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The Nipple Effect 

You won't catch me watching Sex and the City on HBO, and with good reason: I don't have HBO. Still, even though I've never seen the Emmy award-winning comedy and probably never will, I can't avoid being aware of the ripple effect the show has had in some areas of popular culture. Or should I say nipple effect? I'm referring, of course, to bodyperks (tm) nipple enhancers, featured prominently in a Sex and the City episode last season. Bodyperks are silicone nipples worn under a bra but firm and pointy enough to protrude through clothing to create a "natural" look, thereby attracting hordes of ogling, worshipful men.

Normally, I'd be too embarrassed to write about such delicate matters. Heck, I wouldn't even know about bodyperks if it weren't for Creative Loafing. But a few months ago, I was minding my own business, scanning the Fall Arts Preview issue, when I noticed an ad for bodyperks sticking out like a. . .like a sore thumb among the band listings on page 64. (I'm sure it was just coincidence, but the Corkscrew column on jug wine, page 53, was titled "Does Size Matter? The Evolution of Big Jugs.")

"Feel sexy, get perky with bodyperks nipple enhancers," the ad proclaimed. "Men love them, women envy them." A small, blurry photo showed an unsmiling model sporting bodyperks under a tight, sleeveless top. For extra credibility, the ad featured this blurb from a highly respected journalism outlet (foxnews.com): "A new fashion accessory you may not have known you needed: faux nipples." And the kicker: "As seen on Sex and the City."

At first blush (and I'm still blushing), the idea of faux erect nipples as a "fashion accessory" may seem pathetic and vulgar. But at second blush, I begin to understand the logic behind it:

1. Many women complain that men are obsessed with breasts.

2. This obsession makes it impossible for a man to look a woman in the eye while he's talking to her. (Or so I'm told.)

3. Therefore, women should draw even more attention to their breasts.

4. By stuffing their bras with fake protruding nipples.

5. That cost $20 a pair.

I know what you're thinking, but really, $20 isn't too high a price to pay if it allows a woman to maintain a healthy lack of dignity and self-respect.

The creators of bodyperks, Lori Barghini and Julia Cobbs, insist the nipples make women feel "attractive and powerful." And a bodyperks sales rep told The Boston Globe, "It's a boob job in a box. Whether you're flat-chested or well-endowed, you put these on and you're confident. You command attention. It's total power."

Barghini and Cobbs say they got the idea for bodyperks during a 1999 vacation in Las Vegas. Clowning around in their hotel room with friends, the women decided to do what any normal person would do before heading out to the casinos: put small shampoo bottle caps inside their bras. With all the fabulous babes in Vegas, Barghini and pals reasoned, parading around in what appeared to be a state of perpetual arousal would be a sure way to "stand out" in the crowd.

"It was pretty exaggerated and cartoonish, but all weekend long everyone was happy to see us," Barghini told the New York Daily News. "We didn't have to wait in line at the bars and we got in the VIP section."

Legend has it that one Argentine man was so mesmerized by the enhanced nipple effect that he kissed the hand of one of the women and cooed, "For you, my paycheck, for the rest of my life." (Jeez! If this guy's behavior is any indication, no wonder Argentina's economy is on the brink of collapse.)

Within a year, Barghini and her partners transformed this escapade into a viable business. Shampoo bottle caps evolved into one-size-fits-all silicone nipple attachments. The real coup was convincing the producers of Sex and the City to feature bodyperks in what has become known as the "nipple episode," after which national media coverage ­ and sales ­ surged. By July 2001, bodyperks were available not only online at www.bodyperks.com, but also at boutiques in New York and Los Angeles, and even at upscale retailers like Nordstrom.

For all their success, Barghini says bodyperks merely capitalize on what she calls "a very simple fact of life" ­ that people are idiots. No, seriously, that "men are more into nipples than cleavage." You may think this sounds a bit shallow and crass, but keep in mind I haven't quoted anything from the bodyperks website yet. ("Bodyperks are about the protrusion, not the circumference!" "No glue or velcro needed!" "The natural look is back!")

At least the website is impressive in its international scope, providing links to buy bodyperks in both "Europe and Scandinavia." With this level of geographic savvy, it's not surprising that Barghini receives online orders from "countries I've never heard of."

There's one potential bright spot amid this cultural tawdriness: After a spate of initial publicity, the hoopla surrounding bodyperks seems to have diminished. In fact, a comprehensive search of national news archives indicates no mention of the product since a Newsday fashion column published, tellingly enough, on September 11.

So maybe the media, reflecting the mood of a newly sober public, really have become less enamored of bodyperks and other cynical attempts to exploit our fascination with sex (in the city or elsewhere).

Or maybe not. While putting the finishing touches on this column, I chanced upon a Reuters wire story dated November 9. The article describes a new line of men's blue jeans designed "for the ultimate in bulge enhancement. . .to give every man the kind of eye-popping trouser frontage normally associated with mustachioed porn stars or a well-placed pair of socks."

A spokeswoman for the manufacturer explained: "The bulge has become the fashion statement of the season."

The male equivalent of bodyperks?

Somebody call HBO. I sense another Emmy. *

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