Are women’s nipples obscene?

Five years ago, I had never heard of Planet Fitness. When I read a story about a woman who got shamed for being too buff. I wrote about it on my old blog. Apparently, at Planet Fitness, members aren’t allowed to show off. There’s a dress code that is supposed to prevent fitter members from intimidating less fit members. And Tiffany Austin, the subject of my first post about Planet Fitness, got a talking to for wearing a tank top with spaghetti straps that showed off her “toned” body. People complained, and a staff member asked her to cover up. While she was waiting for a t-shirt, another staffer approached and asked her to cover up. Naturally, this annoyed Ms. Austin, who went to the media with her concerns and canceled her membership.

Planet Fitness, the gym that allegedly focuses on “not judging” other people, is giving people something to talk about again. This time, I ran across a viral post on Facebook written by Diane Newberry, of Grand Forks, North Dakota. Ms. Newberry shared a picture of herself in a tank top. She’s not wearing a bra, but she’s quite slender and probably doesn’t even need one for support. She’d only need it to cover those “obscene” nipples of hers.

Apparently, while she was working out at Planet Fitness, a manager approached her and said there had been “many complaints” that Ms. Newberry wasn’t wearing a bra while exercising. Newberry asked the manager if she was breaking a rule by not wearing a bra. The manager admitted there wasn’t a rule about bras, so Newberry brushed it off and went home. On her next visit, she told the manager that she thought it was inappropriate for staff members to shame women for not wearing bras. The manager replied that this topic had been one of discussion lately and they were looking into seeing if their dress code was specific enough. Newberry responded by canceling her Planet Fitness membership and joining the YMCA, where bralessness isn’t an issue. I’d say that was the right response on Newberry’s part. Planet Fitness obviously isn’t for her. I’m glad she found a place where she can wear what she wants, and truly has the freedom to work out the way she wishes.

Naturally, Planet Fitness is a private business and the corporate powers that be have the right to set rules regarding dress codes. However, while women are expected to wear bras to cover up their nipples, men also have nipples, and sometimes they even have breasts large enough to rival those of women. We don’t expect men to cover their nipples; why is it considered immodest when women don’t cover theirs? What is so obscene about a nipple? It’s got a purpose– primarily to feed babies. What’s the big deal if you can see the outline of them under a shirt? I think it’s time Planet Fitness and society at large take a look at this attitude and consider changing it.

Clearly, Newberry is guilty of breaking a social more. It’s a more that probably should be challenged, especially in this age of women fighting to be able to breastfeed at will. It’s ridiculous to be alright with a man showing his boobs, but not a woman. I understand that men find boobs sexually exciting, but that’s really their problem, isn’t it? Breasts were not meant to “titillate”. They were meant for feeding babies. And I see no reason why a nipple should be offensive, in any case. It’s just a little piece of darkened skin with a knob on it. Big whoop.

While I’m all for not “shaming” or “judging” people who are trying to get healthier through exercise, it seems to me that Planet Fitness is hypocritical in its advertising. They claim to be a “judgement free” zone (and they spell judgment the British way, which makes me judge them), yet they have a “lunk alarm”, which is a siren that staffers set off when people do something against the rules.

The Lunk Alarm… um… isn’t this a bit hypocritical? No judgment, but that alarm is all about humiliation, isn’t it? According to these ads, you can work out the way you want to… as long as you don’t break any of Planet Fitness’s many rules.
I would think that siren would be enough to turn off all the other people working out. Talk about PTSD flashbacks! I also found a story about a guy who “grunted” while squatting 500 pounds at Planet Fitness. It ended with staffers at the gym calling the police.

I guess this business model works, since lots of people still work out at Planet Fitness. It has cheap membership plans at just $10 a month. But who wants to be lectured about their workout attire? They claim to not want to intimidate or judge people, but I think I would be mortified if someone on staff complained about my workout attire, especially involving undergarments. For a “judgement free” zone, that seems awfully judgmental.

I get that Planet Fitness doesn’t want people to feel ashamed or intimidated, but they seem to be violating their own policy when they insist that women wear bras, but they don’t ask men to wear them. Reminds me of that cute comic by Scott Metzger, starring topless Helen and her equally endowed husband, who tells her it’s obscene to go on the beach like that. Why is it okay for him to show his manboobs, but Helen has to cover up? Makes no sense.

Anyway… I prefer to get my exercise climbing up church towers and walking my dogs. It’s done nothing to slim me down, but I did learn that my heart still works yesterday as I ascended 328 steps at the church tower in Frankfurt. On the other hand, I was also reminded of a certain scene in In Bruges.

I’m not nearly as big as these folks are, but I will admit it was a challenge for some of us to pass each other on the narrow, winding stairway at the church tower, yesterday. The Frankfurt church tower doesn’t have many wide spots for passing zones.
A lot of sweating, swearing, panting, and praying went into capturing this image… I’m glad we did it, though. The weather was perfect and the views were amazing, even if my knees were throbbing at the bottom.

Well… after that humbling experience, I suppose I’d better make a point of walking the boys today. But I’ll wear a bra, because after you hit your 40s, gravity kicks in.


Heroes and villains

This morning, I read about Dr. Katie Bouman, a scientist who is about to start teaching at California Institute of Technology and was instrumental in providing the world the first photograph of a black hole. Although I know the story broke yesterday, I haven’t been following it. I’ve had other things on my mind. Still, when I saw a picture of a delighted Dr. Bouman, looking so radiant in the wake of her success, I couldn’t help but stop and read about her. She’s just 29 years old and still adorable in her youth, and yet she’s done something extraordinary. But she did have help…

America loves its heroes. When someone does something extraordinary, or even if it just sounds like they did, that person will soon find themselves on the fast track to fame. Dr. Bouman, to her credit, was quick to point out that she was not the only one responsible for this amazing achievement. Indeed, there was a whole team of scientists from around the world involved in creating the algorithm that made the photograph of the black hole possible. Bouman is certainly worth looking up to, but she’s one of many people who made this happen– and many of the others involved are young women in science (STEM). For example, in the New York Times article I linked, 24 year old graduate student Sara Issaoun, who studies at Radboud University in The Netherlands, is quoted as also having worked on the project.

Yesterday, as the picture of the black hole circulated on social media, I noticed Occupy Democrats made a meme about Dr. Bouman, which was already being circulated. Have a look.

First off, it’s not true that people aren’t “sharing stuff” about Dr. Bouman. This story just broke, and besides, she was not “single-handedly” responsible for it. Secondly, she’s a 29 year old woman, not a “young lady”. As such, she’s worthy of more respect and her academic title.

I did see a “corrected” version of this meme, but it still doesn’t address that this discovery was the result of a lot of work by many people, not just one person. I like heroes and heroines as much as anybody does, but let’s not get it twisted. Dr. Bouman, to her credit, isn’t getting it twisted.

I remember back in 2003, when 19 year old Private Jessica Lynch was a prisoner of war in Iraq. The media turned her into a sensation, with wild tales about how she went down fighting the Iraqis before she was finally overcome by her injuries. For months, that was the narrative about Jessica Lynch. They’d turned her into a heroine. Later, the truth came out. Jessica Lynch had never fired a shot. Her weapon had jammed and she was badly hurt in a vehicle accident. To her credit, Lynch tried to set the record straight. I remember seeing her being interviewed on television and she very plainly stated that people were giving her credit where it wasn’t due. She was a young, pretty blonde who had signed up for Army duty. What wasn’t to love about her? She made a great heroine. But when these stories come out and a person becomes “celebrated”, the legend eventually gets debunked, and the fall from grace can be devastating.

Meanwhile, there were seven others from her unit that were captured. One of the captured was 30 year old Shoshana Johnson, who had worked as a cook. She was not as young and photogenic as Lynch was. She is also black. Johnson and the other soldiers, all of whom were male, got a lot less attention than Lynch did at the time. Although critics probably rightfully accused the media and the public of racial bias, in the long run, it might not have been so bad being overlooked. The American public is quick to turn on people. When a person does something that seems great, they may find themselves rocketing to fame. But the minute that person does anything that tarnishes that glow, the pedestal is liable to fall and the person may find themselves falling back to to Earth in a jiffy.

On my old blog, I wrote a number of posts about people who went viral after being caught on camera saying or doing “bad” things. Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of this kind of thing. For one thing, everyone has good days and bad days. I don’t like to see people being permanently vilified for having a bad day. Maybe someone gets caught saying or doing something horrible in a one or two minute video, but that video hasn’t captured what led up to the incident, nor does it take into account that those two minutes are just a fraction of a person’s lifetime. Even though news travels fast and notoriety waxes and wanes, thanks to the Internet, stuff stays out there forever. Those kinds of viral posts can affect a person for years. Or, they can make it seem like they’ll affect a person for that long, which can cause them to give up on living.

I do think people are right to congratulate Dr. Katie Bouman for her success in a challenging career, for being a wonderful role model, and for her part in a significant scientific discovery. I don’t condone implying that she was the only one who made that discovery happen, she’s some kind of patron saint of science, or that she came by her success alone. Let’s keep it real.

People are imperfect, and almost no one is 100% good or 100% bad. I mean, as much as I despise people like Donald Trump and Bill’s ex wife, I still recognize that even they aren’t 100% horrible. In Bill’s ex’s case, she kind of saved my place for me and made it so that anything bad I do kind of pales in comparison to her antics. Ditto to whomever takes Donald Trump’s place once he’s finally drop kicked out of the White House.

On a completely unrelated note, every time I think of “black holes”, I’m reminded of assholes. I have my former Peace Corps colleague, Jan, to thank for that.