Celebrity breasts

Georgetown Bench
Georgetown University Campus, Washington D.C., December 2015. No one paid me much mind.

I received this question on Twitter this morning.

When female celebrities show nipple, does it help the cause or hurt it?

My opinion on the value of celebrity bare-chestedness is that it depends, but in the balance, I think celebrities “freeing the nipple” or otherwise going bare-chested or even flashing or having not-so-accidental “wardrobe malfunctions,” though usually motivated by career furthering and not social evolution, does ultimately help people normalize to the sight of the female nipple.

You can’t shock a person twice with the same thing.  So each time someone sees a nipple, it becomes less and less noteworthy.

On the other hand, posing provocatively with bared nipples creates a sexual association which makes it harder to disconnect the female nipple as a sexual object.

As I’ve said before, most topfreedom advocates are not arguing that people should not enjoy the sight of a female breast or nipple, or feel sexual excitement about breasts, but I do think it is wrong that women are often reduced to their bodies and that because some people consider some female breasts sexually exciting all females somehow should lose the right to control what we do with them, when men do not.

What topfreedom activists do argue, strongly, is that a woman’s attire must be decoupled from her perceived consent.  Walking around completely nude, or in a tight dress or short skirt, is not permission to touch her, assault her or rape her.

The validity of female celebrity bare-chestedness becomes a much easier question when one considers how we receive male celebrity bare-chestedness.  A quick Google search of Channing Tatum (the sacrifices I make for this blog) reveals a lot of bare-chested pictures with captions like, “Channing Tatum Goes Shirtless, Shows Off His Perfect Body for a Family Beach Day!”

On the other hand, Miley Cyrus’ bare-chestedness is quite often referred to as “antics” and Kim Kardashian was recently blasted for posting porn and attention-seeking for sharing simple bare-chested selfies.

In males, bare-chestedness is often viewed as powerful and strong.  In females it is often viewed as immoral and obscene.  Not always, and certainly improving, but it’s not a very controversial statement to make, I don’t think.

I was watching an American Ninja Warrior marathon recently (don’t judge) and many of the males competed bare-chested.  I just shook my head when one of the muscular competitors made a big show of removing his shirt, causing the crowd to go nuts and the announcer to ejaculate, “Shirt off for power!”

So Scout Willis walking around Manhattan bare-chested was great.  She looked powerful, confident and relaxed.  Her walk brought a lot of positive attention to the issue.  Elizabeth Hurley doing her thing on a beach screams normality.  Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga and Rihanna have just as much right to use the appeal of their bare-chestedness as Channing Tatum does.

I do find fascinating the boundary blurring of a Jenny Frost for example, a member of the female British pop group called Atomic Kitten.  They mostly do PBS-friendly, vanilla covers of vanilla songs, and seem to dress themselves out of the Land’s End catalog.  Their audiences are young, female and white, very Disney, mothers, sisters, daughters, girlfriends awkwardly sway-dancing and lip-syncing.  Two of the three singers dress modestly…it would be impossible to claim they were trying to steal anyone’s husband.

But then there is Jenny Frost, who is costumed similarly except she often wears the naughty-sister version of the same outfit, often braless, with revealing fabrics or low cut tops, with obvious nipple protrusion and breast movement or underboob, her dancing causing her nipples to come ever so close to being seen outside her garment in a way that makes you never want to look away in case you miss the split second where they do show themselves.  (Finish my article before you get lost in a Jenny Frost click hole, please.)  Indeed several times her nipples have shown themselves (with fairly obvious fake unawareness from their owner) and the reaction from the audience was just to smile their perfect smiles and keep swaying, hand in hand with their mothers and sisters and daughters.

We could laugh at the contradiction, but instead, I choose to take heart and find proof that once again, the sight of female nipples does not cause injury or hysteria.  People expect this of Jenny Frost, and so when it happens, no one is shocked.  Jenny Scordamaglia, of Miami TV, same thing.

So once again we arrive at expectations.  The sponsors of the New Hampshire anti-nipple legislation of 2016 argued the importance of protecting family’s expectations when they go to a beach or pool.

And to that end, the topfreedom movement is a battle to move people’s expectations.  When people expect to see something, seeing that thing is not shocking and therefore not as scary… like violence on television and vitriol in politics.

So in the battle to move people’s expectations, celebrities going bare-chested does shift those expectations.  In fact, I’ve heard several people say in the defense of my own bare-chestedness, it’s nothing you can’t see on prime time TV these days.  Even though it’s not really true, it’s still an interesting phenomenon.

As to the value of celebrity behavior in general, I offer no opinion.


39 thoughts on “Celebrity breasts

  1. I have a question. I will be honest, I enjoy looking at women’s breasts. Not to be rude, but just because they are one of God’s most beautiful creations. How is a man “supposed” to respond to a woman sitting topless in a park or in a public area. Obviously not to “ogle” or make unkind remarks. I support your freedom of expression, but want to make sure I am not being offensive.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Al, as a nudist I can tell you that when bare breasts are common, they’re just not something that you stare at. We all look of course. We all look at women fully dressed as well. As all women’s breasts are different from one woman to the next, there is novelty seeing a particular woman top free or nude for the first time. Then it’s over. Women look at nude men too, as we all have our differences as well. But in all cases, once you’ve seen it, it’s done. Rather as if your brain took a mental snapshot of the person. No more imagining what the person might look like without clothes, you now know. The “tease” is gone. How does one respond you ask? Simple, you don’t.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Thank you for your honesty. Few people in the topfreedom movement are asking people to stop being attracted to breasts or women’s bodies, certainly not me. But I am asking us to decouple a woman’s attire from her perceived consent, to really examine the way we commoditize and control women’s bodies, the power of shame and bullying and the joy of self love. So basically, let’s respect the human inside the body. I think if we start there, a lot of the trouble goes away automatically. Understand that women want to feel secure and safe and that staring or lurking is inherently unsettling. I have written an article elsewhere on the blog about how men can support topfreedom and I think you will find some relevant thoughts there. Basically, I can tell when a man is treating me with respect and is not a physical threat to me, and when I am just a female body to him. I think fundamentally if you respect the human first, your behavior will reflect that respect. But at any rate, the information in the other articles in more eloquent than this. Thank you though. I love that you are willing to discuss this.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I believe as long as celebs do their flashing n the privacy of their homes, or closed sets, etc., it’s not doing anything but hurting the cause. It’s no different than Playboy (used to be). Celebs like Scout, Miley, Gaga and others who have been nude or top free with the general public, help considerably. The latter named celebs are making a statement that its ok to be nude of top free in public.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. There are many people who will always be  impervious to sensible thought and logic, but to those who have open minds, we should just be ourselves when bare-chested. You may remember Abby Valdes’ walk through New York – she just looked completely at ease, natural,and very classy at the same time.  Our confidence, and our kindness amongst others,and even sharing the experience with others, can make others feel more comfortable,and maybe bold enough to strike a polite conversation. That’s the opening we need to advance the cause.

    Are some of your readers old enough to remember that earlier in our lifetimes it was not only normal, but mandatory for high school swim teams, in much of North America, for the male swimmers to swim in the school pool classes nude? This was even normal and expected at beaches, in mixed company, even further back in the last century.

     The female students were not allowed this,but it was the way it was, and society has swung so far the other direction that peoples’ hangups make them flip out at the thought of public breastfeeding,the most natural and wonderful thing in the world. So it’s up to all of us to help nudge society back to its more rational roots. There’s no way around the fact that it will take time. As someone said long ago,”To win some, you must be winsome.” Tim Rusling

    WordPress.com | breastsarehealthy posted: “I received this question on Twitter this morning.When female celebrities show nipple, does it help the cause or hurt it?My opinion on the value of celebrity bare-chestedness is that it depends, but in the balance, I think celebrities “freeing the ni” | |

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for this wonderful comment. My fiance’s father spoke of mandatory nudity in his YMCA swim classes. He said it was to prepare boys for life in the military. But yes I agree that it will take time but I think the movement is making significant progress and within a decade we won’t even find much interesting to discuss about it anymore.


      1. Do celebrities that go topless help the cause? I’m not sure. If they actually went topless like you do; then yes maybe. Topless as in a nip-slip; no, I don’t think that has real value.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah, it would be awesome if celebrities would use their power for good, and not just for self-gain, but in the mathematics of the movement, in the slow moving of the dial, I’ll take what I can get. It’s a close call, for sure.

          Liked by 2 people

  4. Interesting about the phrase ‘you can’t be shocked by the same thing twice’ and how it also applies to being interested/titillated by the same thing twice. As such, when Chelsea Handler, Miley Cyrus, Rhianna and others decided to say ‘to hell with it’ and free their nipples, the first time was interesting – at least to the public and press – but has since become passé, almost eliciting a ‘What, again?’ response. As this happens on a much wider scale (i.e. with all women) on nude/clothing optional beaches or those where female toplessness is the norm, a breast quickly becomes a breast and not a source of fascination. I would hope this would be the case if and when what you are doing becomes far more widespread, just as it is for men.

    In terms of whether celebrities help or hinder the ’cause’, if you want to call it that, they certainly keep ‘free the nipple’ in the public consciousness and, as I said, normalise their own barechestedness. If girls and women see that and develop an attitude of ‘if she can do it, then so can I’, then isn’t that for the best?

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I’d say they do help normalize it, but I feel like theres a fine line. If something isnt shown in a positive light, I feel in some ways it hurts the cause. Most topless celebrity pics (I say topless because to me they dont make it seem naturalenough to call it barechestedness because they emphasize it in a bad way a lot of the time) end up being censored and are shown negatively anyway, and while I support their right to do that wholeheartedly I dont think tbat helps because it paints the situation as sexual or something that is edgy or inappropriate that needs to be censored and such.

    I personally respect some celebrities’ barechestedness more than some other people do. While Miley Cyrus may do some crazy things, thats her personality, and she actually in my opinion shows going barechested in a good light far more than a lot of others. i was super happy to hear about Scout Willis, too. i feel like when people like Miley and Sxout are willing to be in public or completely uncensored and are fine with it and see it as natural and are willing to say that it helps a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What would help is if the Gagas and Mileys and such of the world did not actually take their tops off, but rather got some interviews in in more mainstream publications, explaining the normalcy aspect. Right now, they’re all doing it with some regularity, which is great, but the normality of it has achieved exactly what we’ve been asking for. It isn’t news anymore. OK, great, but that also means it doesn’t help the tabloids sell their product anymore. OK, also great, so what’s next? Find something that does sell, in other words, a non-tabloid, with a non-shocking interview. Sell this normalcy thing to a less sensationalized audience.

    What we want to see next is more of the next stratum of woman go bare-chested on the beach, women not known for their bad girl image. I won’t name names, but let’s just say established, maybe a bit older, someone who has plenty of name recognition but not known as a “hottie” or sexpot, or a screaming left wing radical feminist.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Miley Cyrus did exactly that on the Jimmy Kimmel show, only wearing ‘pasties’ and making the host temporarily uncomfortable, saying he didn’t know where to look. It is interesting how she addressed the issue of what she was doing, talking about how you can basically show as much the breast as is humanly possible, but the moment a nipple is visible all hell breaks loose. As far as I can make out, the actual quote is:
      “Humans aren’t afraid of the human breast. It’s the nipple that’s the issue…I’m showing my boobs and no one has a problem because the nipples are covered so somehow that’s OK, America’s actually fine with tits. It’s nipples they don’t like—which is what you have. Which is insane, because the nipple, you can’t show, everyone has—but the jug part that everyone doesn’t, you’re allowed to show under-boob. I’ve never understood the way that works”

      Elizabeth Hurley, Jennifer Aniston, Kelly Brook, Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz have been frequently pictured topless on beaches, I don’t think any of them have been done so frequency to normalise what they are doing or remove the ‘sensational’ aspect of the photos. I don’t think there are any paparazzi photos of her, just plenty of footage in high grossing films, but Helen Mirren has seemingly normalised her own body. She once said “I’m a naturist at heart. I love being on beaches where everyone is naked. Ugly people, beautiful people, old people, whatever. It’s so unisexual and so liberating.” In 2004, she was named “Naturist of the Year” by British Naturism. She said: “Many thanks to British Naturism for this great honour. I do believe in naturism and am my happiest on a nude beach with people of all ages and races!” Maybe she goes to places where photography isn’t permitted. I think she’s the only one – though Brad Pitt, Kevin Bacon and Celine Dion are on a Radio Times list of ‘stars who like to let it all hang out’ – who is an A-list star and identifies as a naturist. However, I think that’s beside the point and not what this blog entry was about!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Thinking on this after a night’s sleep, let me name names. Well, one name: Kate Middleton, the future queen of England. Recall a couple years back, she was photographed bare-chested while vacationing on a private yacht? The pics were published in a French tabloid, and caused a brief ruckus, since the photographer had to have been standing over a quarter of a mile away, so there was a clear violation of privacy involved.

    But what did not happen, and could have, was for Kate to have defied custom and the royal “handlers”, and come out strongly in favor of her own and any woman’s right to take off her top and sun herself on a beach or boat without someone trying to make money off of it. That would really have been a teachable moment.

    Let’s have a couple more examples of that sort of woman take up the fight.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Most of us older readers remember actresses Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave. Both were regular members at Elysium in Topanga Canyon (one time nudist resort, closed ten or so years ago). It wasn’t a secret, they used to speak of it sometimes in interviews.

    I agree, if you want acceptance, it needs to be all ages, and not for shock value or “tee hee look at me.”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A thought-provoking and wise blog as usual! An old prof of mine used to teach “the eight I’s of marketing.” Among them (alas I have forgotten most) were inform, inspire and insist. Celebrities have a special power to do this. As a model of women’s consternation about an obvious sexist double-standard, Scout Willis’ Manhattan outing helped establish a baseline for popular discussion and information. Keira Knightley demanding no photoshopping was a really effective way to get across the FreeTheNipple message about normalcy. Chelsea Handler’s send up of Putin did all kinds of good to jog public awareness of the silliness of mismatched standards of propriety. Among the insisters, Miley Cyrus and Rhianna are champs, relentlessly training the public to distinguish between breasts and sex by being hyper nonchalant about their chests in daily life while being hyper sexy/sexual in their work as entertainers. Celebrities end up being models of good and bad, but overall, whether sincerely or with ulterior motives, when they embrace or symbolize a social issue, they can jump-start social change. What Clark Gable did for male bare-chestedness in 1934, women celebrities are doing today, in a more complex social and media environment, for normalizing female bare-chestedness. But, similar to the way Ellen Degeneres may have greatly helped LGBTQ normalization although insufficient in itself, it will still take a whole lot of informed, inspiring and insistent work by us non-celebrities to remove the laws that currently criminalize women’s chests so that normalization can actually occur.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. I am a follower of the New Story (http://wiki.solseed.org/Blog/What_is_the_New_Story%3F) which values diversity above all other things. I think that here, the way to apply the valuation of diversity is to recognize its value in ensuring success. Diversity ensures that a diversity of strategies and tactics are used in pushing toward a goal. If the energy pushing toward a goal is split into to 10 strategies and just one of those strategies is 100 times as effective at attaining the goal as the average then the 10% of the effort processed through that strategy will have 10 times the effect that all of the other energy put together will have. As a wise man once said, let 100 flowers bloom.

    The efforts of different celebrities provide that diversity, as they each take a different tack on the same basic concept, “people should be free to wear what they want.” If one of their strategies turns out to be the 100 fold strategy even for a short time, then celebrating each of their efforts may lead to a great leap forward for the cause.

    Another way of understanding how the value of diversity impacts this cause, is to consider a conversation that recently occurred between a naturist and a niqab wearing Muslim woman in which they both agreed that the freedom to wear what each of them were called to wear was more important to them than others conforming to their personal ideas of “proper attire”.

    Recently in Canada, the right to wear a niqab at a citizenship swearing in ceremony became an election issue and most naturists sided with the Muslim immigrants who wanted that right. Despite being opposite ends of a spectrum and modesty, naturists and Muslims are actually natural allies in the face of a conformist society. Conformity is the enemy of diversity and valuing diversity makes allies out of opposites.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. I know they have been mentioned by me and others already, but one thing celebrities – particularly Elizabeth Hurley and Gwyneth Paltrow – can do is stop sexualising children with such things as leopard print and halter neck bikinis. The earlier girls know their bodies – especially chests – are different to boys’, the more difficult it is to change the message and society’s perception of the female chest.

    The controversy has been going for the past 10 years and it seems the ‘swimwear’ is still available. See these websites for more detail and photos:


    1. I agree that bikinis sexualize girls more than being bare-chested does. It’s like saying, look here! Look at these! Instead of just letting them run around like kids. I hated my bikini tops and even my one-piece suits. I never understood why I had to wear a top when the boys didn’t. I have been seeing more (not many, but more) parents allowing their young daughters to go bare-chested, especially at beaches this last summer. That’s really huge, in my opinion. Maybe in a generation or two no one will think much about this at all. I will probably write an article on this topic soon. Thank you.


      1. I thought it would make a good subject for an article, possibly containing interviews with/quotes from parents on both sides of the argument and/or girls who were brought up either:
        – believing there was no difference between their prepubescent bodies and those of boys the same age or
        – told to cover up because there was a difference between their prepubescent bodies and those of boys the same age

        It would be interesting to have an insight into the mindset of the two very different groups of people and how, if they were ‘body shamed’ as children, now think about the female chest and what they would do/do do with their own children.


        1. True. I think it’s also important to remember that these two groups of parents are not so far apart, given that they are both trying to protect their children from sexual dysfunction and gender mistreatment. They are just approaching it in different ways. But yes. This would be a great article. Thank you.


    1. A demon? Do men going bare-chested at the pool or beach have demons too? Is that what’s wrong with this world? All these demons running around bare-chested? How about all the European and Russian women going bare-chested for decades? Demons too? What about my bare-chested walk means I have demons? I made a legal act in a free country. Is it because I’m doing something new and unusual that makes you feel I have a demon inside me? I’m confused.


  12. This is my first look at your blog. I read about your blog today, and had to check it out, and to tell you about Jenny Scordamaglia, who is one of my heroes. And first shot out of the box, I see you already know of her. Keep up the good work. I know it’s crazy, with all the varying and differently-motivated responses to nipples, but I think that what you do is important for both women and men.


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