Meet the lesbian couple behind the anti-censorship TaTa Top

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The feminist movement you could (and should!) wear to the beach: Meet the couple behind the anti-censorship movement of The TaTa Top.

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The Ta Ta Top was created by Chicago-based couple Michelle and Robyn Lytle as a way to get people thinking about and calling attention to the inequalities in regards to women’s’ bodies. “It isn’t about being topless all day every day,” Michelle said. “It’s about having the same choice to be topless that men have and about desexualizing women’s bodies.” 

AfterEllen.com: How long have y’all been a couple?

Michelle Lytle: Robyn and I first met in 2009 but the timing wasn’t exactly great. Robyn was in a relationship and I was “straight,” but we had an instant connection and our story grew from there. We dated on and off until we finally decided to go all in. A year after that we got engaged and were married in December of 2014.

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AE: What do you do?

ML: I’ve been a photographer for the last 10 years, focusing on pet portraits and weddings through my own company, and Robyn has been a sales consultant for the past nine. We worked on developing The TaTa Top over the course of two years and when everything went crazy last summer, Robyn transitioned into working on the social media and marketing of The TaTa Top and Michelle Lytle Photography full time. So present day, we work together out of our home office and spend the majority of every day within arms reachwhich sounds like a recipe for disaster but it’s actually been amazing. We get to hang out all day and spend a ton of time with our two pups. 

AE: What is the Ta Ta Top?

ML: The TaTa Top is an idea we came up with a few years ago. It’s a flesh-colored bikini with a cartoon representation of a nipple on it. We sometimes say it’s a cartoon representation of a man’s nipple because those are legal. It took us awhile to figure out how to make it a reality but once we finally got on the right track, everything fell into place and we were able bring it to life in June of last year. Since then the response has been overwhelming with women all over the world (literally all overwe’ve even sold to Saudi Arabia) supporting the idea and embracing our product. 

It was created to get people thinking and to really call to attention the inequalities in regards to women’s’ bodies. It isn’t about being topless all day every day. It’s about having the same CHOICE to be topless that men have and about desexualizing women’s bodies. 

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AE: I loved the story about the women at the Chicago beach, can you elaborate on the story?  Is that where TaTa got its start?

ML: Yep! It was pretty much born right there. Robyn had some couch surfers staying with her and they were so excited to go to Lake Michigan. They got there and took off their clothes and ran into the water with just bikini bottoms. A life guard came running up to them in a panic telling them they had to cover their nipples. He said something along the lines of, “It’s illegal to show nipples in America,” which is what really stuck with me at the time. He ran up to them with his nipples showing but it wasn’t okay for them to show theirs? Both of these girls were from Amsterdam so this was a cultural thing for them and they were confused because they had never heard of “nipples being illegal” since you’re allowed to be topless in Amsterdam. They had asked Robyn to explain the law to them, and she really didn’t know how to justify it. Prior to hearing about this I had never really given much thought to this double standard. As a girl, it’s just second nature to put on a bikini top but when I heard how much it made the life guard freak out and what a panic it caused, I definitely wanted to stir up some trouble. It was ridiculous! Right then and there I just was like, “What if we had a flesh-colored bikini top with nipples printed on it…”. 

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AE: How did it feel to see the the first finished project?

ML: It felt amazing. We had a couple prototypes prior to getting the production sample that we ended up approving. Each one was almost right but the tones were off. That was the hardest part of the whole processmatching the tones. I would do mock-ups in photoshop to try and get some idea of what the finished product would look like but once we had that final production sample sent to us and I put it on: We both were shocked at how great the illusion was. We tested it out almost immediately on Memorial Day and people’s reactions were hilarious. Lots of double takes. People lifting their sunglasses up to take another look. A ton of people came over to us to talk ask about it and take photos. 

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AE: Have you started to see a difference in censorship?

ML: A little. When we first started sharing photos of The TaTa Top, we never expected for it to be censored. That was the whole point of the productit wasn’t real nipples so there wasn’t anything “illegal” about it. We both had no idea just how backwards and broken Instagram and Facebook’s censorship rules were. There is no rhyme or reason and if your image is removed, there is no dialogue. There is no one to reach out to or question about it or argue your case with—it’s just gone. With Instagram, sometimes we wouldn’t even get notifications: We would just see that our number of posts had decreased. With Facebook, if we had an image removed (one of the images they removed was the product photo of the bikini top laying flat on a surfaceit wasn’t even ON someone) they would put us in a timeout for a few days where we couldn’t comment, like, or post on our page.

The censorship has gotten better but we still have images removed every once in awhile. I think the biggest difference is how much people are starting to pick up on this issue of large companies controlling what people can and can’t see. It’s starting to be exposed more and more and people are exposing how images that have showed no nudity or even images of larger body types, are removed. One photographer on Facebook even had an image of two men kissing removed. When censorship comes into play it prevents people from being exposed to new ideas or thoughts different than their own and making up their own mind. We’ve always thought censorship was dangerous and The TaTa Top was our way of not just calling out the absurdity and inequality of our current laws, but also the seriousness of a large corporation being in control of what information gets shared on today’s news platforms and imposing their sense of morality on their customers.

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AE: Who would you love to get your hands on these Ta-Ta’s and Why?

ML: There are a ton of celebrities who have supported the Free The Nipple movement that we would love to see this on: Lena Dunham, Cara Delevigne, Michelle Rodriguez and Chelsea Handler. Chelsea Handler specifically has been calling out Instagram lately on their double standard. If she were to post a photo in The TaTa Top, it would be very interesting to see what action Instagram would take. They could remove it and then be known for censoring an image of a bikini which benefits women’s health and women’s rights, or they could leave it, which kind of defeats their purpose since for all intents and purposesshe would look topless. It’s kind of a win/win and the perfect way to get the point across. 

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AE: Tell me about Keep A Breast and 4th Trimester Bodies Project?

ML: From the beginning we knew we wanted to have a built-in charity aspect with our product but it was surprisingly difficult to get anyone to respond to our emails or take us seriously. When we were ready to launch in June, we ended up just choosing an organization we felt was the best and donating what was collected directly to them. We ended up going with someone we had reached out to previously but never heard back from. When we went viral a few weeks later, we finally did hear back from them and were kind of surprised by the exchange so we decided to start looking into someone we could benefit but also partner with. 

We were referred to Keep A Breast because they are the leading youth-focused, global, nonprofit breast cancer organization. Their mission is to eradicate breast cancer for future generations using four approaches to accomplish this: art, education, awareness, and action. They provide support programs for young people impacted by cancer and educate people about prevention, early detection, and cancer-causing toxins in our everyday environment. What really stood out to us about them, was their focus on youth. Breast cancer is affecting younger and younger women and we really wanted to be teamed up with someone who recognized and addressed that. We also love them because they provide us with instructions on performing a self breast exam which we put into each TaTa Top package before it’s mailed out. 

4th Trimester Bodies Project is another amazing organization. We came across their project when we were reading about censorship by Facebook and Instagram. They have an incredible censorship story that is just shocking and if you aren’t familiar with them, I definitely recommend you do a quick google. They lost whole accounts when Instagram just shut them down entirely and this was for displaying images of motherhood! No exposed breasts. No nipples. Just mother’s in black bras and black underwear. They are an amazing team also out of Chicago and we are really excited to be able to help in some small way in getting their work and message out there. 

Ultimately we are going to work on rotating in and out different organizations to be able to make an impact for a variety of causes we care about. Our next partnership after 4th Trimester, will be Project Fierce. This will be a perfect addition as we head into Pride month and will allow us to be able to give back to a local organization (again) and one whose mission is to reduce LGBTQ youth homelessness in Chicago by providing transitional housing and support services to homeless LGBTQ young adults.

AE: Have you spoken to any legislators about changing the law?

ML: Last year a woman was ticketed in Chicago for being topless and that case is currently moving through the legal system since she’s fighting it, so we’ve been keeping an eye on that. Ultimately we both feel that the second someone fights this legislation and stands up against it, there’s no way it can be held up. The actual law is ridiculous in it’s description of what isn’t allowed: “Any portion of the breast at or below the upper edge of the areola thereof of any female person.” Covering your nipple—just your nipple with an opaque covering allows you (in theory) not to be breaking any laws. In New York it’s actually been legal for women to be topless but it didn’t stop them from being harassed or arrested when they exercised their right. 

Changing the current laws would allow women to be topless without fear of fine or arrest. It would almost put a stamp on the argument by saying that women’s nipples are not any different than a man’s. When that happens, more women can choose to be topless. The more people see women’s nipples, the more desensitized to them they become and over time it’s no longer the “shocking” argument it is today.

This has happened throughout history even just in the fashion trends of swimsuits. I don’t think many people realize what people wore to the beach in the 1920s. They called them “swimming costumes” for a reason. People were pretty much fully clothed because showing your thigh or your ankle or you chest (EVEN for men) was inappropriate.

One of the really interesting things we learned when we went to Germany to see The TaTa Top in an exhibition on the 100 year history of the bra was that the first bikini was modeled by a prostitute. They couldn’t find anyone else who would model it.

So if you’re a woman who is reacting to the thought of being able to be topless as disturbing, shocking, or just not appropriate, just keep in mind the next time you go to the beach that at one point only prostitutes would wear your swimsuit. 

AE: Have you or anyone else in a Ta Ta Top ever gotten a removed photo back on Instagram?

ML: I am not sure about Instagram, but we had a customer who had a photo flagged and removed from Facebook while it was being reviewed. When all was said and done, they let the photo stay which was exciting since it was an extremely realistic photo. We thought maybe they finally were done censoring but we’ve had a ton removed since then. One photo we posted recently was flagged but allowed to stay after review. We still were put in a timeout though for three days and at the end of that period we noticed that somewhere along the line the image had been removed again, this time without notification. It really just comes down to what the person who works for Facebook or Instagram personally thinks when the image ends up on their desk for review. Artistic representations of nudity are allowed (which is what a cartoon nipple would fall under one would think) but that doesn’t prevent the opinion and actions of that one moderator. 

AE: What’s next for Ta Ta Top?

ML: This will be our first full summer with our product in stock so we’re really excited to see how it goes! Ideally we would love to expand into some additional styles such as a one piece or a bikini top with pierced nipples. It’s just a matter of time. We are currently trying to get together a float for the Chicago Pride Parade. This would get us in front of 900,000 people and would be an amazing opportunity to not only celebrate our gayness, but also the crazy past year we had. 

AE: Do you sale in stores?

ML: We sold to a few Wings locations late last year but because of our charity aspect, it’s hard to support margins that will work for wholesalers. We are currently only available via thetatatop.com

AE: Have you ever thought about making a coffee table book of Ta Ta supporters?

ML: We would love to! We seriously get the best photos from our customers. They are hilarious! Hiking photos, beach photos, surfing photosone girl was riding a train through Africa with The TaTa Top. It’s always awesome to see what people get into with it.

AE: Does your mom own one?  

ML: No, but I’ve thought of asking her to model it! Robyn’s Mom has expressed an interest in owning one so it’s going to be an eventful Mothers’ Day.

AE: Have you seen someone randomly wearing your TaTa Top while out in public?  If so, how did that feel?

ML: This hasn’t happened yet but I can’t wait till it does. I’m going to try and play it real cool but I may end up just crying hahah. A couple friends of ours ran into someone at Dinah Shore that had one on but that’s as close as we’ve come so far.

 

By buying a TaTa Top you’re not only supporting women’s rights, censorship equality, and rocking a bomb ass top; you’re also supporting Keep A Breast and 4th Trimester Bodies Project.

During Pride, they are partnering with Project Fierce“It’s an opportunity to get the TaTa Top in front of 900,000 people which is great both for out partnered organizations and also for the movement. “ Michelle and Robyn are raising money to get the TaTa Top in the Pride Parade but they need your helpYou can buy one here: https://thetatatop.com and follow them on Instagram.

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