Originally posted in 2009. Re-posted in honor of Women’s History Month.
I still remember when the female characters on the sitcom Friends started the trend of visible nipples:
As long as I’d been alive and paying attention, hard nipples were embarrassing. Then, suddenly, they weren’t. I even remember hearing that women could get the all-hard-all-the-time look by buying those tiny rubber bands (that I only associate with the plastic bags aquarium fish come in) and fitting them tightly around your nipples. Nipples are still big, if measured by mannequins (Wicked Anomie noticed too).
It turns out this comes in fits and starts. This vintage ad (no date on the source), for example, features a bra with built-in hard nipples! (Apparently it had been a trend before I’d been alive and paying attention.)
In the comments, Dmitriy T.C. added a link to the patent for this device. I can’t resist adding this particular paragraph explaining why a bra with fake nipples is important:
…simulated nipples for a brassiere would offer an acceptable compromise for ladies who do not wish to go without a brassiere and a welcome release from the subconscious effects of the suppression brought on by wearing brassieres of the types variously available, which obliterate the nipple.
Anyhow, Tracey at Unapologetically Female wondered about wearing such a bra:
Didn’t anyone ever start to wonder why these women’s nipples were ALWAYS hard? And what if their real nipples (realistically probably located somewhere a bit lower than the bra’s) ever poked through, creating a quadruple effect?! Horrifying.
I find this whole thing especially funny, since, while shopping recently, Katie and I were making fun of these bras with built-in “modesty panels” that provide extra padding so that the nipple will never make an appearance. Times sure have changed.
Except times haven’t changed in the sense that women’s bodies still aren’t allowed to just be. Their nipples either must show, or must not show, or they should show in some contexts, or are allowed to show, but in other contexts they better not show. (Remember the outcry over Hilary Clinton’s “cleavage”? Can you imagine if she’d shown some nip!?)
So apparently we’re supposed to have nipple bras, bras with “modesty panels,” and a couple rubber bands in our pockets just in case. The one thing that is clearly less than ideal in all this: actual nipples doing what they do.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
mordicai — June 17, 2009
Friends? I didn't know that.
Dmitriy — June 17, 2009
The portion of the patent that explains the background and the reasons for the bra is priceless.
waxghost — June 17, 2009
Well, to answer the question about nipples being "always hard", some of us have ones that naturally poke out all the time. It isn't a matter of them being "always hard" so much as it is just that they stick out enough naturally that shirts don't do that much to hold them down - especially thin cotton shirts like the ones in both pictures. Also, some of us who have those kinds of nipples tend to be cold all the time, which obviously adds to the effect.
And some of us would appreciate not being treated like freaks for having bodies that are slightly different than other female's bodies.
Trabb's Boy — June 17, 2009
Ah, boobies. I am an essentially straight woman, but boobs make me much more sympathetic to men's inability to stop looking at women sexually. Boobs are so lovely -- big, small, soft-nippled, hard-nippled, high, hangin' -- doesn't matter. They're all just soft, beautiful, friendly mounds of happiness.
Ahem. Sorry. Basically, I think what you've got here is fashion being fashion. As you pointed out, there have been times when showing a hard nipple would be considered really tacky. Now it's "sexy" (thank you, Friends). But I don't see anyone getting bossed around, here. Shirts with artificial nipples inside aren't the next big trend that it's hard to avoid. Some choice or another has to be made about mannequin breast size/shape/ anatomical correctness. As long as they are reasonably realistic, I'm not sure what the "correct" answer for them should be.
Now, the giant boobed manniquins you link to I'm not so keen on. Anything that encourages people to have major surgery and to stuff plastic bags into their body is not so cool.
xac — June 17, 2009
Since when is it embaressing if nipples can be seen? In what country? Why? And for what reason?
There is absolutely nothing wrong about nipples under a shirt - why should there be? They are just a part of the human body, men's as well as woman's.
As waxghost said, some women have hard (looking) nipples all the time, and those can sometimes even be seen if the person wears bra, shirt AND pullover. So what?
This makes the person neither horny nor vulgar nor indecent.
It's just the way it is, hopefully none of us wants them to hide under a burqua.
If somebody reads too much into visible nipples, even makes the nipple-carrier feel bad about her own body, than that person better had other issues to worry about.
Angela — June 17, 2009
I couldnt help but giggle for some reason when I read "obliterate the nipple"
Kitty — June 17, 2009
Am I the only on taken aback by the price of that bra? After shipping and handling the bra is $2,150. I’m sure the rubber band trick is much cheaper. I guess that’s the price you pay for the “sensual no-bra-look while wearing a bra”
lara — June 17, 2009
Kitty, I think there is a barely visible nipple, I mean, period, in those numbers - and it is $21.50 back whenever that ad was published.
yikes — June 17, 2009
apparently you've never been to the Bible Belt?
Not only are women there often shamed for looking "loose" or slutty if their nipples (your headlights are on!), they are often also shamed for making others uncomfortable. I can remember a furor over outfits worn by Helen Reddy and Cher back in the day... they--and Farrah Fawcett, come to think of it--were the subject of at least one sermon in my church!
James Turnbull — June 17, 2009
I'd add that here in South Korea, there is also a BIG taboo against women's nipples showing.
Having said that, there has certainly been a veritable revolution in Korean women's confidence with their bodies and standards for women's lingerie and swimwear since I arrived here 9 years ago, when literally 19 out of 20 women wore t-shirts over their bikinis and swimsuits when "swimming" at the beach and lingerie advertisements emphasized hiding and/or minimizing pantie-lines and bra straps and so on. Now, perhaps only 5 out of 20 still wear t-shirts at the beach, and, following the shake-up of the Korean lingerie industry and a trend started by Winona Ryder a few years ago, it is now the fashion to make lingerie clearly visible.
Despite all that, nipples are still a definite no-no, and in fact the only time I've seen them in public was on my wife, who rushed back home red-faced once she realized that she wasn't wearing a bra!
wondering — June 17, 2009
welcome release from the subconscious effects
This? I am totally putting this in my next patent submission. I'll work it in there somehow.
abc — June 17, 2009
(i) I find it interesting that, for the poster, they chose an image where the female has a blowup-doll expression. Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but I take the suggestion to be: visible nipples equate their bearer with a sex object.
(ii) I've come across bras that have underwires for support, but which are made of a thin enough fabric that the nipples still show through the shirt.
confused — June 18, 2009
I always thought that the purpose of wearing a bra was that it was considered obligatory to make a good-faith (though not necessarily successful) effort to hide the nipples for the sake of some sort of modesty. Unless I am running, a bra doesn't serve any practical purpose for me and becomes very uncomfortable on hot days, yet I feel obliged to wear one anyway. Can anyone explain to me why bras are mandatory when it seems they need not even make any effort to hide the nipples?
Morag — June 18, 2009
I think women wear bra's for different reasons - I am large breasted, and I have to wear some support if I want to move at anything faster than a slow walk, otherwise it feels uncomfortable. My nipples will happily poke through a bra, t-shirt and cardigan, so its not for that reason.
And stop it with the "unrealistic" breasts. I'm real, so are my breasts and I do look a bit like those mannequins. Some of us have uncommon bodies. I don't think any shape should be held up as an ideal, especially one that is quite rare naturally, and I don't like people fetishizing parts of my body as if I'm not attached to them. But lots of blogs that I otherwise enjoy treat pictures of people (or dolls) that look like me as if they are joke, or as if there must be implants. You had a link to the natural breast gallery - I'm a H-cup, some woman naturally go up to a K. It happens.
Anonymous — June 18, 2009
Farah Fawcett made it not only acceptable but also desirable for women to display their nipples, in a famous 1976 poster, long before Friends. I was a baby dyke back then and have never forgotten it.
Original Will — June 18, 2009
"If somebody reads too much into visible nipples, even makes the nipple-carrier feel bad about her own body, than that person better had other issues to worry about."
So, how many "somebodies" does that have to be to make it worthwhile to post on a sociology web site, in your opinion? You don't think that the existence of "modesty panels" indicates that at least some people are thinking about it very seriously?
Leading on from Morag's comment, I'm thinking now about whether it's possible to make mannequins that don't hold up some body style or another as an ideal. I mean, I guess you could vary them throughout the entire store, but there are only a limited number of mannequins - much fewer than the actual number of different bodies out there. Is there a reasonable way to make sure you're not leaving someone out?
yikes — June 18, 2009
Whoa--come to think of it, that *is* a blow-up doll face.
Stiffies « Aaron Weingott — June 19, 2009
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Korean Gender Reader: July 13 2009 « The Grand Narrative — July 14, 2009
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Billie — July 27, 2009
I love being able to see nipples thru shirts,blouses, I want nipples so badly. I love to see old ladies with big breast hanging with nipples hard,
C J P — January 11, 2010
I wonder if I'm too late or too remotely removed from the discussion to post here. It's just that I was struck by the phrase "blow-up doll", as I was about to close this window. And I'm still not quite sure how to respond. I can see your point, certainly. And yet, I also wonder whether we aren't almost consistently made to choose between the lesser of two evils (for those of you willing to accept the descriptive "evil" being applied to nipples visible through a woman's top and her arguably attractive face in the open-mouthed "semi-confused"--yet somehow endearing &, I daresay, somewhat arousing, expression).
What I'm trying to say is there are less decent things many people are looking at--on the internet and elsewhere--right at this moment. I would agree with you if you were to say that you don't think it's right for people to be expected to always choose between the lesser of two evils rather than the better of two goods. But if we are ever to behold a change on the horizon, we have to agree on someplace to start, and that someplace must be grounded in the present reality, no matter how difficult it may be to at first accept. Eventually, I hope, as I think we all do at some level, that we may someday find ourselves choosing between what we consider to be rather acceptable options more often than we find ourselves choosing between what we consider to be rather unacceptable ones.
I'd also like to add that I don't think this "blow-up doll" look is merely another example of the influence of male chauvinism. I think it is another example of the subconscious-creeping influence of Hollywood. Next time you watch a movie or TV show--especially those casting young men and women in roles that exploit their attractiveness--keep watching for that half-gaping, dumbfounded expression...on either the males OR the females. You see, it used to bother me to see that, so (under the influence of reverse psychology) I made a mental note whenever I'd see another such expression, and I began making a conscious effort to capture that expression whenever I happened to be watching TV. The men seem to do it just as much as the women do. I can't give you too many examples, although I saw David Schwimmer do it throughout the movie "Six Days and Seven Nights" (although I'm sure Anne Heche did it a lot, too... I just didn't notice as much). My point is that if you feel like blaming somebody for popularizing--and sexualizing--that look, don't blame the men alone. Blame those directing the entertainment media, as I do. I'll admit I think it's potentially attractive under the right circumstances, it's just downright annoying when it becomes overused and over-acted, as it were (i.e., faked, anything but candid).
Thank you all for reading and considering my "left field" opinion;-)
Therese Miller — May 23, 2010
Darlings - tripped over this site by accident & enjoy reading the comments. I love my breasts & take care of looking after them. An over 55 aged lady & know of women who have had breast removed through cancer & often wonder if their prudish/prudent ideas could have perhaps contributed to this dreadful illness. It is essential to massage breasts for good health & particularly nipple area which is very pleasurable indeed. Fashion can makes stupid rules & can screw minds up. Take pleasure in enjoying your breasts; large nipples are lovely to see through clothing.
Albert Rex — June 5, 2010
I "Googled" for Helen Reddy and stumbled upon this site.
It taught me a lot about how "liberal" and "open minded" people in America have become in the 21st century.
My granny was born in 1888 in Victorian England and never wore a bra in her life. It was normal in those days. My gran always had a really good figure, but nobody ever suggested she was flaunting her body.
There must be one hell of a lot of sick minded prudes living in America for this topic even to be raised as an item for serious disccussion on a web site.
Korean Sociological Image #44: Westerners, Nipples, and the Presentation of Sexuality in the Korean Media « The Grand Narrative — July 13, 2010
[...] considered acceptable in New Zealand from which I’d just left, and in that vein note that the current trend for visible nipples in the Western media at least remains precisely that: a trend, and certainly [...]
AitchCS — January 17, 2011
I have seen many places on the mass media where they are airbrushed or fuzzed out. The Today show had female nude painting by Ann Curry and they had to put tape of the nipples of her painting!
Ollie — January 18, 2011
You argument is that the media says they should be hidden, or shown, but never let be...
But lets suppose the media /did/ say "let the female body be." Would you be able to make a "sociological image" out of that? You'll find pictures that show things to be one way or another, but never in between. Because the 'in between' world isn't evident in a single photograph or article.
I'm not sure if i'm getting my point across. But what I'm trying to say is that you might be wrong to assume that the media says nipples can only be a 1 or a 0, because a lot of the time they probably don't say anything at all.
pduggie — March 11, 2013
"women’s bodies still aren’t allowed to just be."
That's because it's usually somewhat erotic and attracts sexual attention. The ad even says that: the person buying it wants to be "sensual". Men have a similar issue with how much their bulge can show, and issues about erections in their pants.
So so what.
Darla Barr — March 11, 2013
I remember watching Disney's Fantasia when I was a child. The evil harpies on Bald Mountain had nipples and the demure centaur ladies didn't.
Nipples = Evil
Far from ideal — March 11, 2013
Another reason to want artificial aids - very few women are absolutely symmetrical. Wearing a bra that camouflages nature and substitutes an idealized "reality" is yet another kowtow to unobtainable beauty standards.
Andrew S — March 12, 2013
I don't know about this one. Trends in society come and go, as you say. While there are "modesty" panels now, there are also some bras that allow the nipples to show, and many women don't wear bras at all, allowing the nipple to show.
I get the impression that it's time to complain when either a famous person/show goes toward any one direction, or when it seems (to you) that the majority of products available go toward any one direction.
Just because the majority of mens underwear is either tighty-whitey or boxers / boxer briefs doens't mean I can't wear an Obviously-For-Men-Thong if I so choose.
Batomask — March 12, 2013
Rubber bands wrapped tightly around each nipple?? OUCH!!!
Majromax — March 12, 2013
Curiously, this has been around for some time. The patent referred to in the brassiere advertisement itself refers to a 1937 patent for a "bust pad" that, well...
Batomask — March 12, 2013
I am surprised that no one mentioned the new law in North Carolina against visible nipples (or aureola; I have NO idea how to turn THAT into a plural word!!)) for any reason, including breast-feeding. I do not lie. This was just voted on in the North Carolina State Legislature. I kid you not. And we wonder why politicians are unable to solve the true problems in this nation. I would love to have heard the discussion on the NC House floor during THAT debate!
Nipples And The Presentation Of Femininity | I Shoot People — March 12, 2013
[...] Nipples And The Presentation Of Femininity. [...]
Slip Of A Girl — March 12, 2013
The bra and its ad date to the 1970s http://www.aslipofagirl.net/2008/12/hey-1970s-thanks-for-nipple-bra.html
Breast Obsessed — March 12, 2013
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PNW Tom — March 14, 2013
That ad for the nipple bra is from ca. 1979, and ran in Penthouse Magazine. Viva Lingerie was, I think, a branch of the Penthouse Media Empire, which included, if memory serves, Viva magazine. I had to check this to be sure, and, sure enough, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viva_(magazine)
Jen — April 26, 2013
I stubbled upon this article literally 2 days after I decided to go braless as a lifestyle decision. I've hated wearing bras ever since I hit puberty and my mom rushed me to the closest clothing department to fit me into trainers. Even as an educated feminist, the concept of letting go of my bras entirely was never an idea until one day, while I was complaining about them, my partner said, "Well why don't you stop then?"
But by day 2, I'm already hitting the dilema brought about by this article and the comments. While I don't want to wear a bra, I also don't want hard nipples/bralessness to equate to becoming a fetishized object or something people stare at regardless of sexual preference. I'm sticking with it, but I'm also afraid of how it might translate into looking unprofessional/unkempt. Thoughts?
Monty — April 7, 2014
Uh, professor, watch almost any 70s or 80s sitcom, and you will see nipples. It is hardly new. That ad appears to be from the late 80s or early 90s. Earlier such items would probably have been cheaper.
R — August 21, 2014
I always have a hard time going outside.
I have really small boobs. So I can't wear a bra with padding (or even underwire) because then that'd be false advertising (my excuse to the world). So I always wear the bras with no underwire or padding. But I get cold easily and I'm always scared people will see my nipples and think I'm TRYING to be seductive. And I'm nervous that they'll see me as cheap.
This clothing dilemma goes on in my head before leaving the apartment more than it should. I spend an extra 10 minutes just being indecisive about my wardrobe. I just wish it was okay for me to go in public with nipples showing. I wish women's nipples were't that big of a deal.