Last weekend we went to the swimming pool, the whole family. It brought home to me how alive the gender divide still is when it comes to our bodies. My husband just put his trunks in the bag and went, where as I spent half an hour de-fuzzing my armpits and legs from their winter growth.
And then as we got ready to swim, I looked at my two girls, aged two and four. Each completely themselves. One in a pink floral patterned ultra girly swim suit, with frilly parts to draw the eye to her non existent four year old bust. And the other in a pair of her brother’s old pirate monkey shorts. Topless.
“You look like a boy,” my seven year old son said to her.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because she’s only wearing shorts and I can see her nipples,” was the reply.
And yes, there she was, nipples to the wind, just the same as he was at that age.
And it felt good to me. And to her. And everyone else just got on with their lives assuming she was a boy.
Because truly, there is no shame in a girl’s nipples. It feels ridiculous to even say it.
Why do they need to learn to be “discrete” with a non-genital part of their body, when little boys can bear them in public, shamelessly? It is just learning a body shame which will get worse as they get older. Something is seriously wrong with our culture, when nipples are fine on the cover of lads’ mags, and Page 3 of the daily paper in the UK, but are considered shameful to be exposed for their biological function: feeding a baby.
I see pictures of tribes’ people around the world with longing. There are the women – from 14 to 70 with their breasts, all shapes and sizes, to the wind.
Their beautiful, normal breasts.
But the first sign of civilisation, when other cultures impinge on theirs, is the covering of a woman’s breasts. I remember hearing an Aboriginal elder, one of the lost tribes, who was “discovered” by a white explorer in the 1950s. She looked back at the photographs he took of their lifestyle, this woman who was wearing a baggy T shirt. Oh look she says, we used to go everywhere with nothing on our boobies! And laughs.
And I feel a longing to have that freedom. When the sun shines, to not be tangled in a bra for support, and a T shirt for modesty, but to join my husband and son and every builder in Ireland as we whip off our tops to feel the sun soak into our skins.
Not to make a statement, or to tittilate or shock. Just because the sun is out, my body is not shameful, and I put my nipples to the wind.