Until recently, non-feminists never really gave the topless in public double standard much thought. Men were allowed to go topless at the beach or other seasonal events, and women, well, weren’t.
But the Free the Tatas (#freethetatas) movement quickly became a cultural phenomenon as feminist issues started gaining momentum in the media, encouraging women to bare it all. Women who wanted to embrace their chests like so many men have for decades, were now turning the tables and freeing themselves instead of “exposing”, something so many of us have been made to believe by society. But what about the shy feminists that still want to make a stance without baring it all?
That’s where the Tata Top comes in; a line of flesh-colored bikini tops that give the illusion you are topless. Business partners- and real life partners-Michelle and Robyn Lytle started the Tata Top as a way to not only give women a topless alternative, but also to just have fun while still making a statement. Their store and their Etsy store have been a hit with women and men of all kind, including breast cancer survivors and international shoppers.
And they inspire guilt-free shopping: $5 from each top sold benefits one of their partnered organizations, Keep A Breast Foundation or 4th Trimester Bodies.
Fembot had the opportunity to discuss this game-changing product with Michelle and Robyn, giving us more insight on the importance of feminism and the double-standard that needs to collapse already.
FEMBOT: How would you explain the Tata Top to a friend, co-worker, anyone? How long has it been around and how did you two get started?
TATA TOP: It’s a flesh-colored bikini top with cartoon-like nipples printed on it that offers a topless illusion. It comes in three different skin tones, and we offer sizes XS-XXL. We created The TaTa Top in response to dated societal norms. As a brand, we work to encourage people to question these societal norms and dig deeper when it comes to society’s expectations. Our customers are mothers, daughters, breastfeeding advocates, sports teams, fundraisers, activists, protesters, breast cancer survivors, and women who just want to have fun. We launched our business almost exactly a year ago Memorial Day weekend, May 2014, so we are just about one year old! A few days after launching, The TaTa Top went completely viral! We had the idea two years before that, but there was a lot to learn when it came to manufacturing the bikini, matching skin tones, scaling sizes, and being able to fund our first purchase order.
FEMBOT: Where did you get the inspiration for the Tata Top?
TATA TOP: I (Robyn) was hosting two Dutch women through a cultural exchange program. The two women went to a crowded Chicago beach to go swimming and didn’t have tops on which was “normal” for them. The male lifeguard freaked out and ran up to them and told them they had to cover up and that “nipples had to be covered up in this country” — all while he stood there topless with his nipples displayed. The women returned to my apartment and were genuinely confused. They hadn’t heard of a law like this, and they truly didn’t understand why it existed in America. They asked me to explain, and I was a bit stuck!
I think up until that point I never really thought about the double standard. When you go swimming, you put on a bikini top. That was what was “normal” for us. I relayed the incident to Michelle, and she was outraged. Looking at it from an outside perspective and seeing how panicked it caused everyone to be, she really realized that there isn’t much of a justification behind it at all and it’s completely outdated. The whole situation just gave her this hilarious idea to make a flesh colored bikini with a nipple on it. From a distance, you would appear to be topless but would quickly realize you had been duped. We both loved the idea–pushing the boundaries of censorship and what’s legal and causing these strong reactions in people whether it’d be shock, double takes, or even disapproval before they ultimately see that it’s not really a topless woman.
I think it really makes people think about the current laws in a way they didn’t previously because although this person isn’t technically topless, they appear to be…and in our opinion that makes the censorship seem even more foolish.
FEMBOT: Have you received any criticism for your shop? Is your shop as scandalous as the “Free Your Tatas” motto?
TATA TOP: Oh, sure, but the positive definitely outweighs the negative. The majority of the negative comments are so completely insane that they are easy to dismiss–things like how The TaTa Top is promoting rape, how it is “indecent” for a woman to be topless, how women should be modest, and how we just created this product for “attention”. I don’t believe our shop is scandalous at all…I believe the majority of our customers buy the top to support our mission for equality and see The TaTa Top is a fun, cheeky way to make a point.
FEMBOT: What have been people’s reactions when wearing one in public?
TATA TOP: I would say the majority of reactions are positive. People laugh, smile, do double takes, come up and talk to us, and ask us questions about the top. We have heard from so many customers who buy the top for so many different reasons–so many women feel like they have been objectified or made to feel their bodies are shameful and should be covered up–this is kind of a way to take confident ownership of their bodies and make people think about the double standard.
FEMBOT: As a feminist, what do you hope your shop will contribute to modern day feminism?
TATA TOP: Over the course of our culture, we’ve become more and more open minded about different things. It’s crazy to think that just about 80 years ago men were first able to go shirtless at the beach and up until that point, they had to keep their chests covered. If you look at “swimming costumes” from the turn of the century, both men and women were pretty much were fully clothed when they went swimming. Eventually that changed and less and less clothing became acceptable but if you put a woman in a modern swimsuit back on the beach in the 1920s she would have caused a riot!
A lot has changed but there is still more that needs to happen, and I think the wheels are finally set in motion. More and more celebrities are beginning to get involved in the fight, and I think that kind of press will keep inspiring more and more women (and men) to push back against these inequalities. As that grows, I think that the TaTa Top will continue to be a great way to do good and promote this mission.
Wearing the TaTa Top offers a topless illusion, but you aren’t breaking any laws. We hope this contributes to desensitization and desexualization. There will definitely be a transition period, but people need to get used to this! We both believe that we are on the edge of real change. Already a case has been appealed in Chicago where a woman was ticketed for being topless this past summer. We both expect that to be ruled for in the woman’s favor and that right there is a HUGE step to changing the legislation. Once it becomes legal, I think this will result in a dialogue about larger inequalities.
FEMBOT: Your site mentions that $5 from each sale benefits a foundation of their choice. Could you explain that a little more?
TATA TOP: Absolutely! From the very beginning we knew we wanted to use humor to shed light on some serious issues, while also raising money for our partnered organizations. We are currently partnered with Keep A Breast Foundation, the leading youth-focused, global breast cancer nonprofit, and also 4th Trimester Bodies Project, an ongoing photo documentary dedicated to embracing the beauty inherent in the changes brought to women’s bodies by motherhood, childbirth and breastfeeding. When you purchase through our website (www.thetatatop.com), you can choose at checkout which organization you want your $5 to be donated to.
When you order through our Etsy shop, we collect the donations and split them between the two organizations at the end of each month. We rotate partners every 3-6 months so that we can contribute to a variety of causes. Our greatest areas of interest are breast cancer research, women’s rights, and LGBT issues. We have currently raised over $22,000 for our partnered charities! Any organizations interested in being considered for a partnership should reach out to: email@example.com for an application.
FEMBOT: What is your future plans for your shop? Any other cheeky products we should know about?
TATA TOP: Right now, the most exciting thing we are looking forward to is being involved in Chicago’s 2015 Pride Parade. We are currently working on our float design, and we will have about 30-40 women marching in their TaTa Tops to help promote our mission. As for other cheeky products, we have so many ideas, but we are planning to scale slowly. Our first priority is expanding our styles to include a tankini, a one piece, and possibly a sports bra. We also have plans to offer a men’s product because we have so many male supporters! We sell quite a lot of TaTa Tops to guys who buy it for their wives or girlfriends. I think that’s been another one of the really cool things about this. There are a ton of men out there who fully support these changes and fully support equality.