"My nipples get so hard! I need to invest in nipple covers," my lovely editor, Alexia LaFata, blurted out of nowhere a few weeks ago. New York City winter had reared its wicked little head, and the Elite Daily offices were cold as f*ck, a secret ploy by the company to freeze my eggs as I approach 30, I think.
I kind of like when my nipples are hard, it turns me on, I was tempted to reply.
Alexia and I gazed into the distance for a moment, thinking about nipples, sexual arousal and the cold weather, our thoughts playing out in perfect unison (When you work as closely as we do, your brains link up). The fire alarm went off (followed by "THIS IS ONLY A TEST, THIS IS ONLY A TEST" screeching through the PA system), and we both went back to working on our respective articles.
But it really got me thinking: What's the deal with nipples?
Actually let's get specific on this dismal afternoon: What's the deal with girl nipples?
Boy nipples are rarely, if ever, something we think about, yet girl nipples are so incredibly sexualized that it's actually illegal (for the most part) for us to expose them in public. A slip of the nip, and it's deemed "indecent exposure."
Naughty. BAD nipples. Let's lock you up in JAIL and toss away the proverbial key.
You know what I want to know? What the hell is "indecent" about my exposed nipples? I mean, these gorgeous nipples (Yeah, I own it, you troll.) will eventually be the very LIFE FORCE of my yet-to-be-born children (who I'm sure will be thrilled that their mom is writing about her nipples on the Internet).
Truth be told, I've always been a big fan of nips.
Maybe it's because my mother breastfed me until I was almost a year old (a fact I only recently learned, much to my amusement), which isn't so usual in the US of A.
My feminist, glamazon, trail-blazing mother was also one of those ladies who unabashedly breastfed all over town.
In fact, she met her best friend in the world when she was tits out breastfeeding me on Main Street in East Hampton. Her future BFF approached her because she thought it was so cool that mother darling, clad in her chic black maxi dress and gold Cartier watch, had the wherewithal to fearlessly breastfeed her sweet babe in a town so posh and celebrity laden.
So yeah, I grew up with a lax point of view about nipples. Truth be told, I come from a very liberal European household. We never made a big deal about nudity, boobs or nipples, for that matter. I was one of those weird kids who grew up in a chill world of topless beaches, artsy nude coffee table books casually strewn about the family home and a bevy of unapologetic vixens as sisters.
It didn't occur to me that sexuality, nudity and, of all things, NIPPLES were even a controversial thing.
Until I entered the great corrupter; the universal downfall of all peppy, confident, young girls; the nightmare no one ever wants to revisit; the root of all our unshakeable insecurities -- MIDDLE SCHOOL.
Every conversation was suddenly centered around boobs, butts, hard nipples, slut-shaming, hooking up, seven minutes in heaven and who was probably gay (me).
I wasn't the girl with the boobs, though I secretly wished I were (validation seeker alert). My best friend was "the girl with the boobs." Not only was she the girl with the boobs, she was the girl with nipples.
A. Whole. Other. Thing.
For reasons unbeknownst to me, her nipples were perpetually in a hardened state.
In typical middle school fashion, the boys went wild, and the girls talked "mad sh*t." I couldn't figure out what the big ordeal was, but it was my first taste of the "over-sexualization" of nipples and the girl-on-girl jealousy of sexy women.
Suddenly, I was hit with an idea:
I'm going to order some fake hard nipples and see what happens.
My brain began to swell with questions: Will I get hit on more or less? Will people feel uncomfortable in my presence? Will the Upper East Side moms in my neighborhood bestow penetrating death stares upon me, like that time I sported a fake septum piercing?
So many curiosities were sifting through the darkness of my mind. But I did it. I went on Amazon and found some fake, hard nips and paid $21 to overnight them to Elite Daily HQ. I even purchased roll-on body adhesive because I'm an ambitious overachiever like that.
I immediately took a picture of them for Instagram, wondering if anyone would notice a little difference in my basic bitch "weekend essentials" pic:
They didn't. I guess my black quilted Chanel bag distracted them. Nipples vs. Chanel? Chanel won.
However, when the nipples were attached to my body, that would prove to be a different story, entirely...
FAKE NIPPLES ARE PAINFUL.
Allow me to confess, not only did I buy the adhesive, but I also bought two different brands in two different sizes. (How is that for going above and beyond?).
Now, I'm not going to throw a brand under the bus; that's not my style, baby girls and boys, but ONE of the two sets was BAD. The nips were far too big. They looked animalistic. I felt guilty for even having them in my possession.
However, I LOVED Janet's Attachable Hard Nipples. What a world of a difference! These ones were hard as ice and as round as pennies. The moment I laid my winged-liner-laden eyeballs on them, I knew we belonged together.
Kittens, babes, vixens and virgins, let me stress that putting on fake hard nipples is, well, for lack of a better word, hard. It took me several attempts to get the nipples even remotely even. I had to grab my roommate and my ex-girlfriend (who had inexplicably showed up at my apartment to hang the very day of my social experiment) to help.
"Put them up higher," Courtney, my glamorous fashion-designing roommate, lectured as if she were a nipple-adhering expert with a master's degree in the art of le nipple. She twisted her long, raven hair into a prim bun. She folded her arms and furrowed her perfectly arched brows:
"No, that's too high," she critiqued, sitting prissily like Duchess Kate on our slate gray Ikea couch.
My ex-girlfriend suddenly emerged from the kitchen, where she had made herself at home and helped herself to a hearty glass of my sauvignon blanc.
"That's not even where your real nipples are," my ex-girlfriend chimed in before capping it off with a snarky "Trust me, I would know." (Thank you for that, ex-girlfriend. Thank you.)
"Well, then you bitches need to help me!" I shouted on the verge of tears. Dramatic, I know, but to my defense, I was in the throes of PMS, my boobs were super sensitive, and every time I had to rip the adhesive off and start over, it f*cking hurt like hell.
Imagine ripping adhesive off your damn nipples on a normal day, let alone on a sore-breasted PMS day?!
Both girls made a big show of acting irritated, but I knew they were game to help me with my social experiment. After their sighing show subsided, they marched over to me, and as a united force of girl nature, we got the nipples (sort of, kind of) even.
I know from a wealth of lifetime experience that perfection is unattainable. So I did what I always do: settled for decent. A metaphor for my f*cking life.
When I got a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I was overcome with sweeps of full-body vulnerability. The weird thing was I didn't expect it.
I expected to throw them on and feel totally sexy, and confident, and ready to FREE THE FAKE NIPPLE and come up with interesting, pressing conclusions immediately.
But instead, I felt like I was about to walk outside topless.
They weren't even my nipples. What the f*ck was wrong with me?
Get over it, Zara, I coached myself. I put on my brave face and got ready to spend the day in hard nipples:
I went to a posh uptown restaurant, naturally.
The first place I went was a super posh, lovely uptown Mediterranean joint on East 81st Street. It was 2 pm. The moment I stepped inside the mosaic-ridden restaurant, I felt a smattering of Catholic (I'm Jewish.) guilt.
"You're going to corrupt the innocent eyes of a child on a Sunday, the day of the lord," my suddenly conservative, sex-negative alter ego snapped.
"Shut the f*ck up," I bit back.
Lucky for me, we had a super cute gay boy waiter. And let me tell you, cute gay boy waiter noticed my unnaturally hard nipples, instantly. His massive, long-lashed, sultry eyes went straight to my chest.
He was the irrepressibly outspoken, cheeky type -- I could just feel it (takes one to know one). I half-expected him to say something like "GIRL, what is going on with THOSE NIPS?"
He didn't. But he might as well have. His eyes dramatically honed in on my chest. It wasn't a sexual look; it was more of a "Damn, girl, get down with your bad self" impressed kind of look, which tells you how wonderfully nonjudgmental and sexually liberated gay men are (except when it comes to fake designer handbags).
I also soulfully believe women can be fooled. Men can be fooled. However, gay men are rarely fooled. I think his trusty gay-boy gut let him know my nips were fake. I think it made him more comfortable, as he kept returning to our table to overshare his thoughts.
"I can't wait until my shift is done so I can have a drink," he mused, winking right at me, comfortable to break boundaries with the GIRL WITH THE NIPPLES. I guess my hard nipples made me look like a chick down to PARTAY. (I'll take it).
I made sure to get up several times, to go to the bathroom and prance my nipples around the restaurant to show them off because I felt so empowered by my fellow queer's liking of my chest.
I got zero reaction from the uptown girls, as they were all hyper-consumed with their screaming babies and lackluster hubbies anyway.
I went to a bar alone in the West Village.
I had somehow dragged my ex-girlfriend and Courtney along for the uptown ride, but when I told them I wanted a "downtown" perspective too, they flew the coop.
"It's too f*cking cold," Courtney said, unravelling her prim bun for dramatic effect.
"Plus I need to go to the gym."
"I have a date," my ex-girlfriend replied, flailing her arms for the check.
Despite the wimpy-ness of my friends, I knew this social experiment was meaningless without exploring the other side of Manhattan.
I hailed a taxi and ended up at Blenheim, a small little bar in the West Village. From the window, I could see the comforting rainbow sign of The Cubby Hole, the best lesbian bar in New York. I was tempted to go inside, but I don't like to mix work with play. Plus, I really didn't want to run into my current crush when clad in fake hard nipples and a shirt that looks like something a figure skater would wear. (Don't sh*t where you eat, Kittens.)
I nervously took off my coat and ordered a glass of wine. The waiter, a clearly heterosexual aspiring actor, looked right through me with bored, over-partied eyes. There are few people more irritated to be working in service than aspiring actors. (Trust me, I was one.)
He didn't even notice my bold chest. In fact, I don't think he looked at me at all. I grew annoyed by the lack of material he was providing me with, so I turned my body to face two buttoned-up f*ckboy types drinking to my left.
And oh, did they notice. This was probably the first time in my entire life I was getting boob attention from straight men. It was bizarre. I didn't like it. It wasn't the way women and gay men admire your gorgeous woman-ness; it was predatory and animalistic. (Sorry boys, not all of you are bad!)
After two glasses of wine, I felt really single, really lonely and really f*cking sick of being stared at. So I cabbed it the f*ck home.
I stared at myself and thought about nipples.
Once safe and home, I thought about my relationship with nipples and pondered the loaded feelings that had been stirred up within me from a day of wearing fake nipples.
See, I was super stoked when my celeb crush, actress and activist, Lina Esco, created the #FreeTheNipple campaign after her 2014 film of the same name. The campaign challenged the criminalization of women's bodies and asked a pressing, important question: What is lewd about a woman's nipple?
I mean, a girl can show her entire breast but is forced to cover the nipple? What's so threatening about that relatively tiny patch of skin? Why does that small, rounded piece of darkened flesh define WHAT NUDITY IS?
Don't get me wrong, I've been turned on by a nip or two (or three) in my day, myself. I'm an irrepressibly horny girl creature. A nipple can be hot. Sue me.
But it's not just nipples that turn me on. There are so many things that spark up dirty thoughts in my head; nipples are merely one in a sea of many.
Dewy bare clavicles? Don't tempt me with a good time. Long legs in denim cutoffs? They are enough to make an entire subway car teem with sexual desire.
So, why are nipples so often picked on? Why are they singled out like the boy who wore blue nail polish to middle school in a small Southern town? Why?
Maybe it's because they represent the source of life. Maybe it's because they're a powerful and emotionally loaded part of the female body. Maybe it's because society is so threatened by anything that's both powerful and female.
But it's a damn shame, and it really is time we free the nipple. Why would we ever attach shame, cheap, pornish connotation and "indecent exposure" threats toward something that can keep a child alive?
Suddenly, I felt empowered as f*ck. I don't need fake hard nipples to figure out why the f*ck society is so afraid of nipples. I know why. I knew all along.
SCREW IT, I thought, as I peeled my fake hard nipples off and freed my own.