Free The Nipple is back
The Free the Nipple movement kicked off in 2012 when American actress and director Lina Esco made a film of herself running topless through New York. Since then, it’s grown into a huge on- and offline movement with people organising events all around the world to highlight the many areas where double standards still exist, not least topless inequality.
Celebrities have shown their support, too (Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, Jennifer Aniston) and a few years ago Jean-Paul Gaultier sent a male and female model down the catwalk with their nipples on show and wearing the Free the Nipple slogan.
Back to Brighton. The city’s been organising Free the Nipple marches since 2016 (bar 2020 for obvious C-related reasons) and the 2023 event takes place this Saturday 12th August.
Fancy getting involved? Everyone is welcome! The event is family-friendly, peaceful, inclusive and accessible. Just head to Hove Lawns for midday for body-painting and sign-making and bring something to eat (and some sun-cream/an umbrella, you never know whether it will be a hot or a rainy one!). The short march towards the i360 kicks off at 1pm and, from 1.30pm, there’s a rally and picnic there.
Want to find out some more? Here’s our interview with organiser Bee Nicholls from 2018…
Have you been involved in the Brighton Free The Nipple project since the start?
I took on the project last year and (having never done anything like this before) did my best at setting up the 2017 march. This involved getting an awesome team of organisers together, a party planned, a website up and running, posters printed and logistical stuff like the code of conduct and route established. It was a huge but massively rewarding challenge!
I can imagine! What do you hope to achieve this time round?
We are super-organised this year, last year’s experience has made things much easier for us. I hope that the World Cup doesn’t drag too many participants away [England are playing Sweden in the quarter-finals at 3.00pm on Saturday], though, and that everyone who attends gets to experience the epic joy of a solid wholesome helping of activism. It’s so good for the soul!
How many people typically take part?
Last year  we had around 200 participants, which was just amazing to see. Thousands engage online, too, which is also good – as it means the debate is still being had even if lots of those people don’t actually attend.
And what sort of reaction does the march elicit? Is it generally quite positive or have you met with any opposition, either online or at the march?
Honestly, one of the most heartening things last year was the cheering from onlookers. Bar a few bizarre/inappropriate responses (the mum who covered her kid’s eyes – I’m talking about you) people were so supportive! Cheering, rounds of applause, beeping of horns – it felt so great to send out a ripple of positivity as we made our way along the the seafront. You do get trolls online, but what can you do about that other than try to laugh it off and shut it down?
Although it’s called ‘Free the Nipple’, it’s about much more than that, isn’t it?
Absolutely. The march is designed to highlight the many double standards that still exist right across our society, of which topless inequality is just one. Sexualised images of women’s bodies are everywhere – on telly, in magazines, in art, in film – but as soon as a woman is naked on her own terms, she’s deeply shamed and ridiculed. If our bodies don’t look perfect or don’t adhere to the gender binary, we are punished for daring to show them. Even in the case of breastfeeding sometimes. This has a huge impact on us all and underpins deeply sexist cultural norms.
And despite the element of nudity, it’s a very different beast to Brighton’s Naked Bike Ride…
Yes, this march is not about nudism. I think that’s a key difference. The Naked Bike Ride is also extremely male dominated, and it’s a very strange environment for women and trans folk to be in. Our message to men is that they are very welcome to come along and be supportive as allies – but predominantly, this march is not for them. This is not their space.
Given the current climate, people are talking much more openly about inequality, have you seen this translate into an increase in the number of people getting involved?
I think it’s a great time to have a movement like this! People are comfortable being feminist and are keen to take part in activism.
What about those people who, understandably, are a bit nervous about baring their boobs in public, do you have to be topless to take part?
Not at all! We acknowledge that there are all sorts of complex reasons why someone wouldn’t be happy to go topless – the stigma still hangs heavy in the air – so it’s crucial that people don’t feel under pressure to do anything they aren’t comfortable with.
What message would you like people who see the march, who may not have known anything about it beforehand, to take away?
That we are not afraid of challenging the patriarchy. We don’t have to subscribe to the narrative that our bodies are shameful or the idea that we don’t deserve the same freedoms as men. Change is happening – it’s inclusive, it’s accessible and it’s beautiful!
Let’s talk a bit about the city now. Where do you live in Brighton/Hove and what do you like about the area?
I live in Seven Dials and I love the sea, the beautiful South Downs and, of course, the vibrant and crazy vibe of this city! I love the little pockets of Brighton that you only get to know as a resident, the places that are still a secret from the tourists – like St Ann’s Well Gardens in Hove.
And finally, what would be your perfect day in the city?
My perfect day would definitely revolve around eating some amazing vegan food – maybe at The Pond or We Heart Falafel. A swim in the sea would have to feature in there, too!
Photo credits: Mickey F Photography