Boob Backlash: A Perky Conversation on Nipples & Censorship
Alright, gang. Here’s where it gets real. Here’s what I promised to myself when I decided to relaunch My Pink Docs. Gotta start somewhere, right?
Let’s talk about nipples!
When I told my inner circle I’d be writing about nipples and censorship this week, two of my closest confidantes expressed concern.
“...But, you’re not going to be showing your nipples, right?”
No, I’m not showing my nipples in this week’s post.
But that’s my choice, just as it should be someone else’s choice to show them if they want to.
What I’d like to discuss is a movement called Free the Nipple, some of the boob backlash I’ve seen firsthand, and the hypocrisy between the violence we see in every aspect of media and the censorship of non-reproductive organs.
Free the Nipple
I first came across Free the Nipple as a hashtag (#freethenipple) on Instagram. I clicked because, you know, nipples, and expected to find 3,739,413 posts related to this shared interest. Instead, I found a small selection of “Top Posts” and a message from Instagram:
“Recent posts from #freethenipple are currently hidden because the community has reported some content that may not meet Instagram’s community guidelines.”
That’s right, the hashtag has been banned, meaning that posts with #freethenipple will receive little to no engagement or recognition within the Instagram community.
After some frustration, I headed over to the source, freethenipple.com, for some insight on what this movement actually means. Here’s the mission:
"Free the Nipple is a global campaign of change, focused on the equality, empowerment, and freedom of all human beings. Free the Nipple has become a premiere voice for gender equality, utilizing all forms of modern media, to raise awareness and effect change on various social issues, and injustices."
A little broad, but I get the picture. The 2014 eponymous film narrativizes this mission as a small group of women aimed at creating viral publicity stunts in support of gender equality. In real life, this group challenges the idea that one gender’s nipples should be censored based on a little peripheral fatty tissue. Seems fair, right?
Not according to the individuals who contacted the FCC in the week after Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s infamous “Nipplegate” controversy at the 2004 Superbowl. According to Rolling Stone, 200,000+ people reached out to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to comment on the incident; the nip slip itself only lasted 9/16th of a second.
Or the people who complained about Grace Coddington’s ~*scandalous*~ sketch that got her temporarily banned from Instagram in 2014. Seriously. See below for the aforementioned post, if you think you can handle it.
Don’t worry, her clapback was incredible. Read more here.
There are countless stories of celebrities (Bad Girl Ri Ri, Kendall Jenner, etc.) and Average Joans suffering ridiculous consequences for showing various degrees of nipple in images or video. Sometimes it’s a slap on the wrist, sometimes it’s a fine, and sometimes it’s jail time. No matter the punishment, however, the “crime” doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
I recently visited my aunt and uncle—new parents to THE cutest munchkin—in San Diego, CA. When it was time for Evy to eat in public, Aunt Shelley would scan the perimeter like she was about to pull out some illegal substance. Uncle Jackson would step in to “cover” her as she carefully rearranged her clothing to nurse the baby.
Of course, it’s every mom’s right to decide how she wants to handle her breastfeeding. But why are so many women still shamed for performing a biological function necessary to our existence? Actress Mila Kunis explained it best in a 2016 interview with Vanity Fair:
“In the States and in our culture, we sexualize the breast so much that there’s an aspect of it that people just don’t know how to wrap their head around the idea of showing your breast in public. But I respect the opinions on both sides. If it’s not for you, don’t look.”
The last line of that quote is where I find myself as well. Totally fine if you’re not into the public display of your body, but don’t shame someone else for taking care of their child.
I’ll admit, I was pretty nervous to tackle this post. What would I do for the photos? What side was I going to take? But I think it’s more important to form an opinion on something that directly affects me—and, you know, a whole gender—rather than to remain silent and unsure.
When/if the time comes for me to breastfeed my child, you can sure as hell bet I will have perfected my mean mug for anyone who tries to give me the stink eye.
If you’re still feeling weird about nipples by this point, I get it. Boobs have been through the ringer when it comes to display and attention in the media and I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind overnight. It’s not your fault that female breasts have been hypersexualized in nearly every industry for our entire lives (ugh, that Carl’s Jr. commercial immediately comes to mind).
But I believe that social media is the best way for us to have an open, honest conversation about the strategies for changing how breasts are seen in our society. Finding new hashtags to add to your semi-nude selfie, creating art that celebrates all types of breasts, and supporting/not being a dick to women who choose to go topless online is a great start.
It’s not just the hypersexualization or mom-shaming we need to change. Consider the horrific imagery we witnessed on cable news last Saturday. White supremacists inciting violence and racism in Charlottesville, VA resulted in a fatal act of terror upon counter-protesters. All of this was shown in broad daylight on the cable news networks. Why is there so little censorship of violence on television?
When did a nipple become more offensive than a deadly riot?
I don’t have the answers to this. I only want to start a dialogue that challenges your assumptions about women’s bodies. Because when it comes down to it, this isn’t a fight for showing a square inch of skin. It’s the fight for freedom of expression and equality under the law.
And now, I want to hear from you. Do you still vehemently hate female nipples? Did any of this change your mind? Let me know what you think in the comments below!