YNA Interview: The Story of The TaTa Top With Robyn & Michelle Lytle
Though more and more women have been challenging discriminatory topless laws, I think it’s going to be some time before topfree equality becomes the status quo in America.
It is still basically illegal for women to go topfree in public in most U.S. cities and states. Even in states where it is technically legal, women can and do still get arrested (yours truly being one such victim) and local ordinances can override state law. (If you’re like, WHY DOES TOPLESS EQUALITY MATTER ANYWAY? Please read this.)
Now in addition to the Free The Nipple campaign, there’s a product that may help speed along this social change: The TaTa Top.
The TaTa Top is a flesh-colored bikini top with realistic nipples printed on it. Whether you’re looking at it online or in person, it really does look like a topless woman at first glance. It is so realistic that the mainstream media will censor photos of it (as will social media sites like Instagram…more on that later). And sometimes police officers will even ask women to cover up the top in public.
For women who don’t live in a topfree state like New York, it’s definitely a clever way to appear topless and challenge the female nipple taboo.
To learn more about The TaTa Top, we decided to interview the women who created it – Robyn and Michelle Lytle. Here is our Q & A where we talk about gender equality, censorship of women’s bodies, whether there might one day be a “TaTa” bottom equivalent, and more.
Where are you both from and where do you live now?
So Michelle and I are a married couple from Chicago. We both grew up right outside the city, and we met in Chicago about six years ago. We currently live in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago.
How did you come up with the idea for the TaTa Top?
Michelle came up with the idea for The TaTa Top after I told her a story about an experience I had when hosting two Dutch women through a cultural exchange program. The two women had gone to a crowded Chicago beach to go swimming and didn’t have bikini tops on which was “normal” for them. The male lifeguard freaked out and ran up to them and told them they were breaking the law 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 because that was just how it had always been. 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. I mean women’s bodies are used to sell all kinds of products in the media. So why is it considered offensive or wrong or shameful when a woman takes ownership of her body and wants to tan topless or swim topless?
The whole situation at the beach with the Dutch women gave Michelle 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 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.
Oh wow…so you’ve worn the tops on the beach yourselves, right? And what has the reaction been? Have you heard other women’s experiences of wearing the top in public?
We wear the tops all the time! It’s a great conversation starter, and it always gets people thinking. We hope it will help desensitize the world to nipples…they are just nipples, after all! Sometimes when we wear The TaTa Top, you can see people doing double takes and pointing, and then as they get closer towards us…they realize it’s just a bikini top and laugh. But also…we hope they realize…it’s just not a big deal!
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.
I read a recent article where a woman named Daisy says she’s been asked by police officers to cover up the top in public! Has this happened to other women?
Yes, Daisy was asked by officers to cover the top. And it wasn’t too much of a surprise, because we have heard similar things from other customers. One customer said she was asked to put on a t-shirt when she wore her TaTa Top to her country club private pool this summer. Another customer used a photo of herself in The TaTa Top on her Tinder Dating App profile, and they removed it! One customer lost 100 lbs at weight watchers, and she did her final weigh-in wearing The TaTa Top, and they refused to post her photo! There are tons of stories like this one!
How did you come up with the name of the top? Did you consider other boob euphemisms?
We came up with the name pretty quickly. We just listed all the different ways people refer to breasts and “TaTa Top” stuck. We immediately brought the website and trademarked: “Breast Bikini Top Ever!”
Do you think people understand what the top is about off the bat, or do they just think it’s a joke?
That’s a good question. Well, from the very beginning we knew we wanted to use humor to shed light on some serious issues that we are passionate about — this includes women’s rights / gender equality and women’s health issues, like breast cancer research. We rotate charity partners every 3-6 months, and we donate $5 per top sold to partnered charities. We have currently donated over $27k to our partnered charities.
Obviously The TaTa Top is a fun product, so we knew people would buy it for fun reasons, but we also hoped people would pay attention to the meaning behind the product. We were definitely surprised by how many people brought the product for activism purposes. We have sold to so many women who are buying the top to make a statement about equality and the censorship of women’s bodies. We have also sold to so many men who have bought the tops for their girlfriends or wives because they support this cause too. We also sell a lot of tops for breast cancer fundraising events and a lot of mothers support our product because they have been harassed or shamed for breastfeeding in public. The majority of our customers buy The TaTa Top to make a statement. Of course, we sell a lot of tops to groups of women for bachelorette parties and as funny gifts, but we don’t mind because ultimately, these women are supporting a good cause and helping us spread the word. We have no problem with women having FUN with this product while also making a statement and starting a conversation!
Is it possible the men are also buying them to wear themselves?
Actually…some men have bought for themselves to make a feminist statement and support the movement. We have a ton of customer photos on our Instagram page and we have a few photos of our male customers on there if you want to see!
Looking at your Instagram I see you’ve had to deal with a lot of censorship…
We have dealt with so much censorship! And we have never been able to get in contact with Instagram to repeal. I feel like it’s impossible to get a response from them. There is so much unfair censorship on there!
Sometimes we repost the photos they remove and we include their community guidelines with the photo to highlight that we didn’t break any of their “guidelines”. It’s so frustrating because there is so much blatant porn on Instagram! Why are they censoring a bikini top? They must truly hate nipples!
So are you both running this business full-time? Or you work at other jobs?
We both actually work full time for Michelle Lytle Photography (Michelle’s wedding photography business). We shoot weddings together all over Chicago and destination weddings too…if it’s a beach wedding then we always bring The TaTa Top. :) So the photography is our full time business and we also run The TaTa Top together on the side — most profits benefit our charity partners.
There are so many breast cancer organizations, so I’m curious how / why you chose the ones you did?
As for charity partners…we rotate partners to spread the love! If you have any organizations you think would be a good fit for us, please have them reach out to us! We are always looking for new organizations. We connected with our current partners through social media. It’s actually hard to find partners because some organizations don’t want to be associated with “nipples” on a bikini top! Isn’t that funny? In the past we have also partnered with : Free The Nipple Campaign, Project Fierce (homeless lgbt youth organization), 4th Trimester Bodies Project, and unofficially partnered with Lynn Sage Cancer Research.
That’s kind of sad but not surprising about charities not wanting to be associated with a nipple bikini top. Even breast cancer organizations though? I would think they’d have no problem with it.
Yes! Isn’t that crazy about the breast cancer charities? Many have very conservative large corporate donors so they didn’t want to partner.
Is there any hope of Chicago beaches becoming topfree soon or do you think we’re making progress with topfree equality in the U.S.?
Just last summer a woman was ticketed at a Chicago beach for going topless on a public beach. She is currently fighting the ticket in federal court and said it was discriminatory against women. I think small strides are being made to change the laws here. A lot of people have no idea that toplessness is legal in 33 states. However, there is a big issue here because it depends on the officer or judge’s personal definition of nudity as to whether or not a woman can be arrested for indecent exposure. I think that’s a ridiculous double standard. We want to destigmatize women’s breasts, and we believe we are contributing to the movement.
The Instagram issues reminded me of how they have also censored photos of women showing pubic hair, and then I got thinking about the bottom equivalent idea. I see you talk about it on your website and are considering it as a future product. Maybe it will help further with body shame and the cultural prudishness about pubic hair. …Do you envision the bottoms offering a variety – shaved, unshaved, everything in between, etc?
When we first went viral and sold out of all our product in May / June 2014…We had all these awesome ideas for more products. We wanted to do bottoms because people had asked for it! We wanted to do different swimsuit styles like a one piece and a tankini. We actually patented all these products! However, now that things are more balanced and we have such a large charity aspect…we just don’t have the money to expand into more products. I’m not sure if we ever will — We kind of like just having the tops and it’s still a ton of work!
I think we thought of just a nude bottom that matched the bikini top and then had different pubic hair styles….but we didn’t get very far. Haha! We already get a lot of emails complaining we don’t have enough variety in the top: “I want bigger nipples, I want smaller nipples, I want freckles on my nipples, I want scars on my nipples, I want darker nipples, I want lighter nipples.” It’s impossible to offer the variety and a perfect match to everyone! We always tell people that we created the design to offer a “topless illusion.” It’s not based off of actual nipples. It’s a cartoon graphic of a nipple. We also like to tell people it’s a cartoon graphic of a MALE nipple! That really gets censors riled up! Ahaha!
So that concludes our interview! If you want to be able to legally free your nipples and start a conversation about gender equality, consider getting your own TaTa Top – head on over to thetatatop.com!