If you walked into Room 109 at the Scripps College Tiernan Field House on Friday, Nov. 3, you would have found yourself surrounded by more than ten topless Scripps students, all of whom were adhering plaster to their chests in participation of the fourth annual chest-casting event.
“It’s a pretty shocking space to walk into,” Kate Finster SC ’21 said.
Chest-casting, originally dubbed “breast-casting,” has become a token Scripps-only experience since Tiernan Field House Peer Health Educators first held the event in 2014.
With 150 students registering per year, the event encourages participants to confront any existing body insecurities in order to memorialize their chests in a paper-mache cast.
“You have to get over the shock in order to physically participate in the event,” Finster said. “You can’t cover yourself or hide that you’re topless.”
Breast-casting originated in the early 2000s, according to the Keep A Breast Foundation. Since then, several colleges, including the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and Kent State University Stark, have adopted the event.
While traditionally held in October in order to raise awareness for breast cancer, the focus at Scripps is more on body positivity. In 2015, the event was re-named “chest-casting” to be more inclusive, Peer Health Educator Helen Thomason SC ’18 told TSL.
Thomason, whose role as a Peer Health Educator is to provide counseling resources for mental, physical, and emotional health, has been involved in chest-casting since the event’s founding.
“There’s this sort of progression that happens,” Thomason said. “You walk in, and you’re not really sure how this works, what’s going on. Then once you see that other people in the room are doing it, and everyone’s okay with it, and everyone’s open and accepting, then it gets easier and easier and really fun.”
The casting process starts with a Vaseline application to the chest. Then, students assist each other in applying water-dipped strips of plaster. Each cast usually takes about 6-10 pieces of plaster, Thomason said. Peer Health Educators make themselves available to participants who need support during the process.
Peer Health Educator Mattie Bono SC ’19 herself has never created a chest-cast, but she said that the experience has been extremely impactful for her.
“Just watching everyone be half-naked in this room together was a life-changing experience for me,” Bono said. “It was a liberating moment in which I realized I could take control [of] how I feel about my body.”
Bono said that society has hypersexualized the chest, and that participating in a chest-casting reinstates control not only over one’s own perception of their body, but in relation to the way others view one’s body.
“I can’t ever change the fact that I am going to be hypersexualized, especially with the male gaze,” Bono said. “But [chest-casting] has helped me realize that there will be opportunities, spaces, and times in my life where that won’t be the case. There’s so much liberty in that realization.”
After the physical casting, students were invited to decorate their chest-casts with paint, markers, and glitter. Annabel Walsh SC ’21 decorated her cast with watermelons.
“Painting designs on my cast was such a fun experience,” Annabel Walsh SC ’21 said. “But, it also helped me further celebrate my body in a way that women don’t typically have the chance to do.”
In addition to chest-casting being a community effort to desexualize and celebrate a traditionally hypersexualized part of the female body and other marginalized bodies, Bono said that the event is an experiment in challenging oneself.
“It’s really obvious when someone comes in and is feeling very uncomfortable,” Bono said. “They’re covering themselves with their arms and hands, and you physically can’t do that to participate in the casting.”
Bono noted that societal expectations can often deter marginalized bodies from feeling comfortable. The casting pushes participants to forgo their insecurities in order to fully engage, an experience that Bono finds exciting due to its rarity.
“So infrequently do I see marginalized voices and marginalized bodies getting to carve out a space in the room where they feel comfortable,” Bono said.
Finster echoed Bono’s observation, saying that throughout the 10 to 15 minute process, she found her confidence and mood completely transformed.
“I left feeling very happy and excited,” Finster said. “It is really valuable to be in a room where there are girls around you who you don’t know topless. Being able to see different shapes and sizes and how they’re all accepted is a freeing experience.”
Looking ahead, Bono is interested in seeing the event expand, both in size and frequency. She hopes that one day, all Scripps students will be able to identify chest-casting as a positive and formative experience in their educational careers.