Thursday, July 31, 2014

Free the Nipple


Yes, there's a movement called Free the Nipple. It confronts American society's squeamishness about women's nipples and how they remain one of the last parts of the human body that we believe must be restrained at all times. The male nipple? Let it fly free. The female nipple? It must be banned from sight as soon as the girl is old enough to walk.

Going without a bra in the U.S. is an act of bravery and defiance because women's bodies are not considered acceptable as men's bodies are. There are more parts of our bodies that we can get arrested for exposing. Images of male genitalia and bare butts don't create the same reaction as the part of a woman that can feed a baby. Why? Because Americans have hyper-sexualized women's mammary glands to the point of obsession. Many cultures around the world take the female breast in stride, but in originally-Puritan-America, it makes many of us unable to think straight.

It's brave for women to leave the bra off because we are such sexual targets. Being out in public bra-less is seen as an indication that we're sexually available to anyone with the right disgusting leer. A woman with uncontained breasts just bouncing around out there is suspect: at the very least, men and boys think they can call after such a woman and stare at her as much as they like. To be a woman is to constantly navigate an environment of sexual menace, and being without a bra multiplies that vulnerability.

I've known women who didn't wear bras and I admired them. Some of them had small breasts so their chest freedom wasn't as noticeable. I envy any woman with small breasts and nipples. My breasts are unfortunately pendulous, especially since I became middle-aged and put on an extra 40 pounds. I've always had large nipples, but now I really have to use bra inserts to keep them from showing their outline through my tops. It's sadly, painfully obvious when I don't have a bra on.

But on weekends, at the age of 48, I'm finally developing the guts to go without a bra, not even a sports bra. I wear my fat, middle-aged, heavily-nippled mammaries covered only by a shirt. O, the shamelessness! Keep in mind: I don't have a car to hide in as I navigate the big city (Chicago, Illinois). I walk blocks to the train station or bus stop, take public transportation along with dozens of others, then get off and walk blocks to the store or wherever I'm going. This gives hundreds of people a chance to notice that my flesh is swinging free. Some men stare. Some women stare. Many don't notice at all, but enough do that I feel slightly naked. I try not to think about it, but I can't deny that I feel more vulnerable without that one key garment.

I hate that I feel vulnerable without that one key garment! It really is asinine that Americans believe that a woman's breasts, no matter the size, require a harnessing device at all times. It's equally asinine that we'll tolerate a lot of breast hanging out of a tank top or bathing suit, but not the nipple. Not the nipple -- for the love of god, hide that thing! 

Behold the misogyny that fears parts of the female anatomy, that demands that those parts stay out of sight, that uses safety or modesty as an excuse to control women's bodies. I'm proud to have finally worked up the nerve to leave my home without a chest-binding-contraption (at least on weekends) because the brassiere has only been part of American fashion since the late 1800s and I intend to contribute to its American disappearance.

Here are the reasons I have finally started leaving my bras in the dresser drawer:

1. I'm a fat, middle-aged woman and don't feel as targeted (hunted) by men as I did when I was younger. I feel safer in my body at this age.

2. If women stop wearing bras, we can normalize the sight of free, unleashed breasts. That would be great.

3. Women should feel free to slip on a shirt and walk out the door, just like men do. Bras are uncomfortable and expensive and it's a crime that we pay so much money to be in some level of pain all day.

4.  I want to support the message that being bra-less does not equal "asking for it."

Many women who try to make a Free the Nipple statement by leaving their bra at home don't have the chest size to really be noticeable. Others get caught in the problem of having assholes leering at them and objectifying them. This is the problem of going topless when you have young breasts. But when I let my saggy, middle-aged boobs sway before me as I swagger down the street, I do not present as titillating a spectacle. I'm simply an over-the-hill woman who's losing her looks and exercising my right to walk without physical restraints or public humiliation. I feel powerful in my lack of youth and sexiness. Does someone still want to ogle my tits? Fine, but he better look into my don't-mess-with-me expression before he opens his mouth. 

I believe part of the problem with topless demonstrations is that they're mostly populated by young women. Men stare and cheer them on. It's easy to sexualize such a political act, which diffuses it. We need more middle-aged and old women leaving our bras at home. There are many of us out there already, but let's have more so we can make the point that going braless is NOT an invitation for sex. When I walk bra-less I'm proud to contribute to a new paradigm that holds that wearing or not wearing a bra is no indication of how much attention a woman is seeking.  I'm helping to make fat protruding nipples so commonplace and UNsexy that people will lose their fixation on them. I'm helping to normalize the female nipple so that it can become as acceptable in public as the male nipple. Leaving my bra at home is a deliberate, political act, especially for a 48-year-old woman. Join me!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Listen to my virtual CD of original songs

This is just a reminder that if you scroll to the bottom of this blog homepage you'll find links to my original music. Yes, that's me singing songs I made up out of my own head. If you're on a device that doesn't let you see those links, go to my page on CD I'm also on iTunes.

The album (which is only digital) is called This Is My Going of Age, which is a lyric from of one of my favorite songs that I ever wrote (and I wrote a LOT of songs in the depressed years between 1997 and 2004). What I appreciate about "Going of Age" is that it describes the feeling of passing from young womanhood to middle-aged-and-beyond womanhood. It applied to my life when I wrote it at age 37 and it applies now that I'm 48. It says that I'm okay with losing the markers of youth because I'm gaining a new kind of power and grace and it feels good. It ends with the idea that I no longer need to look attractive to everyone I pass in the street. I just need the right person to appreciate me.

More on my songs and what they're about is here.
And here's the story of why I started songwriting and performing, and then why I stopped.

Never too much cake

Friday, July 25, 2014

Birthday evening

I'm getting together with friends this weekend to celebrate my 48th birthday, but I told myself that last night I'd go home and do whatever I wanted on the evening of my actual birthday. What did I end up doing? Opening gifts my sister sent*, reading a book and watching product demonstration videos on They're mesmerizing. Not only can you see photos of an item and read a description, many Zappo items also have a less-than-a-minute video that shows someone wearing it and moving in ways that show how the item will look as people admire you from afar. I love those videos, especially the shoes. I can watch a lot of them with absolutely no intention of buying anything. (No, I didn't buy anything.)

And that was my birthday evening. Yup.

*Ayurveda cookbook, Ayurveda home remedy book and an Urban Shelf. Perfect. Thanks, Judy!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Just an image, but lovely

A friend sent me this photo as part of a birthday greeting and I'm posting it just because I love it.

Pink is my favorite color and cake is my favorite thing...

My 48th Birthday

Today I am 48 years old. I'm also a middle-aged woman with an edgy haircut.

OH, yeah. This is edgy.

Please note that I'm turning 48 years old on the 24th. It's a mathematical birthday!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Reasons it's great to be 50 years old

This Thursday, July 24th will be my 48th birthday. I'm excited about it because I like patterns and 48 is twice 24. I'm also partial to multiples of 12 and have been waiting for this birthday ever since I turned 36. (Anyone familiar with the Chinese Zodiac knows that every twelve years your Chinese animal sign comes around. This is the year of the horse and I'm a horse.)

I enjoy birthdays for a few reasons: I like getting together with friends, I like eating cake and I like getting older. When I was a child, people taught me that adult women don't like getting older or letting people know their age. I thought this sounded ridiculous and couldn't imagine ever feeling that way. I'll be 48 years old in a few days and I still don't understand why women don't like revealing their age. This is one of those adult mysteries that people said I'd understand when I grew up, but it never happened. (They also told me I'd eventually enjoy the taste of alcohol, but that didn't happen either.)

A friend asked if I'm looking forward to turning 50. I'm not because 50 isn't a multiple of twelve -- although 60 is! But as I thought about it, I realized there are plenty of reasons to look forward to turning 50. Here are a few.

(Just some) Reasons it's great to be 50 years old:

1. It's the age when the senior discounts begin.

2. You have more authority to talk about things that happened, even in the distant past, because you were there.

3. People can no longer give you that patronizing “Wait until you get older. You’ll change your mind.” (For example, when a 48-year-old says "I don't want children," you have to believe her!)

4. All you have to do is put on a suit and a serious expression and you look like a person with decades of experience in business.

5. Your opinions count more because they’re based on actual experience and not speculation (such as managing employees, child raising, running your own business, divorce, surgery).

6. The cost of auto insurance goes down.

7. It's easier to rent an apartment, get a loan and do other things that cause people to size up how responsible you are based on your appearance.

8. If you’re a 50-year-old woman who isn't trying to look younger (with short skirts, wild shoes, etc) men don’t give you the same bullshit as when you’re young, such as “Smile, honey,” “Hey, baby,” etc.

9. If you’re a 50-year-old man and who isn't trying to look younger, you’re less likely to be hassled by police just for standing on a street corner (not necessarily true for men of color).

10. For women, self-esteem at age 50 tends to be higher than at younger ages. I know it's true for me!

So let's hear it for middle-age! Yes, I'm talking to you, Reader-in-Your-40s-or-50s. We are middle-aged and it's a great place to be. Have doubts? Write me!

I'm middle-aged and I'm at peace
 P.S. This is a photo of me with my new reading glasses that I bought at a chain store for $15. I'm not only old enough to need bifocals, but to need glasses to read with in my own home! This pleases me.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Judgment after divorce

Even though I'm divorced, I'm Catholic (actually I'm an atheist, but just follow me here), so I know that on the Day of Judgment when we all rise from the dead, there I'll be, standing next to my only groom. In the eyes of God our marital bond will be unbroken, and at that time I will turn to my eternal spouse, point at him and say: "Ha, ha! You're my husband!"

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Never too late to resume a friendship

I have friends that I mainly connect with through email. Sometimes one of these long distance friends will go a long time in between emails. After I've emailed a few times with no response, I call. Sometimes that doesn't get a response either. I once sent a regular snail mail to someone, making sure I'd made every attempt to reach her. I still got nothing. Years later, when I finally talked to her, I got the explanation I get every once in a while from a friend who has dropped out of my life. She said every time she heard from me she swore to herself that she'd respond, but she'd get busy and wouldn't get back to me, and then so much time went by that she felt too self-conscious to respond. She just felt stupid, so she never contacted me. I told her to never let that get in the way! I didn't care how much time had gone by. I was just happy to be back in touch.

Friends are extremely important to me and I pour attention on them. Even when I was married, the time I spent with my friends didn't shrink. I doggedly invited people to meet me for tea or dinner and invited friends over to my place regularly. When my husband ended things, I stepped back into my single life, surrounded by friends, without a pause. Many people were there to support me through my divorce because I'd stayed in close touch with them. I'm proud of this. It's an accomplishment and a survival skill.

Some friends are an integral part of my life and I'm in contact with them all the time. Many of my friends aren't as available and pop up when they can. With some, it can take months of wheedling to get them to spend some time with me. And a few feel like far flung satellites, hard to keep sight of, difficult to track, but held in my heart as I hope to welcome them back one day. If any of them are reading this, I'd like to say, "Please email or call when you can. It would be the best birthday present if I could just sit across a table with you for an hour and catch up. Don't let guilt keep you from texting. I know you're busy, but I'm ready to hang out whenever you are."

One of the deadliest forces on a friendship is ego. It would be easy to get offended by someone's apparent disinterest in my friendship, but I carefully don't allow that. If I've tried and tried to set up time with someone and she just can't do it, I tend to assume she just has too much going on and that's okay. How busy someone is and how low I rank on her To-Do List has nothing to do with me. Ego would drive me to compete for her attention and feel insulted when dinner with me isn't enough to tear her away from everything else in her life, but that's childish. I used to think that way, but now I know that even if someone decides not to make time for Regina, that's no reflection on me. I'm a great friend and if someone can't wedge me into her schedule, I'll find someone who can. And if that first person ever manages to make time for me, I'll happily be there.

It's taken me decades to learn how to do this friendship thing, and it's a skill many adult Americans don't have. Hobbled by our egos, we wait for the other person to make the first move, assume others don't want to be bothered by us, keep score of invitations given and accepted and forget that time with friends can be a much better way to spend an evening than with the TV or the Internet. Sometimes I feel like I'm part of a dying tradition of inviting friends to my place for a meal or a game night. I host people all year long and rarely receive party invitations in return, but does that matter to me? Nope. Hosting people in my home invigorates me and lets me re-connect with many people in one evening. I love when people "come play at my house." I'd rather have friends than keep score.

If you have a friend you really want in your life, but whose last email or phone call you never returned, get in touch with them now. Even if the last time you heard from them was years ago, it's worth swallowing your pride and risking looking foolish because chances are they're going to be delighted to hear from you. A real friend won't care what caused the delay, she just wants to catch up and re-connect. Believe me because I'm one of those people who lives in joyful hope that certain friends will surface from their busy lives and get back to me. When they do, I'll be here. I promise.