In today’s crazy world or terrorism, starvation and global disasters there is one thing that has citizens worried more than anything. WOMANS’ NIPPLES. Breast are causing politicians to strike down their hammers, turning men into sex-crazed lunatics and making children lose their eyesight. Seriously, the outrage over the nipples on the female form, a part of the body as natural as your butt hole, is getting more and more outrageous. The metaphor is, of course, how women’s bodies are shackled in today’s modern society to rules and commodification that corporations and governments want to control.
In an era where your nipples are considered misdemeanors, Ali Marsh has taken on the crusade for freeing bodies everywhere with #FreeTheNipple, a movement dedicated to gender equality, empowerment and freedom of the body. Together with other activists, Marsh has led a global initiative dedicated to the political release of the nipples through peaceful protest, meetings with local politicians and social media activism. We chat with Ali about how the movement empowered her own body, social media censorships and why we all need to vote.
Why do you think society is so fucking obsessed with the female body?
I ask myself that question every day! I honestly think it has a lot to do with media and advertising. In a lot of advertisements, we see parts of women (breasts, long legs, her lips, etc) and never the whole form. In television and movies, we see women playing the same roles, almost always having some sexual aspects to their roles, whether a sex scene or being the love interest and nothing else. On social media, people are making careers off their bodies. Young girls Instagram’s are promoting unhealthy eating habits, unrealistic body standards, and fake lives, but they get rich and famous for it. An average woman can wear a tank top to school and then get sent home. We breastfeed in public and get fined. We want to go to the beach topless but get arrested. We are obsessed with female bodies but aren’t allowed to have them without being constantly shamed. Society tells me I’m a slut for wearing a crop top, but Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue is praised and widely accepted. My breasts are sexual and inappropriate until they are put up on a billboard with a perfume bottle shoved between them, then they are socially acceptable and better than that, make money. So to answer the question, society likes money, and they beat the idea that female bodies are shameful until they make a profit so far deep into our heads that we don’t even think about it anymore.
(Editor Note: PREACH!!!)
What has been the most empowering part of #FreeTheNipple for you?
The most empowering part for me has been the empowerment of my own personal body. I don’t hate myself anymore. I wear whatever, I want whenever I want. This may be a little TMI, but when I lost my virginity- I hadn’t fully gotten into Free The Nipple yet, so let’s just say I went over a year of being sexually active without ever taking my bra/top off. Crazy, I know. I just didn’t feel confident yet. I got into my first real relationship two months after my first protest. With this person, it was so different. We didn’t have sex until we had already been officially boyfriend/girlfriend, because I didn’t feel like my body was the most important thing about me. But when we did have sex, I didn’t think twice about my body, because I knew I wasn’t just a body to myself, or to him. Part of it was the fact that I loved him (which makes sex SO much better), but more importantly, I loved myself. By going topless, I take back the power. I reclaim my body, which makes it a lot easier to be confident in it. I naturally don’t have a flat stomach, but it doesn’t stop me from wearing certain clothes anymore. One boob is bigger than the other but it doesn’t control my feelings towards myself anymore. My cellulite doesn’t mean death, and my stretch marks don’t mean unlovable. I know that it sounds crazy that all of these amazing changes in my mindset arose from my taking my top off, but you would be surprised to know how much taking back the power and reclaiming yourself can do. My life is changed. I’ve seen how this movement has helped people because I get messages every day telling me how I inspire them. Those little messages mean more to me than I can explain. They prove to me not only that what I do is helping, but that there is hope for others too.
Can you please tell our readers why this election is crucial?
First of all, look at your two major party candidates: a sexist, homophobic, racist, xenophobic, anti-semitic, racist, lying, FUCKING INSANE man who doesn’t pay his taxes, who doesn’t know what he is talking about, has never experienced a single day working as a politician, and is currently under investigation for over 20 sexual assaults and multiple rapes. He brags about assaulting women, he talks about fucking his daughter, and he watches little girls change clothes. This man (whose name I will not use because it gets enough press as it is) and his running mate Mike Pence claim that if they win, they will overturn ROE VS. WADE!! A constitutional amendment giving women the right to choose! Mike Pence also believes in electrocuting gay and transgender youth to turn them straight. On the other hand, we have a passionate, qualified, smart, candidate who has spent her whole life fighting for children’s and women’s rights. The fact that an extremely qualified woman who has actual realistic plans and good intentions can still be tied in the polls with a disgusting man-child, should make you rush to the poll booths and vote for the badass woman who screwed up and had a private email, and not the one whose father was a member of the KKK. Also, the next president will possibly appoint up to FOUR supreme court justices. Our country’s future comes down to this election. Fucking Vote.
What has been the scariest thing about standing up for freedom of your body?
The backlash has been not only been extremely scary but also hard emotionally. When I first started speaking up, I obviously was attacked with criticism. But I don’t think anyone can ever prepare for or imagine the aftermath of standing up for body freedom until you are living in it. Being a woman is scary enough, but being a topless, empowered, radical, outspoken woman is a different ball game. Not only am I constantly scared to my car in a parking lot alone, but I have to be scared for my safety all the time due to my activism. While protesting I have been spit on, shoved, grabbed and groped, had things thrown at me (on one occasion, actual money), been threatened, cornered, and endless verbal assaults and attacks. Hundreds and hundreds of people take photos and videos of me while screaming degrading and violent things. People wish horrible things upon me over the internet. But what scares me more than all of this, is the fear that people don’t or won’t ever understand how hard it is for me to do what I do. I know how courageous I am, but it’s scary to think that nobody else will ever acknowledge how fucking scary it is to stand up for freedom of your own body! Don’t get me wrong, I am confident and believe self-love is the most important thing, but I think people assume that because I stand up for body freedom, it means I don’t want or need any confirmation or validation. But I am still human, and I get scared and sad, and lonely too, and sometimes all I want is someone to agree with how great I think I am!
What would you like to say to Facebook or Instagram about their censorships?
I have so much I would want to say. I would love to sit down the people who make these rules and have a long chat with them, because not only do I have a problem with the no female nipple policy, but I have a HUGE problem with the fact that celebrities can post photos showing their nipples and I can not. An average “woman’s” nipple is inappropriate and obscene, but a female celebrity’s nipple is above the rules. You two are too afraid to say no to celebrities because you don’t want them to speak out against you. If you’re going to delete my photos, DELETE THEIR PHOTOS TOO. Come on! If you’re going to be sexist, as least be equally sexist (ironic). You say this rule is in place to protect children, but aren’t children more likely to see @bellahadid ‘s page than mine (just an example of a woman who has her nipples posted)? And you both allow people to post violent, racist and sexist photos, and even borderline porn! Clearly, you are NOT doing this for kids! You are doing this because you refuse to view all bodies as equal. You are sexualizing certain people, therefore creating an oppressive and sexist institution that picks and chooses who is above the “law.” Sound familiar? Instagram is a perfect example of how depending on race, sex, class, religion, etc., institutions, government, and laws are enforced based on the people in powers own discretion. You’re not protecting anybody. And most importantly, FUCK YOU.
What called you to action to get out there and stand for your rights?
Well, lets just say I developed breasts at the fantastic age of eight years old and was immediately sexualized. And because I was the first person in my entire elementary school to have to wear a bra, I was relentlessly teased. When I started middle school, all of a sudden I was lame for not showing off the bra and boobs I spent years trying to hide. I began sexualizing myself, and with this came a lot of shame. Around 14 I started rapidly gaining weight, developed body dysmorphia, and became extremely depressed and anxious (more so than I already had been). I struggled for a really long time, and the thing that really turned my life around was feminism. I finally felt like there was a group of people who I could connect with. There were other people in the world who felt sexualized and mistreated. I felt this huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I knew that I had to devote my life to making sure other people knew that there were other people who feel the same pain. I took action for my younger self because I know if I had grown up seeing a normal teenage girl talking about the things I felt, I would’ve saved myself a lot of time. I take a stand for my rights in hopes that others will see me and join.
What does your family think?
I am extremely lucky to say that I have the most amazing family in the world. It is hard for me to do what I do knowing that everyone in my family is going to see it. I am extremely close to my family, which has made things a lot easier. My family supports me in what I do, even if they don’t always agree with it. I will say that it is quite weird knowing that pretty much every member of your family, even the extended parts, have seen you topless and have heard you talking about having sex, but I think over time it has gotten easier. I do worry about how my activism affects them. I mainly worry about my little sister, who is the light of my life. She is the greatest thing to ever happen to this planet, let me tell you, so the thought of her getting shit for what I do is a hard thought to process. So far it hasn’t been a problem, and she has actually been insanely supportive. She brags about me to her friends, which is so funny because I brag about her to my friends all the time! But overall my family has been great about it. They love me and know me well enough to know that I’m too stubborn and strong willed to change based on what they think, so they just embrace it. My mom has been to a lot of my rallies, and she is always standing and taking pictures with this big smile on her face. She’s proud of me, and considering she is the toughest and smartest woman I know, I take that as a good sign. I come from a family of activists, and even though my activism is by far the most untraditional, they are supportive nonetheless. My first protest was actually when I was one. My great grandpa was around 90 at the time, and he took me to a pro-choice rally. My grandma and mom took me to anti-war protests when I was a kid. And I held my first rally when I was 10, to raise support for Obama in 08’, so I have had a lot of practice. Like my mom, my dad is a fantastic man who loves and supports me no matter what I do (he’s also a feminist of course). He drove in traffic to come support me at my first rally. He’s the hardest working person I know (he deserves a medal and a lot of vacation time). When I was 15 I called him and asked him what he would do if I was gay. I remember him saying, “Ali. I would love you no matter who you loved. It could be a boy, a girl, or even a tree. People may laugh at you, and yeah maybe loving a tree would be kinda silly, but if that tree made you happy then I would be happy.” That is the fucking remarkable family I have grown up with; grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, parents, step-parents, second cousins, etc., that have given me a joy like no other. I could brag about them all day, so I will just end by saying my family thinks I’m fantastic, but not as fantastic as I think they are.
photos & video / Jana Cruder
story / Koko Ntuen
contact / @ali_marsh for more info on #FreeTheNipple