So have you heard of Anni Ma and her #FreeTheNipple revolution? Well if you haven’t then you must be hiding under a rock, because the movement she is leading is goddamn #Amazing and completely BAD ASS!
CONTENT WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS VISUALS OF NUDITY
I have been lucky to communicate with Anni and follow her journey of self discovery and social activism. Anni is a confident young woman and has filtered out life’s negativeness. Her passion and her determination to make a difference is what has inspired me to write and profile her work. I am taken aback by her courage to bear all in the name of feminism, equality and social justice. Walking proud and loud is extremely refreshing and Anni does this with energy and passion. And this is why she has built up a huge following, with many women and men signing up to her edicts and her words of passion. Anni has a heart of gold and does things for others and does things to help and empower others to help themselves. This is one trait which you do not see everyday, and this is why I call her my sister.
And in addition to her busy life #FreeingTheNipple, Anni is very kind hearted and spirited with all the charity work she does. A selfless person who makes sandwiches for the homeless. Where most people ignore the homeless, Anni gives them hope and treats them with the respect and integrity they deserve. She helps the unwanted, the rejected and the down trodden, and that is why I am in absolute awe of her. Her drive to help others and to help the environment demonstrates her strength and resolve.
So without further ado, may I introduce exclusively to YOMYOMF – the elusive ANNI MA and the #FREETHENIPPLE campaign!
1. Anni, tell us a bit about yourself, where you grew up and how was your childhood?
I was born in China and immigrated to the US when I was a baby. I was raised in San Francisco by my grandparents while my parents worked to provide for the family. My grandmother often used fear and corporal punishment as discipline which drove a wedge between my family and I. I felt disconnected with my family as I began to assimilate to the American culture while they were hindered by the language barrier. My family always kept secrets from me but I always knew there were financial and marital issues. From my family, I learned how to depend on my own, how to become a better communicator, and I found solace in honesty.
2. What made you want to live a “minimalist” lifestyle? What does this mean exactly and what does it entail?
Minimalism is living a meaningful life with less – it’s an alternative lifestyle to the American materialism and obsessive consumerism. I find happiness and clarity in having less material clutter in my life. I spend my time building meaningful relationships and experiences with human beings. I believe people are more important than any material or financial worth.
I own three pairs of shoes; running shoes, sandals, and heels that I store for special events. I have one mattress that I sleep on on the floor. The top half of an office chair that I sit on and a printer. I own very little outfits and wear the same kinds of clothes often. It helps me to not have to worry about fashion or style when I can be comfortable in whatever I’m wearing. I have a make up box with limited materials that I pull out for special occasions. I find myself happier when I have less complications to worry about.
I began my minimalist lifestyle after my journey into feminism where I learned what it mean to be a woman. Secret to being a woman is being anything you want to be! It took me a long time to figure that out, that being a woman has nothing to do with anything. Woman is another label that is set to limit your actions. I am a human being capable of doing anything I want regardless of gender expectations. I was trapped into thinking that women have to do this or be that when in reality there is nothing I have to be but ME and what makes ME happy. Immediately, I stopped looking for happiness in pretty clothes and expensive make up. I stopped plucking my eyebrows and shaving my armpits. Those were actually hard tasks to overcome because society has been telling me since I was young that women have to shave and do certain things to be beautiful and desired. Fuck that, I was done hating my body. I stopped doing unnecessary things and had more time to love myself. I began to finally love the face and body that I saw in the mirror instead of constantly feeling that I needed to improve my body.
Minimalism allows me to be free of all the materialistic desires and to focus on what I truly care about, which is connecting with humans and creating new and exciting experiences, and being a compassionate human being. Right now I’m extremely focused on creating compost bins! I basically take everyday material that would be considered trash and decompose it! Then it turns into nutritious soil in a couple of weeks. It’s a beautiful process that I’m hoping to get more people involved. About 30% of trash is decomposable, but it ends up in landfills and turns into toxic green house gases which affects global warming.
CONTENT WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS VISUALS OF NUDITY
3. What was your inspiration to become an activist? and what inspired your passion for feminism?
I became an activist when I realized I have the power to make positive changes in my life and in my community. There were always issues that bothered me, but I didn’t believe that I could do anything about them. I have been a witness to a lot of injustice in my life. I just accepted that is just how things are. It got to a point where I was extremely upset and felt worthless and useless because I couldn’t take control of the situation. I felt powerless to do anything about it. I’m just a regular girl with no money, no status, and no power.
My parents were both arrested when I was 15 years old on domestic abuse charges. And because they didn’t speak English, the police officer was upset that they keep talking in Chinese instead of English. He said my parents came from Mexico and they learned english, as if that was suppose to magically make my parents speak English. It broke my heart watching my parents get taken away simply because they couldn’t communicate to the police officer.
During college, my landlord took advantage of myself and other students by keeping their safety deposits knowing that students wouldn’t have the time or power to fight against it. I took an unpaid internship and witnessed a dozen interns that didn’t get payment, college credit, or experience that would be applicable to the work force. As a waitress, I witnessed employees doing overtime but wasnt allowed to clock in for the additional time.
All these times I was upset that I couldn’t do anything for these people who were being abused. Then it hit me – people have power! All people have power! But what I’ve been a witness to is people allowing their power to be stripped from them by not taking a stand or being afraid of causing trouble. So I took a stand! I drafted up a statement and declared to file a lawsuit against the landlord if he didn’t return the safety deposits. I filed another suit against the internship that was illegally taken advantage of those interns. I was only able to challenge the things that affected my life. I received my safety deposit back in full. I won my small claims suit against the internship. But I was unable to get justice for the students who didn’t declare a suit against their landlords, or the interns that continued working in an illegitimate internship.
Inter sectional feminism helped open my eyes to a world of inequalities that I was never able to interpret before. Feminism is like a special kind of glasses that will show you everything that is wrong with society but once you take it off, everything has been normalized- sexism, class ism, racism, consumerism, rape culture etc. I am extremely passionate about feminism because I honestly believe our nation and our people can begin to heal and get rid of toxic practices that has become everyday practices, like street harassment and the objectification of the female body. Feminism has helped empower me to become a more understanding and conscious human being. I have become a mentally healthier human being and I want others to find that kind of happiness and strength for themselves, especially young women who are constantly dismissed and invalidated just because of their sex.
4. So your campaign Free the nipple, why did you decide to start this? How did you come up with the idea? How did you create a following?
Free the nipple is a part of my journey of questioning my life. I learned that woman is just another label that doesn’t define any human beings. I am more than just a label, more than just my body and sexuality. I started my journey with many insecurities. I questioned why I should feel a shamed for different parts of my body; having periods, having armpit hair, having fat on my stomach. Society tells women that they’re never good enough unless they’re skinny, tall, and white. It’s all over their commercials and media. Of course I develop insecurities about my body, but the turning point was when I wanted to question the double standard of why men’s nipples were appropriate and female nipples not. I took this experiment out to the University that I graduated from, the University of California, San Diego, where I did my first Free The Nipple experiment. I didn’t realized the affect it would have on the students. The police thought I was mentally ill or a victim before I tried to explain to them the double standard. That was when my mind blew wide open to all the bullshit that society tries to spoon feed to everyone.
Free the nipple was the actually event that caused me to go deeper into feminism. It was the crack that blew the door wide open. I started freeing the nipple everywhere once I realized how stupid and discriminating the law and society was against women. I started an Instagram page and continue posting about my journey into feminism and become a real whole person. If free the nipple help opened my eyes to society’s bullshit then I’ll continue doing it for others to help them question their reality. Maybe they’ll be able to see the crack in society’s double standards and become empowered enough to challenge society!
CONTENT WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS VISUALS OF NUDITY
5. Have you experienced any harassment from men with this campaign? And what are some of the good comments you receive from the public and the bad comments you receive from the public?
I have experienced harassment from both men and women. Not surprisingly, we live in a patriarchy where people are raised to believe in certain things. Men are stronger than women. Women’s breast are meant for sex. Both completely not true. But in their warped reality that is their truths. This kind of brainwashing brings out the worst in both men and women. It’s extremely sad to see young women body shaming me for have small tits, for being ugly, and the usual unimaginative name calling slut, cunt, whore, etc. It really tells me that their value of being a woman is tied into their bodies and part of my feminism is to help those those young ladies move beyond that.
Entitled men online have no barriers. They belittle my intelligence, make sexist jokes, rape jokes, and resort to making violent claims to punch me in the face. Sandwich jokes are a must for them. I don’t even bother dealing with their kind of sexist assholery.
In public, people are more intimidated to say anything to me and they’ll mutter nasty things under their breathe. Some resort to using their children as a reason to justify their sexism, there are children here! Some men do what they normally when they see a woman on the street. They’ll harass them because society has made it normal to cat call women on the streets. Sometimes I get honking cars for approval. Some men seem to think it’s appropriate to follow me around. Sometimes I get sexist comments shouted at me – Nice tits, thinking that it’s a compliment when it’s just harassment. Sometimes I’ll get an awesome and genuine compliment, I like your confidence. Worst comments are the ones that threatening or wishing rape upon woman or myself.
6. How do you inspire other women to join you in this campaign? Do you think the women find the experience liberating? What personalities of women generally follow your campaign? Do you get many “shy” women who join you?
I inspire other people to join the movement just by existing as a top-freed protester and activist. I allow others to witness my activism and allow them to ask questions about feminism, gender equality, sexism and double standards. I love to have these mind blowing experiences where I am just top-free with those who have never witnessed a top-free woman in public doing absolutely nothing sexual at all. I allow people to think up questions that they’ve never had in their lives and allow them to think about their values and challenge their image of reality and what society has taught them to think.
I don’t believe there is is a separation between men and women in this movement. I believe it is very liberating for both men and women if they allow themselves to think outside of the tiny box that society has created for them to think in. I want to break the box, break the limit, break the barriers and allow humans to finally think freely beyond the stereotypes, beyond the gender roles, beyond the limitation of the criminal justice system, beyond what is right and wrong.
7. What has your campaign achieved? What is your most memorable moment since you started this campaign?
Free the nipple is an online movement that started as an independent film that challenges people to fight for equality. It is a Viral online movement that has been moving to the streets of America. People all over began to free the nipple and started challenge their gender discriminating laws. Free the nipple is now working to ratify the Equal rights amendment that will guarantee equality for all genders meaning – wage equality, reproduction rights, etc. It’s sad to know that there is still nothing in the US constitutional framework that guarantees equal rights for women and people of all gender identity.
The most memorable moment was my first rally at UCSD where hundreds of students came out to Free the nipple. It was one of the healthiest experiences of my life where people came together to discuss important social justice issues with an open mind.
CONTENT WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS VISUALS OF NUDITY
8. At the SF Trump rally, what were the responses to your free the nipple group? How did the Trump supporters react to you? What happened that day? Did you get the attention of Trump?
I protested twice at Trump rallies- one in Fountain hills, Arizona and the Republican Convention in Burlingame, California. In Arizona, Trump supporters surrounded the free the nipple activist and immediately slut shamed us and telling us how much their parents must regret having us. It was a very hostile crowd and the police attempted to eject us from the protest but failed because we had Nipple stickers that covered our nipples which is illegal in Arizona. The best moment was when the police drove by with a line of ATV cars and the Trump Supporters were cheering, waving us Good-bye in the rudest and most condescending manner, but I was able to avoid arrest as I knew the law and my rights by talking the officer down.
The California protest was a very different. There were hundreds of protestors from all over that came out to rally against Donald Trump. It was a very healthy event where people peacefully protested. #Blacklivesmatter attended and blocked the roads so Trump couldn’t get in the hotel, but eventually he was forced to hop over a wall in the back entrance by the freeway, he said he felt like he was crossing the border. That’s Donald for you.
9. What are your words of advice for other young women who want to become an activist/femminist?
You are enough. You are more than your body (by the way, your body is absolutely incredible and perfect just the way it is regardless of what anyone has to say about it). You are capable of doing anything and I mean any thing. I don’t believe in thinking outside of the box, because the box does not exist! There are no limitations to what you are capable of doing. Most limitations are social constructs created by society to hinder your actions and your range as a human being. You don’t have to be polite. you don’t have to be lady-like. You don’t have to say please, thank you, or I’m sorry all the time. You actually don’t even have a gender! It’s another social construct. Gender does not exist. We are all human beings created equal. Be kind and compassionate towards one another.
Most importantly, be strong by being yourself. I’ll tell you know that It’s not easy to be fully comfortable being yourself in public. You have to date yourself first. You’ll have to take yourself out and make new experiences. Learn about who you are, what you like, or what you dislike. You’ll have to do some extensive exploring. Push yourself! Do things you THINK you would never do and DO IT, because the most amazing things happens when you are able to surprised yourself. You end up falling in love yourself. Then return that love and give back to your community and lead a fulfilling life of service. Happiness is living a sustainable life of giving and taking. When you give love, you’re receiving love. It’s a never ending cycle. Be kind and understanding. Realize that not everyone will understand you and not everyone deserves your time or attention. Never shame others because negativity only fuels more negativity.
Those are just my words on being a human being.
To be an activist, find any injustice that fuels your motivation and talk about it! Eventually, you’ll stop talking and you’ll start doing. Amazing things will happen. Definitely, stay knowledgeable and educated. Be open minded, don’t be judgmental, don’t resort to shame,
To be a feminist, exist and tell your life’s story. Your story and your life truly matters. You will never know how it will affect someone else’ life for the better just by knowing that you’ve lived through it.
Go Sister, you make us Asians everywhere proud!