I am, without question, a prude.
I swear like a sailor and write about women’s bodies for a living, but ask me to share a fitting room? I would sooner die. I don’t care if you are a stranger or my oldest friend, I do not want to even wear a bathing suit in front of you. (Because who are we fooling? A bathing suit is basically just underwear and underwear is basically naked and I am starting to turn red just thinking about this.)
This was the mindset I brought to my Saturday-night viewing of alt-cabaret performer Bridget Everett's first Comedy Central special, Gynecological Wonder, a raunchy hour that may be the best therapy session I never had.
Everett, who, by her own admission has "the voice of an angel," alternates between sharing autobiographical-ish stories, belting original songs (backed by her band, The Tender Moments, in which Beastie Boy Adam "Ad-Rock" Horowitz" plays guitar), and generally getting up close and personal with her audience. Literally. Audience members might find their faces sandwiched between the 6-foot tall Everett's ample breasts, their faces sat on (and reactions captured) by Everett's "pussy cam," or their bodies hoisted up and played like an air guitar by Everett's willing hands.
Just minutes into her act, Everett takes it upon herself to ask and answer the burning question that is surely on everyone’s mind, as her costume consists of what can only be described as a piece of diaphanous chiffon barely attached to a silver tube dress that starts below the bust line: Bridget, are you wearing a bra? No—I don’t need one!
Since the special airs after midnight, Everett is able to freely say “f*ck”—indeed, she opened her show with a rousing rendition of her original song “We’re Going to F*ck This Shit Up." And yet, her exposed breasts (and nipples) are blurred so as to not offend the delicate sensibilities of late night Comedy Central viewers, essentially proving the need for her act.
Since first making a name for herself in New York’s downtown performance scene (even Broadway legend—and cell phone snatcher—Patti LuPone has crooned with her), Everett's act has focused on showcasing how uncomfortable we puritans are with our bodies: Costumed in a way to ensure that her breasts will inevitably be out on display, Everett begs her audiences to look—and not care.
Now, it seems her Comedy Central special couldn't have been released at a more perfect cultural moment for female nipple acceptance, as #FreeTheNipple enthusiasts and activists, from filmmaker Lina Esco to model (and Instagram nipple renegade) Chrissy Tiegen, speak out about the absurdities of censoring the female body.
And it may just force a tipping point. In spite of (or perhaps because of) my discomfort with freeing my own nipples, I find I can enthusiastically get behind Everett. Because, yes, I believe that a woman should be able to show her nipples if she wants—but also because I believe that the endgame of the efforts to de-stigmatize the nipple isn’t so that everyone can live in a sunny, nipple-baring utopia, but rather so that the public at large can stop focusing so much on women’s bodies and start thinking more about women’s being.
That seems to be the point of Everett’s electric act: She danced and sang and strutted around stage and throughout the crowd, shoving innocent bystanders’ faces between her breasts, flashing her red underwear, letting her (blurred-to-viewers-at-home) nipples slip out—and guess what? No one died.
When the sight of women’s bodies is normalized and not sensationalized (cough cough television censors cough cough)—well, everyone stops caring. And what a wonderful, powerful thing that will be when women’s bodies stop being the focus of the ever-lingering gaze (male or otherwise), and start becoming a neutral part of the landscape of inclusivity.
Jen Gerson Uffalussy is a regular contributor to Fusion. She also writes about reproductive and sexual health/policy for Glamour, and television for The Guardian. She lives in Atlanta.