real’ than “breast,” and its lighthearted tone seems perfectly fine here.

  • Yes, there are many beautiful and respectful words to describe our bodies. Let’s use them!

  • Agree 100%, the view of North America on nudity in general is soooo different from Europe. I am from Bulgaria living in Canada for the past 12 years and I have to say it has been a big adjustment in that department for me ;-)

  • Florence May, 16 2017, 1:41 / Reply

    Is this always need to be like this? Accepting or fighting some kind of standards?
    I never felt under any repression or feeling obliged to show or not to show my boobs or tits. I grew up in a way than anything was accepted from me. I never asked myself further than what I felt confortable to do or acceptable with my own me. No pressure about hiding or not hiding.
    I have to say I had the chance to grew up in France in a country where nudity is accepted and now to live in the Netherlands where breast feeding in public is a human right.
    I feel very lucky I grew up and lived in places being yourself is accepted and normal being.

  • I am with you, Francis. I grow tired of everything single thing becoming and issue. I am Irish, so nudity was always out of the question. I stayed with Czech friends in my late teens, and the women in the family swam nude together, which I thought was great fun. But I have never worried so much about all this. When I was young I was often braless. But when I began my career and was in more formal circumstances I bought lots of nice bras.

    Decorum is not in style, which is too bad, I think. Decorum is nice. Too many exhibitionists.

  • Leslie May, 18 2017, 11:03

    Exactly, it should be a non-issue. I think if you just own it, people will not care. I breastfeed in public without a cover all the time in New Orleans. I don’t ever look around to see if it bothers anyone because it’s not my problem if someone has an issue with me feeding my child. No one has complained, but then again it may be the French influence…or those damn beads…

  • Heather Bozzone May, 16 2017, 2:50 / Reply

    Amen to all of this. I never can wrap my head around this craziness. Hence why I love St Barth, for example. Let them be free!

  • Thank you so much for this post. Especially the last paragraph.

  • I managed to breastfeed, including in public, in NYC (with really clever tops). That said, on Saturday, I saw two women in the space of two hours, breastfeeding in public here in Carcassonne as if it were the most natural thing it the world WHICH IT IS.
    I am sick of body-shaming, including all the stuff about Brigitte Macron and whether she dresses her age and whether since she is thin she gets to wear styles that are for younger women. I saw a woman recently here wearing leather pants and pushing a walker. My thought: You go, girl!!
    Meanwhile, If you haven’t already seen this excellent short French film, from 2010 by Eléonore Pourriat, about a world in which the majority is in power and not oppressed, take a look:

  • Si seulement on pouvait laisser les femmes libres de choisir la vie qu’elles seules decident de vivre !!!

  • Genevieve May, 16 2017, 8:10 / Reply

    Agree. Nipples are great.

  • Kirstin May, 16 2017, 10:00 / Reply

    I don’t think it has ever occurred to me to worry about my nipples… but then again I don’t think I ever felt that another person had the right to comment on what I did with my body. I remember when my parents got super mad at me for shaving my head, my whole extended family got in on the act…. I remember standing firm and saying “my body – my choice, it is not my problem if you don’t like it”. I don’t like tattoos, but I really don’t care what someone else puts on their body – I’d never tell them they should not have done it – I congratulate my friends on the design – I support their freedom.
    But as another person in the comments wrote about where they live, I also live in a country where breast feeding in public is protected by law, topless sun baking is fine (though stupid considering Australia has the world’s highest rates of skin cancer) and where women actually get paid maternity leave…. there is still so much more to be done, but my body is not a battle ground – it’s my body…
    I’m not flaunting my boobs (I am fine with the word boob over breast), because mine are large…. but I think if I had small ones I’d flaunt them whenever I felt like – the more freedom the better. People should choke on their silly judgments – sweat the big stuff – you know, greed poverty war, bullies…. not how people adorn their body.

  • Brava, Audrey-we should all take a note from 80s/90s French woman and FREE THE GODDAMN NIPPLE!

    Be it from boobs or breasts or ta-tas or tig ol’ bitties, let us let our nipples breathe freely.

  • I never felt under any suppression or feeling obliged to appear or not to demonstrate my boobs. I experienced childhood in a route than anything was acknowledged from me. I never asked myself more remote than what I felt comfortable to do or adequate with my own me. No weight about covering up or not stowing away.

  • Love this post, and totally agree that nipples and breasts are a normal part of a woman that society needs to accept and not sexualize or consider vulgar. That’s called women’s oppression.

    I live in the USA, where it’s not common to show breasts or nipples, but after breastfeeding a child I am so much more comfortable going braless in public. My breasts are incredible — they fed my child! Why should I be ashamed of them? And while their post-breastfeeding shape is different, I love that they have changed and show the journey of my life.


  • Charis May, 21 2017, 3:32 / Reply

    What about nipples in everyday life? Specifically, in the workplace.

    For any woman working in an office or in generally the corporate world, it is unacceptable.

    I have no shame or shyness in baring nipples but firstly, it would create a bad impression at work and secondly, I would be sexualized by avoiding bras.

  • Briana May, 23 2017, 2:07 / Reply

    I wish I could agree with this post and the majority of the comments made…but something is holding me back. Nipples/boobs/breasts are so sexualized in America that showing them/freeing them seems like nothing more than a plea for attention. I am a woman who will fight for anyone’s rights to do with their body what the please but women who expose their breasts seem like attention seekers; not liberators.
    Also, having women with exposed breasts seems like a victory for heterosexual males, not for women. Am I missing something here? I am very open to comments/feedback/explanations.


  • Oui, il y a beaucoup de mots magnifiques et respectueux pour décrire notre corps. On peut aider nos enfants à les utiliser aussi.

  • Crystal May, 29 2017, 8:40 / Reply

    can’t agree more!
    I dun like to wear bras cos it’s comfortable. And I dun like too much boobs, not fashion!

  • Agree that not everything should be an issue. Who cares, to each of their own. But seriously, would any of you wear no bra to work or see through top with no bra to a family barbecue party (I have seen it)? Is that good taste?

    What if our male coworkers start to show their nipples at work too, it’s okay?

    I think there is a subtle difference between liberating and sexualizing them. Really depends on the situation and the person’s attitude.

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