• Sanae Tani

Our Bodies Are Not Your Porn




Are plunging necklines sexual?

What about clothes that show off our backs?

Is it really that obscene to not wear a bra?


When I was a college student, I saw Kiko Mizuhara post a photo of herself on Instagram, wearing a tight-fitting top that accentuated her curves. As someone who hated wearing bras, that photo shook me to the core. “If Kiko can be this confident in her skin, then others will feel more empowered to do the same!” However, that post blew up in no time and became the talk of various online news outlets. I recall many of her die-hard fans voicing positive opinions on the post, but most of the replies in the comments section were negative and reeked of abuse. All she did was go out without a bra. Why did she receive so much hate?


When I look at snapshots of celebrities overseas, I often see them go sans bra, and it’s not uncommon for them to be wearing clothes that reveal their necklines, stomachs, and backs. I’ve always been envious of how they’re able to dress how they want without caring about what others think. When celebrities like Kiko Mizuhara and KOM_I began to unapologetically post photos of themselves without a bra, I thought this might finally become the norm in Japan as well. However, when I think about going braless myself, I become too scared. Just showing off a bit more skin than usual is enough to garner unwanted stares and sexual attention. What if someone notices that I’m not wearing a bra? What if I get sexually assaulted while not wearing one, and people think, “it’s your fault because you weren’t wearing a bra”? Then what? My fear rose to a fever pitch after thinking of all the negative possibilities, and I ended up wearing a bra as usual.

I hated myself for being a coward, but I convinced myself that it was for my own protection.


Last September, a digital video-news company called Brut. posted a shocking video on its Instagram account: countless women had gathered at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris to protest while topless. While I was sitting on the fence about whether I should wear a bra or not, other women were out there doing this. I found my eyes glued to the screen as I yearned to find out more about these women and why they were protesting. This protest started in the first place because a university student named Jeanne got barred from entering the museum for wearing a low-cut dress. In response, the French feminist activist group, Femen, decided to expose not just their necklines but their entire torsos and chanted the words “our breasts are not obscene” and “obscenity is in your eyes.” After the protest, the museum was engulfed in applause.


The members of Femen stated, “the reason we fight is to protest against women’s bodies being viewed as sexual objects. In response, we show our bodies in battle, bodies that are not intended to be sexual.” Jeanne, the woman who was barred from entry, said, “the issue is that I was subjected to being seen in a (sexual) way that I hadn’t intended at all.”


That’s right. I thought I already understood this. I remember watching a fashion show where women who had been raped dressed in the clothes they were wearing at the time of their assault and feeling strongly that “women’s bodies or clothing are not the problem.” No matter what they’re wearing, no matter how much cleavage they’re showing, no matter how much of their legs are exposed. None of these reasons gives other people a free pass to view women as sexual objects or sexually assault them. How we dress, whether we decide to show any cleavage, wear a bra, or go braless—these are all the choices that women ought to have and have the power to exercise freely.


And yet, when I tried to leave the house without a bra, the possibility of being sexually assaulted loomed over me, and I put on a bra after wrestling with my thoughts.


Many Japanese people (unsurprisingly) dismissed Femen’s activities as over the top, missing the point entirely. However, the activists at Femen reminded me of something that I should never forget as a woman and a feminist. How a woman decides to use and view her body is her choice alone. The freedom of self-expression is an inalienable right and choice that, without a doubt, belongs to all of us.


At the beginning of this year, I found out from Brut. again that a woman named Julia Rose had her Instagram account deactivated due to posting topless photos. In this video, she stated, “I do not think it should be taboo or obscene for a woman to feel sexy and comfortable in her own skin, and I definitely do not think that a woman’s nude body should be seen as pornographic.” Instagram had apparently notified Rose that nudity was the issue, but Playboy continues to post even more risqué photos on their account. In response to Julia’s protest, Instagram responded that the chances of her account getting deactivated would be lower if she went by a man’s name. Aha, so that’s how it is, I thought. Women displaying their bodies out of their own volition is considered obscene, and posting that on social media is out of the question. In contrast, women’s nudes created for male pleasure are continuously uploaded to social media, risk-free. Of course, there’s no way their accounts get deactivated.


Even as I’m writing this article, if you ask me whether I can start going out braless tomorrow, I would say no. This is something that occurred to me when I wrote my article about body hair before, but in Japan, a country that doesn’t hesitate to complain about a faraway nation’s activities such as Femen’s, it’s hard to suddenly gain the confidence to go against what’s considered the norm. People might think I’m “a strange, braless woman who doesn’t bother hiding her nipples.” However, the important thing isn’t whether I choose to wear a bra or not tomorrow. The issue is that we, ourselves, consider showing off our bodies to be sexual and obscene or think that it’s something women who want men’s attention do. It’s normal for men to be shirtless on the beach, but women are forced to cover up. That’s because we, ourselves, think that our nipples are sexual and not meant to be seen. These are thoughts that we can stop giving our energy to right now, as we rob our bodies of their freedom and choice the moment we give in to that way of thinking.


Emma Watson, an actor who’s known for being an outspoken feminist, appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair in 2017 without a bra, exposing her underboobs. This photo gained much controversy, and many criticized her, saying they were “disappointed in her for showing her body despite being a feminist.” That criticism comes from the assumption that showing your body is appealing to the male gaze and misses the point of what feminism is. What feminists and all women struggle to achieve in the fight for gender equality is the women’s ability to make their own choices. Emma showing her breasts and the members of Femen protesting topless at the Musée d’Orsay wasn’t done in order to be viewed sexually by men. It was because they believed that those were choices that rightly belonged to them.


What kind of woman you want to be tomorrow and how you choose to express yourself is all up to you.

Whether you decide to wear a tight skirt or men’s slacks, wear a low-cut top one day, then clothing that doesn’t reveal any skin at all the next, whether you wear a bra underneath or not, that’s all up to us. Our bodies aren’t porn intended for male pleasure. Our choices belong to ourselves alone and not anyone else.


In the near future, I hope that we can walk around freely outside without a bra and not be stared at or judged by other people. After all, I love that natural and effortless sexiness that comes from going sans bra. I want to choose how to show off my body, just like how I choose my outfit for the day.



Sources:


Translated by Yuko C. Shimomoto

Edited by Emiru Okada

Graphic by Ayumi White

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