It is one matter to believe something theoretically, but another matter to live out a belief externally. Theoretical belief pertains to mentally processing an idea and coming to a conclusion about what you believe on the topic. The belief becomes validated when you are given an opportunity to act on that belief in real life. Often times we think we believe something before we are given an opportunity for that belief to manifest authentically in life, and when that opportunity arises, our behavior and response either manifests congruently or it manifests from an inner belief that is contrary to what we think we believed. Many people aren't aware there is a difference between the two.
Over time, I have developed theoretical beliefs about the sexualization of breasts, the original function of breasts, and breast-feeding in public. Within the last few months, my theoretical beliefs were tested as I befriended a young mother who lives out the truths that I believed internally.
So without further introduction, this is Randie. Randie is a brilliant single mother who just had her first child six months ago. Though she is young, she has already had to face much adversity in parenthood, and she exemplifies the kind of mother I aspire to one day become.
Now, I believe that breasts exist to provide for infants, and I also believe that, naturally, no woman should feel any kind of shame for breastfeeding as needed, regardless of whether that be in the home or in public. Even so, I don't often get the opportunity to be around breastfeeding in public because most mothers hide in a bathroom, a dark corner, or under a blanket.
Randie does no such thing. When her baby, Rye Freely, is hungry, she simply takes her breast out of her shirt and bra and proceeds to feed him. She doesn't try to cover it, she doesn't look around to see who is near, and it doesn't matter where she is. She feels no shame in the provision for her child and will tend to him with care and timeliness. She also doesn't try to show off her freedom; she doesn't flaunt her breast around, nor does she try to prove anything to anyone. Randie simply allows herself to be unaffected by the implicit societal pressure or judgement and does what she needs to do to mother her baby.
So I found myself in a small Thai restaurant with no other customers but the ones I'm with: myself, Randie, her brother Noah, and Rye Freely. Rye Freely sends the signal! He cries the sound of hunger, and without time to waste Randie takes out her breast and starts feeding him. Now, since we are the only customers in the restaurant and none of the staff is white, they are--to put it nicely--observing us the entire time we are in there. Randie doesn't seem to notice, but I occasionally look over at the servers to pick up what their body language might suggest they're thinking about us. I felt like we were at the zoo, and the servers were on the outside of the cage.
Randie switches sides, still entirely unaffected. Now, because of the angle of where her breast is and where my plate is, every time I go to look down at the food on my fork, I unintentionally catch a glimpse of Rye Freely's mouth suckling on Randie's nipple. Right as I place that fork in my mouth, close my lips over the prongs and slide my lips down the fork to pull the food into my mouth--to no fault of my own--my eyes watch a simple child close his lips over his mother's nipple and simultaneously suck food into his mouth--during every bite I take.
I will give you a visual example of what my view was like. 👉🏻
This photo to the right was not taken at the restaurant but still perfectly depicts the imagery I had as I took each bite. I know, you weren't asking to see that. Neither was I, but I knew if I really wanted to be genuine with my beliefs that I had to process through feeling uncomfortable. The way I did this was that I forced myself not to look away or try to avoid contact. I just kept eating my food, and I just kept allowing myself to see what normally I would try to visually avoid. And I just kept reminding myself that it's a normal body part just like an elbow, or a knee, and that it's okay to see it the same way I would look at an elbow or a knee. The more I forced myself to see it, the more normal it became, and the less I was aware or concerned about it.
Now I'm going to challenge you. I'm going to show you the picture again even larger. All you who say you believe in "freeing the nipple," all you who are pro public breastfeeding, all you who want to support the idea of eradicating shame for women's breasts but maybe haven't come to terms with the reality of it: look at it. Look at Randie's nipple. It's okay. It's okay to look at it. It's okay to see it. The same way a puppy feeds from his mother's nipple, it's just a baby feeding from his own mother. Force yourself to look at it. Make yourself see it. Tell yourself it's alright.
"Why are you making me look at this?"
Let me explain why it's important for you to look.
Sex is all over media. I could hardly find someone that disagrees with that statement. When we see breasts, it is in a lingerie ad, a clothing commercial that uses sexuality to entice customers, or in some kind of advertising that leans on people's attraction of sexuality to gain publicity. And it works. Of course it does, otherwise it wouldn't be worth it for advertisers to use it as a method to gain attention to a brand.
Many people want to change culture, to protect purity and innocence, and many of these same people have an approach that is not actually a catalyst in changing culture but is only a response to culture. To protect innocent minds, many people suggest that we should cover up breasts, and make nudity less public. The idea behind this is that the less someone sees breasts, the less opportunities he or she has of sexualizing them. And while this is semi-true, it is not the whole truth:
- To state the obvious, everyone has an imagination and doesn't need to literally see a breast to sexualize one.
- There are more opportunities of sexualization than just seeing a lingerie ad; i.e. when someone is attracted to a person who is at the time of being sexualized dressed modestly, when someone is sexually stimulated biologically but did not mentally have the subject on mind, or when someone doesn't normally have much physical contact and is given a friendly touch on the arm or back, and because of the abnormality is perhaps sexually stimulated in response.
- This approach is only short-term. It is unrealistic to believe that all the breasts can be covered all the time. No matter how much effort is put toward hiding them, merely half the population have breasts, and some breast somewhere at some time is going to be seen, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Covering up parts of the body will lessen the chance of sexualization in that moment, but no doubt the opportunity will rise again, until a solution for longevity arises.
So after further processing this approach, I realized that there needed to be a better game plan to changing cultural sexualization. I firstly had to ask myself, "Where does sexualization come from? Why does it exist?"
Upon lengthy analyzation, endless processing, and timeless amounts of deep thinking, I realized something very essential: we see breasts so often in a sexual context, but when do we see breasts in a context irrelevant to sex?
We don't. Or at least, very, very, seldom.
And then it finally made sense. We barely see breasts outside of sexuality. Maybe we stumble upon a National Geographic with tribal women in their normal dress--a tribal skirt and no top. Maybe we briefly saw a breast diagram in a school textbook. Even in parenthood healthcare texts, photos may still remain very modest, showing the back of the baby's head so the mother's breast isn't in plain view. But really, the only time we see breasts is when is comes to sex.
So how do we stop sexualizing breasts? I'll make a suggestion, but you might not like it.
If hiding breasts is counterproductive as it continues to allow breasts to be sexualized when viewed (because it's implicit solution is merely to allow breasts to be viewed less), then there's only one alternative: to view breasts more often in a context that has nothing to do with sex.
Yep. I'll say it again: we have to see more breasts; it just has to be in a context that isn't sexual.
Even other women who don't sexualize breasts still feel uncomfortable when they accidentally catch a glimpse of their own friends breastfeeding or changing their shirts. Why? Because we aren't used to seeing it. Why are we fascinated with new experiences? Because we aren't used to new things, because they're new. When you tour Europe as an American, all the sights are so encapsulating to you because they're so unfamiliar that you have to stare at everything wide-eyed as you walk around. Guaranteed, a local has seen that sculpture or that attraction a hundred times and barely lifts his head when passing it anymore. Why do breasts make us feel uncomfortable? Because we aren't used to breasts. The only way breasts will make us feel less uncomfortable is getting used to having them around, and that means seeing more of them.
My mother, who happens to have large breasts, always talks about this idea in relevance to Christian culture. She says how when her breasts are mostly covered but merely a little of her breasts are uncovered at the top, which is proportionately modest according to the size of her breasts, people at church don't know how to deal with it and people often stare because they aren't used to it. On the contrary, she can go to the bars and people will initially look and maybe even compliment her breasts, but then they can have an actual conversation with her and look at her face while talking and listening. People at the bars are so used to seeing breasts that they aren't compelled to stare at them.
You don't change culture by telling people they are wrong and shaming their behavior. You can try, and their behavior may very well be wrong, but how many people have changed after seeing a girl holding a sign that says "Stop sexualizing me" and "You are a monster"? I don't mean to be condescending, the intent is good, but have you ever stopped to think about how affective that actually is? Culture is changed only by individuals being changed; individuals are changed when their mindsets are changed.
I stopped wearing bras a while back and it was honestly hard to go out in public wearing a white T-shirt, knowing that everyone could see the very real shape of my breasts and a little bit of my nipple, without feeling shameful about it. I knew, though, that if I wanted to change culture, I had to start with myself. I firstly had to choose to live in freedom from culture, and I also had to give people the opportunity to change. So even though at first I felt embarrassed, it's gotten easier as I've worn bras less and less.
I'm not telling everyone to go around naked, and I'm not asking everyone to be like me. I'm asking you to think about what you're doing, and why you're doing it.
I'm asking you to ask yourself why you wear bras. Is it because you actually like bras? Are they comfortable? Are they good for your health? Or are you wearing them because time and time again you're told either directly or indirectly that you should be ashamed of what your breasts actually look like? Ask yourself why you aren't thrown off as much when you can see a man's nipple through his shirt but you don't know what to do when you can see a girls nipple through her shirt.
Ask yourself why you are afraid to look at a woman's breasts.
Ask yourself why you feel so violated when someone looks at your breasts.
Ask yourself why you feel judged when someone looks at any part of your body.
Ask yourself why you feel uncomfortable when you see certain parts of someone else's body.
Ask yourself if you want to continue living under this mainstream and very exhausting mindset.
Do you want to continue to be embarrassed of your body?
Do you want to continue to be embarrassed of other people's bodies?
Do you want to live in slavery to social judgement and expectations?
Change is hard. I honestly know how it feels, and at first, it will still feel uncomfortable. But you can be your best coach. Talk yourself through it. The reward is worth the sacrifice. I promise. I've been on both ends now and I'm very thankful I pushed myself to do what is uncomfortable and what is hard. You will be, too.
No one will hear the inner dialogue you have with yourself. When these opportunities come up, what kind of dialogue will you have with yourself? Will you be honest with yourself? Will you keep yourself accountable? Will you push yourself to think deeper and to raise the standards for the way you live and interact with other people?
My sincere wish is that you do. Culture doesn't change by pushing the responsibility on other people. I used to do just that, but the more I take responsibility for myself, the more free I become, and the more I love my life and who I am. And I genuinely believe that the more I've taken responsibility for myself, the more powerful I've become. And honestly, whether this sounds super lame or whether it sounds as genuine as I mean it, I wouldn't have spent five hours on this entry if I didn't believe you can live a powerful life, too.
P.S. Here are some additional photos of Randie and her beautiful baby boy. Thank you Randie for inspiring me and helping me become a better me.