As most people with breasts know, those nipples attached to your breasts are not allowed on Instagram. It fact, it often feels like they’re not even allowed out in public, even when it’s completely legal for any woman to do so. While fashion companies, Jenners, and the one and only Amber Rose have all taken up the #FreeTheNipple cause, the movement has barely made a blip on television's radar. All of that changed on last night’s episode of The Bold Type, which was all about letting boobs exist however they may on social media and in real life. Although we all think of freeing the nipple as something that needs to happen on the Internet, the FreeForm drama reminds us the movement should actually be about so much more when it comes to women.
To understand how complex women’s relationships with their breasts are, we first have to see just how much pressure society is putting on boobs. "The Breast Issue" begins with our three heroines, Kat Edison (Aisha Dee), Sutton Brady (Meghann Fahy), and Jane Sloane (Katie Stevens), at a Breasts Are Not A Crime protest, where a group of women plan to ditch their shirts and go topless in Central Park. Although Jane is highly skeptical of the demonstration and keeps her shirt on, Kat reminds her friend seven women began the fight in 1986 to make toplessness legal for women. The group won that battle in 1992, when New York finally decided women could be topless anywhere men could be sans-shirt. Still, 25 years later, someone like Jane still doesn’t feel comfortable with the world seeing her nipples and compares the supposed faux pas to wearing yoga pants on a date. That’s because the world at large hasn’t made any major steps to stop sexualizing and shaming women’s chests in a way men have never, and never should, experience. Imagine how free Jane would feel if things had changed in the nearly three decades since women were legally allowed to doff their tops in Central Park.
This is why Kat’s ensuing crusade to free the nipple makes sense, despite being short-sighted. By the time the trio returns to the office from the Not A Crime protest, the powers at Instagram have deleted Kat's Scarlet magazine photo from the rally due all the illegal nipples in the image. Again, if the snapshot was filled with shirtless men at a so-called men’s rights brigade, everything would be A-okay and still alive and well on The Gram. But, once someone’s chest morphs into even an A-cup, all bets (and photos) are off. The board that oversees Scarlet is less bothered by this misogynistic double standard and demands Kat stops posting photos of women’s bare breasts, despite the fact she’s merely trying to increase knowledge and awareness of women’s health.
Instead, Kat decides to keep fighting Instagam’s rules and posts three photos of men’s nipples, pretending they belong to women. The site deletes the photos, believing they’re featuring ladies, essentially proving there’s literally no difference between the sexes when it comes to what their nips look like — therefore, there’s no reason to ban one half of the world’s anatomy. Although Kat is doing important work, the Scarlet Instagram account comes dangerously close to being pulled over her stunts. That means the millions of fans who follow the magazine would lose the daily support and inspiration being sent straight to their feed every day.
Thanks to The Bold Type’s Mister Myagi-meets-Miranda Priestly, Scarlet editor-in-chief Jacqueline (Melora Hardin), we’re able to see freeing the nipple should actually be about making women free in every aspect of their breasts' health — not only free on Instagram. Throughout "The Breast Issue," Jane deals with her grief over her mother’s death from breast cancer, which Jane faced when she was only in kindergarten. In the show, a doctor named Elysa Hendricks (Patricia Summersett) is preaching for women with specific family histories to get tested for mutations in their BRCA genes as early as their twenties. If there is a mutation, the possibility of getting breast cancer is increased, but, the diagnosis isn’t set in stone. The debate on whether very young women need to get tested so early, when a diagnosis could never happen or be decades away, is a very real one.
Jane believes going through the test in your twenties is "way too young," and is tasked with writing a story about Dr. Hendricks’ findings. Of course, all of her repressed feelings of loss come roaring back and she takes her frustration out on Jacqueline, since she assigned the story. Instead of getting upset, Jacqueline realizes there’s more to breast awareness than flaunting nipples on Instagram. "Remember that there are a lot of young women out there at risk for breast cancer who are wrestling with what is a horrible decision," Jacqueline tells Kat during her Instagram crusade. "And I don’t think they need us up in their face, telling them what to do. They need our support and our understanding. And you know one of them."
Since The Bold Type is trying to be our Millennial Sex And The City, it does need to return to the importance of social media in furthering the movement. But, "Breast Issue," shows there’s more to this issue than posting a photo of a boob to prove a point (which is important in its own way too). Jane goes to get the BRCA blood test from Dr. Hendricks and has Kat film the entire process as a way to support other young women living in fear of their own genes. It's clearly the kind of pro-breast social-media content women desperately need to see in the world. It's so inspiring, Jane proudly pops her top off for the group's second Breasts Are Not A Crime rally.
So, we should all be allowed to free the nipple however we want. Whether that means posting a bare-breast selfie on The Gram without fear, feeling comfortable running around a park topless, or showing love to all the experiences people with breasts happen to have.
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