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Nipping Sniggers in the Bud


starshine%20mug.jpgThe way she was mocked, chastised, and condemned for the evening’s biggest fashion “oops,” you’d think Ellen Pompeo had arrived at the Golden Globes in a gown of gleaming panda bear pelts. But what was the Grey’s Anatomy actress’s actual crime?

She dared to show up on the red carpet — on a chilly January night — with her nipples visibly standing at attention beneath her white Versace dress.

“It’s white,” smirked E! Channel host Ryan Seacrest when the actress paused for an on-camera interview. “And… it’s cold.”

I need to explain something that men don’t seem to understand: This is not a female erection.

Unless Pompeo was wild with lust for Seacrest—hello, have you seen her fiancé?— the phenomenon taking place at the end of her breasts was simply a full-frontal form of goose bumps. The result of temperature, and nothing more. So why should it inspire sniggering?

“Three words,” explained a frank and bodacious girlfriend of mine. “Boys are dumb.”

Men like to dream up — or even drum up — eroticism where there is absolutely none, she said. “I dated a guy in college who worked at a grocery store. I used to stop by to see him and he would always find a reason to shuttle me to the frozen food section.”

Male friends of mine insist they understand the basic physiology — that nipples’ abundant nerve endings cause the surrounding muscle to contract in response to cold, friction, sexual excitement, and even nervousness. And that when it happens in public, it’s almost never because the woman’s looking for action. But they don’t care. They think it’s hot.

“Please!” said one. “I’m not going to let reality interfere with my little nipple-inspired fantasies.”

Two things happen, though, when women are treated as sex objects simply for forgetting to wear a sweater—and I should point out the double standard that no one calls Simon Cowell a slut, though his nipples are as prominent a part of American Idol as Paula Abdul’s dilated pupils. First, we begin to feel self-conscious about something as involuntary as a sneeze. And products like Nippits Nipple Covers, which promise to conceal any sign of chill “even under wet swimsuits,” don’t exactly counteract the shame.

“I think everyone has a different sensitivity level on the subject, which has as much to do with your age as the situation in which it happens, bar-hopping versus boardroom meeting, and how much decolletage you are working with,” said a friend of mine. A busty gal, she was once horrified to see “an adolescent boy alerting all his friends to my—ahem—condition.”

The other casualty of this way of thinking is that women begin to turn on one another — and no, fellas, I don’t mean we turn each other on. I mean we judge and snipe at other women for failing to get their areolas under controlla.

“It’s always a little inappropriate,” confirmed another girlfriend. “I had an employee whose nipples were always showing and usually at odd angles, and I always thought she should do something about it. It made everyone uncomfortable.”

Times may be slowly changing. On television, the mere glimpse of a protruding nipple used to send Standards and Practices watchdogs scurrying for their “CENSORED” stamps. Now Jennifer Aniston is allowed to flit about the Friends set with her breasts set on permanent frost alert. And we can all titter as Samantha struts through Sex and the City wearing silicone falsies that maintain an eye-catching boi-oi-oing under her blouse at all times.

If any real good is to come from snide comments about Ellen Pompeo’s golden globes, women must wear our bosom buttons with pride. “Science” and “sexy” can exist side by side, under the same shirt, can’t they?

“I was pretty ambivalent about the whole nipple thing, until I nursed two kids,” said my buddy, she of-frozen-food-aisle fame. “Now, when the pointer sisters stand at attention, they pull all that loose, sagging skin with them and — for a few magical moments — I actually have a decent looking rack again. Who can find fault with that?”

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