August 4, 2014

#FreeTheNipple Questions Gendered Double Standards About Nudity

Why is acceptable for men to expose their chests in public, but for women it is not? The #FreeTheNipple campaign and documentary examines this question.

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What is the #FreeTheNipple campaign?

In the 21st century, we have replaced personal diaries with posting status updates about life on the internet, letting it all out on social media. Any little thing that pops into a person’s head now can be documented and shared on the World Wide Web. Through using blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and other forums, we can stay connected and are constantly able to share the minutiae of our lives with the world. While some find this to be a wonderful way to live, and others shudder at the lack of privacy, usually every individual is free to post whatever they they see fit.

One notable exception, however, is naked bodies. Particularly naked female bodies.

It’s not just a question of pornographic imagery, either. One major issue at hand is the strict dichotomy of who can be topless and who cannot. Men are socially permitted to be shirtless in private, public, and on the web. However, if a woman publicly exposes her chest and breasts, it is assumed to be a sexually provocative and inappropriate display (even if the woman is simply breastfeeding her child). This phenomenon of censorship has sparked a campaign and documentary film called Free the Nipple.  The film’s purpose is to spark an equality movement which will enable women of the world to not be ashamed or scared to be topless. #FreeTheNipple seeks to dismantle double standards related to the sexualization of women’s bodies as enforced by society and the media. Breaking the barriers of female censorship is no easy task, as 35 states still have laws that allow police to arrest women for being topless in public, while a nude male chest is virtually never considered to be indecent. Even though all U.S. states have legalized public breastfeeding to one extent or another, many women still feel uncomfortable breastfeeding in public because of these social stigmas.

Social Media + Nipple Controversy

The photo sharing app and website Instagram has been a huge success for its simplicity: it allows users to easily edit and post their personal photos to social media. The app launched in 2010 and today now has over 150 million users. However, Instagram will delete any photos of bare chested women that are posted. This has sparked a heated response from celebrities and popular female Instagram users. Scout Willis, daughter of actors Bruce Willis and Demi Moore decided to raise awareness about the issue after shirtless photo she posted was deleted from Instagram. She took to the streets of New York wearing only a skirt and shoes, and posted photos of her breezy adventure on Twitter with the caption “legal in NYC but not on @instagram.” She is not the only one, as Rihanna’s Instagram account was also deleted after she continually posted topless photos. Instagram has a very strict policy about nudity according to its terms of use:  “You may not post violent, nude, partially nude, discriminatory, unlawful, infringing, hateful, pornographic or sexually suggestive photos or other content via the Service.”

Facebook, another very popular social media site with over 500 million users, has begun to revise their policies regarding topless photos. As of June, the site will now allow breastfeeding photos. A rep told CNET “It is natural and beautiful and we know that it’s important for mothers to share their experiences with others on Facebook.”

The banned female nipple policy also holds true to Pinterest, Google+, and LinkedIn. Flickr and Tumblr have a more lax system where the user can decide if they want label their content as “mature” or not.  Twitter is the only social media website that is completely nipple friendly. For more information check out this link, for a social media guide to female nipples policies.

Want to know more?

The #FreeTheNipple movement raises a lot of interesting questions about how society views women’s bodies that are worth exploring. Why are female breasts so sexualized as to be considered offensive when women expose them to breastfeed their children (when breasts are biologically intended for that purpose)? Why is it acceptable for men to expose their nude chests, when women cannot, and so forth? These are topics that warrant further discussion.

 You can learn more by visiting the Free The Nipple website. You can also follow the movement on Instagram, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Sasha Aurand has a BA in psychology from Indiana University, with a minor in Human Development and Family Studies. Her research includes work with Alan Roberts’ attraction studies.