(Don’t) show us yer tits

// 29 May 2008

Renegade Evolution has an interesting post (link here) about that very gendered thing, the bra. Or, to be specific, one particular aspect of it: the lining. It seems that Playtex has introduced an additional little piece of foam lining in the bra cup – to disguise hard nipples. Shock horror outrage! Teh Wimminz have nipples! And they get hard! Ohz noez!!!1!eleventy-eleven!!1!!

As Ren says, Playtex have been "long known for their attention to modesty and the use of the word in their advertising" but I wonder quite what this is really all about. Is it, perhaps, an attempt to ‘help’ women take another step closer to appearing about as anatomically correct as Barbie, further objectifying and curiously de-sexing us on the way? Or is it Teh Menz who are offended by our natural bodies’ reactions, and wish us to cover ourselves to spare their blushes? Whose modesty is it anyway, to coin a phrase…

I have a hunch it may actually be some kind of twisted amalgamation of the two. On one hand, women are being told that we may be embarrassed to discover – suddenly! – that we have nipples. On the other hand, perhaps it’s because of the risk of inflaming the manly-men’s passions, poor lambs: maybe they’re just unable to control their wild, animalistic urges if confronted with even the faintest shadow of a nipple through a bra and (presumably) top, and need to be shielded from this dangerously provocative sight.

Either way, it strikes me that underlying all this is probably yet another marketing ploy to make women feel worse about their bodies and spend more money we don’t have, on stuff we don’t need – purely to satisfy an entirely fabricated ideal, another fictitious norm to which we must all submit in the name of safe, unthreatening, homogenous conformity if we are to attain the goal of male approval. Assuming that’s what we’re seeking, of course…

Sorry if I’m ranting here but the fact is, the only time I am likely to feel embarrassed – and it’s not embarrassment for myself – is when I have to interact with those (very few) other people who insist on talking to my breasts rather than my face – and they, I suspect, would stare regardless of how well (or otherwise) my nipples were concealed.

Cross-posted at bird of paradox

Royalty-free image from www.freedigitalphotos.net.

Comments From You

Sabre // Posted 29 May 2008 at 2:16 pm

I might wear a bra that disguises hard nipples purely because people DO stare and it’s pretty embarassing, especially at work. I don’t want my colleagues (male or female) seeing my nipples! It doesn’t mean I’m ashamed of them. Similarly I wouldn’t expect someone at work to wear crotch-hugging trousers. In professional (and many other) situations displays of sexuality are usually distracting.

As always, it’s about choice, and I imagine there’s a market for this bra. In fact Playtex probably did some consumer research and found (shock horror) that some women don’t like their nipples showing through clothes.

Don’t padded bras do the same thing anyway?

Sarah // Posted 29 May 2008 at 2:17 pm

Hmmm, horrible use of the term ‘modesty’ by Playtex. Having erect nipples doesn’t mean you are a sexual deviant, you are just a normally functioning woman and, most probably, a bit cold.

I can’t imagine that the idea for this bra came from anything other than a way of making money by selling women something they don’t really need. Don’t other, normal, normally priced bras offer adequate nipple coverage?

I really think that Playtex are more likely to be playing on women’s discomfort/fear of men making comments about ‘smuggling peanuts’ than trying to create a smooth, nipple free utopia.

Of course, now that such a product exists, young women might see their fears as being validated or may go on to feel more self conscious in this area than they had before.

Sarah // Posted 29 May 2008 at 2:25 pm

I don’t think it’s a ‘display of sexuality’ to have your nipples only covered by a normal bra and layers of clothing! Though I do understand feeling self-conscious especially if people stare.

Lucy R // Posted 29 May 2008 at 3:07 pm

Agreeing with Sarah, I don’t think it’s a ploy to Barbie-fy women. It’s not something I find to be a problem these days as I love my boobs and couldn’t give two hoots what people say, but when I was a teenager any sign of an erect nipple on a female would elicit stares/sniggers/name-calling/general harrassment from the adolescent males present. This can be a very embarrasing, or even threatening situation.

Obviously it would be preferable not to to bow to the pressure of hormonally-challenged boys, but I know I felt it then, and I know women now that would do anything to avoid that kind of situation (similar to the street harrassment blog earlier on, its a shocking state of affairs, but alas it does happen).

Whether the world needs another gimmicky bra when the average padded one can do the job is another matter entirely.

Anji // Posted 29 May 2008 at 3:08 pm

I find it astounding that any woman who cares about her health would even wear a bra to begin with! Horrible restricting things and terrible for your breasts, they are.

Louise // Posted 29 May 2008 at 3:09 pm

Strangely enough,nipples are regularly airbrushed out of glamour pictures, too. Breasts of the large sort are shoved in our faces all the time but nipples seem to be subject to censorship, why is that ? I wonder if it isn’t because the are a reminder of the real function of breasts ie. feeding babies, not turning men on ?

Leigh // Posted 29 May 2008 at 4:44 pm

Hmm. I have been making nipple pasties for burlesque performers lately but I had never really considered the politics of covering the nipple. I would never insist on a woman wearing a bra if they didn’t want to and would be very cross with a fellow man if they objected or leered over the visibility of a woman’s nipple, yet I make objects specifically to conceal them…

My own two cents roll thus:

The patriarchal male view values women based on sexual characteristics including the nipple. But the male view also tries to contain female sexuality and horde it for the individual male viewer. When a sexual characteristic becomes publically viewable the male viewer has lost control of it and tries to censor it, not least by enforcing modesty taboos which then perpetuated by male and female actors. Disgust at the nipple is really disgust of a patriarch at losing sexual rights over a female.

In contexts where sexuality is openly engaged and body parts consensually and knowingly fetishised nipple covering, or exposure, becomes acceptable to me as part of a self-conscious celebration of the body.

chem_fem // Posted 29 May 2008 at 3:51 pm

Anji, as a large busted woman I LOVE my bras.

They support breasts and stop them from hurting when you move. When you are large breasted and walk everywhere at marching pace as I do then I can’t see how you could do without.

BrevisMus // Posted 29 May 2008 at 4:41 pm

I don’t like it when my own nipples can be seen (obviously I mean the shape here!) through clothing. It’s nothing to do with wanting to look like Barbie or to make sure men aren’t embarrassed. It’s to make sure *I’m* not embarrassed!

I really can’t be doing with people assuming that they have aroused me, when all that’s happened is that a chilly draft has come past.

(yes, comments have been made in the past, so I’m not just being paranoid)

However, since my comfiest bras (which I have to wear otherwise it’s uncomfortable walking down stairs, never mind running, and I’m not even that large-breasted) are thin, I just ensure I have a cardie on over any figure-hugging t-shirts (which, given that it’s chilly drafts which cause the issue, is required anyway!).

Sabre // Posted 29 May 2008 at 5:27 pm

Sarah, I meant that being able to see nipples/crotch through clothes can be seen as a display of sexuality, not that I actually believe it is.

And as a large breasted lady I have to say that I love bras too!

Gloria // Posted 29 May 2008 at 5:35 pm

I think Playtex stole the idea from a Mexican lingerie maker, Mia. If the idea already incenses you, check out Mia’s marketing — an image of a naked woman without breasts — very, very creepy. http://beautyandthebreast.org/2008/01/25/new-low-in-unnatural-breasts-in-advertising/181

Anne Onne // Posted 29 May 2008 at 7:31 pm

Leigh, I think you have a point. It’s partly about the ‘Be a sexy slut, but only for me!’ kind of thinking, whereby men are encouraged to want women to reveal as much as possible, and appear constantly sexually available, but only for them, and to want to control womenand how they present their bodies, to show ownership of them.

sian // Posted 29 May 2008 at 7:56 pm

nipples (and erect penises) are banned according to censorship law i think. hence why on the covers of lad’s mags etc women will always be covering their nipples with their hands, and on the ads for How to Look Good Naked, the nipples are (rather creepily) airbrushed out. a few years ago there was an EU poster promoting breast feeding, and UK was the only place that airbrushed the nipples out. and facebook etc allowing breasts on show, as long as the nipple is covered.

it’s so weird! i also assume it is to do with functionality as it were, nipples are used to feed babies, and society prefers to keep them sexualised.

Jaime // Posted 29 May 2008 at 8:57 pm

Bras that ‘disguise’ erect nipples tend to be padded and/or moulded, maybe it’s for the ladies who’d prefer a more natural unpadded alternative that doesn’t expose their nipples in a draft?

I doubt I’d buy it but I don’t hate the idea.

Soirore // Posted 30 May 2008 at 9:49 am

Anji – please can you explain why you consider that bras are bad for our health.

I choose to wear bras because my breasts feel sore if allowed to swing about unsupported. It is likely that I would only experience more pain in my chest and back if I were to go braless.

Ariel Silvera // Posted 30 May 2008 at 10:32 am

The proscription of women’s nipples always struck me as very stupid, and it’s something I still cannot wrap my head around. Although I know where it comes from, of course, it’s just very patently absurd to me.

And sorry to bring this back to my field of expertise, which is comics and animation, but I’m reminded of what happens in a lot of shoujo anime of the “Magical Girl” genre. For those not in the know, in these shows the female teenage protagonists transform into heroes to fight evil.

In some (certainly not all) of these shows, the transformation sequence includes nudity. Usually the girls are shown in silhouette, but they are very clearly naked. Despite this, breasts are always very noticeable. Now, when it becomes completely absurd is in the finale of classic anime Sailor Moon, where the titular character fought the final villain completely naked and… had no nipples. Huh. She’s still an underage character, but I guess it’s fine if there’s no nipples?!

I think this fetishisation of certain body parts (damn you patriarchy, your minions are many!) means that they cannot appear in society without these meanings. Cue the whole “no breastfeeding in public” bulshit that some people spew.

I’m rambling now, sorry ¬_¬

Rachel // Posted 30 May 2008 at 2:55 pm

I hate being told by marketing people how my breasts should look and behave. As I’ve said before on here, it’s getting increasingly hard to find basic bras without moulding, shaping or padding. My breasts are one of the few parts of my body that I’m reasonably happy with, I don’t need sweat-inducing foam padding or cantilevering to make myself acceptable!

Normally, the nipple thing only happens on cold days anyway. if I feel particularly self-conscious, which isn’t often now, I prefer to put on a jumper or something and tackle the “underlying cause”, rather than arming myself with overpriced bras so that I can disguise my natural reactions to being cold.

grumbelina // Posted 30 May 2008 at 7:33 pm

Hmmm. Having breastfed for a total of 4 years, my nipples are a lot more conspicuous than they used to be! I’m a teacher, and would hate for a roomful of teens to be sniggering at my nipples — I also find it tiresome to have to wear a cardigan or jacket or other article all the time. As others have noted, most “concealing” bras available are padded, and I don’t like those much. So, if the marketing isn’t too creepy, this is something I might actually buy.

Beth // Posted 30 May 2008 at 8:35 pm

There is such a thing as office appropriate attire. I’m pretty sure that braless, sheer, and nipples showing, doesn’t fall under that. I don’t want to be seeing guy nipples at work either. That’s why undershirts were invented.

Torygirl // Posted 30 May 2008 at 9:45 pm

On cold days I put plasters over my nips under my barssieres. It’s just decent. But then as a Tory I like to have my knees, elbows and collarbone covered, and I find trousers rather too revealing around the derriere area. Eliminating nippular protrusions goes without saying, really.

Barnaby Dawson // Posted 31 May 2008 at 11:45 am

Hiding apparent sexual exitement is not limited to nipples. Men have unwanted erections (often when waking during the night or early in the morning but also at other times on occasion). If a clothing manufacturer were to make night clothes or pants which make such events less embarassing then I for one would be happy to buy them and I wouldn’t feel that my sexuality was being repressed by them. Indeed mens clothes are already designed in this way so the issue doesn’t really come up.

Returning to the erect nipple it seems to me that its considered an issue for women because of the imbalance in sexual attention towards women rather than towards men. To put it another way I suspect that the only reason this type of bra is considered marketable is because of the suffocating effect of male desire (or more precisely the way male desire manifests itself). Which is surely what this is all really about.

The level of male desire produces the market for less sexual female clothing (although as observed above there are competing forces in play). In a similar way the taboo nature of male sexual exitement produces a market for baggy trousers, boxers shorts etc. Personally I think that a range of clothing from more sexual to less sexual is a good thing and allows for choice.

Whats bad is the prevailing cultural attitudes and behaviours that makes some women feel that something as minor as a nipple is best hidden (removing choice through social norms). In my opinion this bra is not the problem but a symptom of the problem.

lilacsigil // Posted 3 June 2008 at 4:22 am

In Japan, nipple-covers are sold for men. They’re like little bandaids so that men are not embarrassed by having their nipples show through their business shirts. There was no equivalent for women that I saw – but every bra there seemed to be padded (even the D cups), so maybe it’s not needed!

Kaethe // Posted 3 June 2008 at 3:28 pm

I’ve breastfed two babies and my nipples are now permanently pert. Unlike grumbelina, I don’t think modesty is my problem. The person who looks at my boobs, let alone sniggers at them, needs the teachable moment.

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