“What’s all this talk about nipples?” several people have been asking me since I started doing #NippleFormation posts on my Instagram page. See, apparently it’s somebody’s job to dig around for anything sensational to write about. Last week, this person figured that my nipples were “news” worthy. Don’t google it! Every single time you click on tabloid articles, you are making them more relevant on google search results, affecting people’s online & indeed offline reputations. You are contributing to a culture of gender-based cyber violence. There is absolutely no story and even if I had exposed my nipples, they are mine to do with exactly as I please. They pulled this picture from my public IG account, and used a sensational title about me “accidentally” exposing my nipples, to drive traffic to the article. Now if I was one of their readers, I’d be very annoyed. I mean, if you are going to seduce me with a title like that, at least give me something to work with!
Who knew my nipples were so powerful? Who knew my nipples would have so much to say? I’m guessing it took all of 10 minutes for that girl to write that article about me. That’s all it takes. 10 minutes to write something that will capture the curious, idle, jealous, malicious, angry, desperate minds of unconscious tabloid readers. This time it was my nipples. Next time it might be my entire breast. I decided to respect my readers and take a little longer to process and figure out how I want to engage in this nipple conversation. If we’re going to talk about nipples, let’s make it count. Let’s have a conversation that goes beyond my individual body parts and talk about body politics that affect millions of women. When life throws me lemons, I make digital lemon froyo and share it with everyone who needs to cool down in this current heat-wave. I’ve been thinking, talking & reading about breasts and nipples a lot the last few days. It has actually been a very liberating experience. We need more historical, anthropological, political & artistic information about breast cultures in Africa.
There was a time when women’s breasts were not sexualized or fetishized in Africa, parts of the Americas, South Pacific, South East Asia and Polynesia. There are still indigenous communities in Africa where the women walk around bare-chested & free. A few years ago, I remember being jealous of the Giriama women sitting topless in a Malindi market selling their produce. I imagine that urban men respect these women because “it is their culture”. If men are capable of respecting (in some ways) “tribal” women’s bodily integrity and autonomy, then why can’t this respect translate to urban women? Why are women forced to hide our body parts in order to protect ourselves from men who can’t control themselves? Are we heading in the direction of the West where women will soon have to fight for our rights to breast-feed in public? Why is it appropriate for men to walk around topless if it isn’t for women? Why aren’t men with big breasts expected to wear bras? The list of questions is endless.
I don’t have immediate answers to these questions, but I am taking my own steps to free my breasts. I haven’t worn a bra in a week and it has been the most liberating experience, not least because it is blazing hot in Nairobi right now. I’m doing this as a matter of choice. My Body My Choice. This April is going to be a bra-free month for me. Feel free to join me sistars. Let’s all get into #NippleFormation.
It’s time to disrupt the current status quo and cultivate responsible digital cultures in Africa.
“I have me a message to share, I want it to spread everywhere.” LISTEN by Shimei Empress