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Thursday 10 November 2016

Skinny Dipping, nipples and feminism’s afterbirth

Posted in: Performance
By - 2nd March 2016

Skinny Dipping, nipples and feminism’s afterbirth. After sell-out shows in Wellington, The Offensive Nipple Show is coming to Auckland.

Jess Holly Bates found her beginnings as a performer at age seven, playing baroque flute concerts to her doting, uncritical parents in the living room.

After ten years flexing her brain at Auckland University she “pretty much ran away to join the circus” and now days can be found wither making her own work or orbiting the theatre scene, moonlighting on webseries’ and hitting the stage as a performance poet.

In her latest escapade you can find her in one scene on stage as Alanis Morissette in a therapy session with a live audience during a show, a show much more than just topless women on stage, The Offensive Nipple Show is breaking boundaries and talking about why the “hard stuff” shouldn’t be hard at all.

“Nipples have always been curious to me - I could never understand why bra-lessness was a problem!” says Jess. “To me, it made sense financially, aesthetically, politically - I had always found my body to be extremely in-offensive!

Performing alongside Jess is Wellington-based Sarah Tucker who she met at last years NZ fringe festival. Convincing Sarah to join her on stage wasn’t exactly a hard task, who can deny the offer for subvert social norms? “I was talking about two giant nipples on stage doing misogynist stand-up,” says Jess.

“She volunteered instantly to be the other half of the show. And so The Offensive Nipple Show, feminism’s afterbirth, was brought into the world. We’re not stand-up misogynists anymore, though. Now, the show is more about being bodies that are silly objects. That are aware of being looked at, but are not necessarily behaving in the standard bunch of looked-at ways (sexy, or innocent, or whatever).”

Jess says 42 happy humans followed them to Oriental Bay for a mass skinny dip, with even the police coming to watch “It felt like people were ready for this kind of conversation, like one review said “two women thoroughly taking charge of their own bodies.” I’ll be interested to see how Auckland wants to respond!”

“It is super important to me that this is not just an exchange inside the theatre,” she says. “I think, when you’re talking about bodies, its critical that empowerment engages with diversity, in a way that is by no means tokenistic.

“Sarah and I became utterly aware that we were two, white, queer, cis-gendered, small-breasted young women with a lot of body-positive beliefs. We are not representative, and we don’t want to try to be. The public skinny-dip is about activating and empowering people to ally difference in a physical way. And in Wellington, that was super magical. Seven men attended, and really celebrated the de-sexualised space we built together at Oriental Bay. It was a very charming experience!”

Recognising that a skinny dip might not be everyone’s cup of tea or way of engaging, another of the show’s side-events is the Queering Bodies Forum, “a space for dialogue about how we reclaim our bodies, and where body ownership has room to grow”.

The Wellington forum saw 50 share vulnerable stories and engage together. “It felt like a wananga for which we needed three weeks,” says Jess. “Since everyone has a body, people have a lot to share - and it is such a colonised space!

“In Auckland, we have a forum coming up on Thursday 10th after the show, and we would love people to come and engage with us. We’ll have to wait and see what that space will hold.”

Jess says it important to talk openly about our bodies and sexuality because in her experience as a female, we must always be serious with our bodies. “Serious and sexy. Serious and working out. Serious and corporate. Serious and starving. All kinds of things are projected onto my body space - capital, colonial, patriarchal. So I don’t even know how to own it.

“And that disconnect many people suffer from, of feeling as though they don’t own their bodies, is a major source of sexualised violence and internalised misogyny in our culture. And that’s scary. I’m not sure making a theatre work is going to solve that. Maybe a skinny-dip will help. Maybe its just giving space for people to talk about it. But I definitely think this is critical to our cultural conversation, right now.”

The Offensive Nipple Show
March 8- 12
Basement Theatre, Auckland
Tickets available from

- 2nd March 2016

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