There is a complex issue dividing the world – and if you have two areolas on your chest (give or take), then it’s totally relevant to you. The world’s struggle with nipples, and whether or not we can or should expose them is entirely comical and also important because, at the core of this movement is the struggle for nipple equality, or as I like to call it ‘nippequality’. This is because, in most (if not all) societal standards, laws, guidelines, and policies to do with exposing your chest, the ban is against only women, not men.
Nipple exposure and the ‘Free The Nipple’ movement is not something that can be fixed immediately by simply changing legislation, because it’s an issue intrinsically dominated by opinion. How do we change societal opinions on body confidence, on the sexualisation of the female body versus the male body, and most importantly – how do we make the creators and policy directors of Instagram less afraid of nipples?
Fun Fact* Mamillaphobia – the fear of nipples is a real thing; you can seek counselling at Beyond Blue if you suffer from this. But if you don’t have this phobia along with 99.9% of the population, then let me enlighten you on how we came to have such strong opinions on nipple exposure, and how the future is shifting to a more open and accepting domain for equal rights and freedom of choice, even if it can feel like an uphill battle.
When you look at the history of legislation around nipple exposure, an overt structural framework that has fuelled the opinions we have on nipples today becomes apparent. During the early 1900’s, in Western countries including Australia and America, there were laws introduced preventing both men and women from showing their nipples in public. Those laws changed for America in the 1940’s for men, but unfortunately left women behind – men could flaunt it, but women had to keep the twins covered (insert the seeds of inequality and prejudicial comparison here).
According to The 1935 Australian Local Government Act, Ordinance No 52, ““men’s and women’s swimming costumes must have legs at least 3″ long, must completely cover the front of the body from a line at the level of the armpits to the waist, (and) have shoulder straps or other means of keeping the costume in position.” These swimsuit regulations were adhered to for some time but eventually shifted to men being able to just wear swimming bottoms at the beach, and women having to keep covering it all up.
The first lady to ever wear a bikini on Bondi Beach in 1946 was arrested for causing a riot among surfers. The problem with legislation like this is quite clear, as it focuses not on the actual exposure of female bodies, but it aims to control and deal with the possibility of peoples behaviour and reactions.
Under the Australian Federal Sex Discrimination Act of 1984, it became illegal to discriminate against a woman based on the grounds of breast feeding in public, but indecent exposure still remained a crime. This meant that even if you were to expose your nipples in public, you might not get arrested for that as your crime, but were likely to get arrested for another lighter offence such as public indecency, disturbance, or even inciting a riot. Again, our male comrades were exempt from these rules.
In modern day Australia it is officially legal for both men and women to expose their chest in public. But the very vague laws that are set up around the issue still possess a negative social attitude towards the rights of women – so much so that even the authorities sometimes find it hard to police, as the aim is to maintain a safe environment for everyone. It’s along the lines of “you’ll need to cover up miss, you might cause a car accident with those exposed nipples of yours”.
It begs us to ask the question, if you take your top off in the middle of the street and no one is around to see it, would anyone really care?
Nipples On Social Media
Time and time again, we see the boundaries being pushed on social media, and the gatekeepers of acceptable codes of conduct often respond quite harshly to nipple exposure, in the form of deleting content or even blocking users who disobey guidelines. The uproar about this focuses solely on the nipple. Society and our lawmakers have deemed everything else as tolerable. Underboob – yes, side boob – fantastic, but if there’s even the slightest hint of an areola, then you’ll be banished to the deep dark place that all the other nipple exposers go to, because you’ve now been socially outcast.
Here are the basic content guidelines of the internet’s most popular social media platforms – keep these mind next time you’re doing a naked self-empowerment post.
Facebook Policy: “Facebook will restrict some images of female breasts if they include the nipple, but our intent is to allow images that are shared for medical or health purposes. We also allow photos of women actively engaged in breastfeeding or showing breasts with post-mastectomy scarring. We allow photographs of paintings, sculptures, and other art that depicts nude figures.”
Instagram Policy: “We don’t allow nudity on Instagram. This includes photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks. It also includes some photos of female nipples, but photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed. Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK, too.”
Twitter Policy: “You may not use pornographic or excessively violent media in your profile image or header image. Twitter may allow some forms of graphic content in Tweets marked as sensitive media.” – this one is quite vague, but basically, you may get away with the occasional nip pic if no one reports you to the Twitter gods.
So the general consensus here is you can show your nipples on social media, but only if you’ve had a masectomy, you are feeding your baby, or you’re a painting.
But hang on a second – this painting by artist Modigliani titled ‘Nu Couché‘ was censored on Facebook and Instagram, being deemed as inappropriate content. I’m sensing some inconsistency here. All this is doing is telling women all over the world that if you want Jack Dawson to “paint you like one of his French Girls”, he can do that, but he better make damn sure to censor your special lady parts. Poor French girls everywhere.
For nipple advocate inspiration please see these Instagram pictures from Rihanna, Em Ratajkowski, Kim Kardashian and Kendall Jenner that were eventually banned from the platform. These photos helped fuel the fire that is female empowerment and the freedom to make choices about your own body.
One particular Instagram page ‘Genderless Nipples’ is challenging these policies, and highlighting the absurdity of Instagram‘s code of conduct by showing super close up photos of nipples, making it hard to identify whether or not they belong to a man or a woman, and therefore making it impossible for Instagram to delete their posts.
TRIGGER WARNING ** If you’re afraid of nipples then look away**
This negative stigma toward female nipples in particular is something so deeply entrenched in society, that girls are taught from a young age to cover up if they don’t want to be sexualised. I will never forget being at a public swimming pool with some friends when I was about 8 years old (too young to even know what sex was) and feeling like the scorching 40 degree sun was eating me alive. As I saw some young boys of a similar age to me wearing just board shorts or budgie smugglers without their rash vests on, I decided quite confidently that I would take my rash vest off aswell, releasing myself from the deathly grips of a sweaty back, and armpit chafing – I think it was a black rashvest as well, rookie mistake. After a few seconds of relief followed by a few more seconds of concerned looks from other parents, and some flushed cheeks, I realised I had made the wrong call, and I was completely embarassed. ‘When did that happen?’ I thought. It was as if a switch that I could not control had gone off in those last couple years of of growing up and I was now deemed too much of a woman to not be sexualised, all before I had hit double digits.
Their is an obvious hypocrisy within the framework of our society’s standards, and we need to challenge the ideologies we have been taught to accept. Next time you see a female nipple, do not cower in fear or report it on Instagram, you should simply think to yourself “you go girl”, and keep scrolling away.