I spent the early hours of this morning dreaming about nipples. I was at a psychotherapy conference and the topic was on infant observation, the business of taking time out, an hour a week for at least a year to observe the earliest days of a baby’s life, most likely in the company of its mother and/or father.
The talk had been boring, safe and non-controversial. I wanted to liven it up with stories. I wanted anecdotes or some illustrations of the sorts of things that can happen to lift the topic away from theoretical abstraction.
I rehearsed a comment in my head that went along these lines: my daughter had painted a picture, on a huge canvas of a gigantic nipple, a red orb and in its centre a tiny white spot.
I knew as soon as I mentioned the word nipple, people would start to vibrate with the embarrassment of it all. As if I were using a swear word.
Nipples in the context of babies are all about nourishment and survival and there is huge pleasure in that as well as frustration and anxiety and all the things that go along with disappointing feeds.
Nipples are also eroticised for the benefits of sexual desire.
Why this dream?
I saw an image as I flashed through Facebook yesterday of a muscular man with a so-called six pack who had cut out the nipples from images of celebrities, one of whom was Beyoncé, the other I can’t remember - one in black and white, the other in colour - and he had pasted these nipples over his own.
His picture reminded me of the way strippers look when they paste those little suction caps and tassels over their own nipples when at work. The sort you see in movies.
It looked ridiculous and all of this to make the point that Facebook’s policy on covering up female nipples is hypocritical when it’s okay to put the male nipple on display.
I have wondered about this often alongside the furore that erupts from time to time when breastfeeding mothers are escorted from the premises for feeding their babies in public.
No breasts allowed.
And yet breasts are visible everywhere, in whole or in part, small or large, floppy or firm.
Why do female breasts evoke such a passionate response.
I reckon it has to do with those unspoken unrecognised infantile desires in all of us for a feed, for a mother and for all that those breasts represent, but I may be wrong here.