In case you somehow missed it, Kate Middleton recently visited a 640-acre private French chateau while topless. As virtually everyone on public French beaches, if not all European beaches, is topless, this is possibly the least compelling story that has ever surfaced and claimed to be “news.” The only newsworthy aspect of this non-story is that the royal couple is suing the French magazine Closer for breach of privacy – if they’re successful, this could be a serious turning point in striking back against exploitative tabloid journalism.
But of course, that hasn’t been the focus of the media. The focus of the media has been feigned outrage and shaming judgment that Kate Middleton dared enjoy a topless moment like everyone else on summer holiday in Europe!
Bonnie Fuller, the president and editor-in-chief of a tabloid website that boasts a link to the topless pictures on its front page, wrote a condescending open letter to the princess, lambasting her as “too public a figure to go topless…as annoying as it is to have to cover up, you HAVE to do it.” Fuller goes on to claim that “no place is safe to go topless,” and that by marrying her famous college sweetheart, Middleton somehow signed away her right to enjoy her life within the bounds of the law without being harassed. Teenage actress Emma Roberts took to Twitter to offer Middleton unsolicited advice on how to live her life. Piers Morgan said, “There’s a reason the Queen’s never been photographed topless or playing naked billiards. It’s called, ironically, ‘common sense.’”
Anyone who believes Queen Elizabeth II has never once been topless on a French beach in her eighty-six years is fooling themselves. Both the constant, insatiable harassment from desperate paparazzi and the willingness of the 24-hour media to report on everything involving public figures – no matter how personal, trifling, or irrelevant – is an invention of the last thirty years. When Queen Elizabeth was Kate’s age, anyone who tried to surreptitiously snap or sell a topless photo of her would have likely been denounced as a smut peddler and had their career ruined. Are we to believe that the reason Clinton was impeached for oral sex in the Oval Office and Kennedy wasn’t has to do with common sense, rather than a sea change in what meets the standard of journalism?
Ironically, of all the the media outlets reporting the “story”, the one that is being the most reasonable about these pictures is the very publication that violated Ms. Middleton’s privacy to begin with. Closer defended their decision to print the pictures, saying, “What we saw in the pictures was a young couple who have just married, who are in love, who are beautiful…What we saw in the pictures was a young couple who have just married, who are in love, who are beautiful. These pictures are not degrading.” Obviously that last part isn’t true – any revealing picture published or taken of someone without their knowledge or consent is degrading.
This frenzied fear and outrage over female breasts is banal sexism, plain and simple. In virtually every European country, it is legal for women to be topless while in public, in New York women have had the right to be topless due to equal protection since 1991. But in American society, naked female breasts are seen as scandalous, and endangering to children – the obvious irony being that those breasts evolved to nourish children. You can call a woman a bitch in prime time television, show movies in which people get murdered, but unless you’re paying for premium channels, you won’t see unblurred breasts on American television. Last week, Facebook took down a New Yorker cartoon that had exposed female breasts, and in the past has come under fire for removing breastfeeding photos for violating the decency clause in their user agreement.
Women having breasts and not covering them shouldn’t be offensive, even if it’s in public. Breasts aren’t inherently sexual, nor is seeing them offensive. Famous women having breasts and not covering them shouldn’t be news, no matter how famous they are. Isn’t anyone tired of hungrily devouring “nip slips” and “up-skirts,” and then shaming the celebrity women for having nipples, vulvas, and perhaps misplaced trust? I mean come on – no one can actually be buying that is more valuable to tell women not to be nude than to tell media outlets not to objectify them.
And on that note, let’s turn back to the various and sundry vultures that insist upon delivering their scolding to a stranger. Seriously, what gives? Is it really so hard to believe that in 2012, a woman would dare to sunbathe topless on a private French property? Where is the outrage at the paparazzi – beyond the lawsuit from Middleton herself? It seems all too predictable and tiresome that the head-shaking and concern trolling is directed at a woman failing to cover herself up in a way the unasked public deems appropriate, rather than at a media and culture that permits and even demands the invasion of privacy of public figures and celebrities.
I’m sick to death of this ridiculous breast fetishization, and this complete lack of respect for women who are public figures. I’m sick of being told, “Well, that’s just the reality of the world we live in, so cover up.” I’m a woman. I have breasts. I’ve gone in public topless for my own personal reasons. Every woman deserves that freedom – unconditionally and without judgment or violation.