“Apparently, there is a significant difference between a woman who decides to show her breasts in a glittery outfit or a see-through dress—and someone who does it in the name of a social cause.”
During the latest Latin Grammy Awards on November 14th, Chilean singer and songwriter, Mon Laferte, wrote on her chest, “In Chile, they torture, rape, and kill” (En Chile torturan, violan y matan) to draw attention to the current uprisings in her home country. While walking down the red carpet, Mon faced dozens of photographers and journalists and exposed her breasts. Immediately photographs of her naked torso were uploaded online, and, in many cases, the images were accompanied by criticisms about her manner of protest and references to her “imperfect” body. Unsurprisingly, once again people started questioning whether revealing a woman’s body was a legitimate way to express a political message. And, on all sides of the debate, there also surfaced an undertone of surprise: at how much stir some words written on a pair of breasts could cause. Her November 14th red carpet moment also took place around the same time as the release of her reggaeton protest song “Plata Ta Tá,” created with the Puerto Rican musician Guaynaa.
Women’s bodies have long been overly-sexualized: “breasts, boobs, bosoms, titties, chichis“ have served as an object of pleasure for men—as the core of their fantasies, their wet dreams, their idealization of women. In an environment still influenced by that ethos, a woman’s naked torso, to many, can only mean one thing: sex. So what happens when women take control of their bodies and use them for other purposes? Some women feel empowered; other women might, in fairness, prefer to avoid using their bodies for social statements. But it is often men who find themselves becoming particularly critical of women who use their bodies in this way; this is not the context in which most men are used to seeing breasts.
Apparently, there is a significant difference between a woman who decides to show her breasts in a glittery outfit or a see-through dress—and someone who does it in the name of a social cause. Why are we, as a society, so alarmed when we see female bodies exposed for different reasons? There appears to be a big difference between an influencer showing her boobs in the name of fashion and another doing so in the name of a social movement; one is more fit for consumption and idealization, while the other is making an uncomfortable statement. Breasts, for many, are “a-okay” on billboards or in pornography; they are beautiful and sexy. Breasts filled with milk waiting to feed a newborn are ‘disgusting.’ Using breasts as a tool for protest are a taboo, a visual discomfort, and sometimes even constitutes a crime. Men who have covered their torsos in words of resistance such as Residente have not been so intensely criticized; instead, they have been called brave, transcendent, honest, and powerful. But when women do it, criticisms and skepticism about their motives so often follow.
One of the most common accusations Mon’s protest received was that she only exposed her body to gain publicity and sell more albums. She was accused of profiting from the suffering of hundreds of her fellow Chileans. About two days after the Latin Grammys, Mon released a video explaining why she had exposed her bare chest as an act of protest, while at the same time using the image of a pair of breasts as the cover art for “Plata Ta Tá.” According to Mon, being at her most vulnerable was the only way to get the media’s attention and make others talk about what is currently going on in Chile (a deep political crisis that has left approximately two dozen dead and 2,300 injured):
“What I wanted to do was for everyone to know what is going in Chile. And we achieved that…Was this a cry out for attention? Yes, and the world is now talking about the injustices and human rights violations in Chile. Then the song…when they say ‘she showed her tits to promote her song!’ No, in fact, I used a cover for the song with breasts because, in the end, the objective was for people to know about Chile.”
The issue of using the body as a means of protest does not only have to do with an artist showing her boobs; it goes deeper, hinting at the question of whether it is acceptable to use a body as an instrument to express a social message. For decades, women have been protesting with their naked torsos, with no bras, exposing their body and flesh before the eyes of thousands. When they do this, they are sometimes called ugly, fat, gross, ridiculous, except when the women are very attractive. The Ukrainian feminist group Femen, for instance, has been disrupting events with topless protesters since 2008. Although some of have accused Femen of sexual exhibitionism, a charge a French court cleared the group of in 2017, Femen has still been arguably better received, thus far, than similar topless protesters in Latin America. Part of it is indeed the cultural differences between Europe and Latin America, but I have also heard the comment that if some female protesters in Latin America looked like the women in Femen, then it would all be perfectly fine.
But, overall, in a country like Mexico, which is not all that open-minded, the media and bystanders tend to be quite critical. However, they haven’t been as critical of men who have exposed themselves in various states of undress, such as took place during the movement of the 400 Pueblos. On another occasion, this past August, a man protested completely naked in front of the Mexican government palace (Palacio Nacional) and instead of calling him names or delegitimizing his reasons, he was given a blanket by the police so he didn’t get cold. Ask yourselves: would policemen do the same for a woman protesting in the same way? Perhaps. But, perhaps not. They would most likely take a few minutes to look at her body (to see if she is ‘doable’ or not) and then would have—not kindly—asked her to leave or even detained her. Mon’s actions, in the past couple of weeks, have been copied by other women looking to draw attention to the wave of social movements in Latin America. However, these women have largely been parodied and made fun of.
The fact that we are unable to realize we are being hypocrites when talking about people’s bodies is problematic on many levels—but, especially, because we keep silencing and marginalizing movements that need exposure and empathy to thrive. There is no right or wrong way to protest, so long as we are not endangering others. Mon Laferte’s actions during the 2019 Latin Grammys were a demonstration of what women have been doing for dozens of years: using themselves as the subject and object of a protest. Mon’s intent was clear: make others aware of how much the citizens of Chile are suffering and bring the spotlight to human rights violations happening in her homeland. And, since there is no such thing as bad publicity, her topless torso—and her sassy reggaeton song—are just a small component of what influencers can do to make those around them aware of issues that matter. Finally, what is most important is that we now recognize that in Chile they torture, rape and kill. It does not matter how we found out; the point is that we know, and we have Mon Laferte’s bare breasts, in large part, to thank .
Verónica Lira Ortiz is an honors graduate with a B.A. in International Relations from Tecnológico de Monterrey, who is currently focusing on gender studies and developing student programs against gender violence. She can be reached on Twitter @vero_alo