#freethenipple or #hidethenipple?

With a recent wave of activity in Iceland, #freethenipple is a vital movement with a powerful message. But what are the reasons we might want to cover up?

by Courtney DeWitt and Courtney Iseman
03 April 2015, 9:30pm

Last week, the #freethenipple movement skyrocketed in virality again when Icelandic student Adda Þóreyjardóttir Smáradóttir posted a photo of herself, nipples exposed, to promote sexual equality. Not shockingly, the internet trolls came out from under their bridges, but supporters of the movement have stayed strong.

As you're undoubtedly well aware by now, #freethenipple started with Lina Esco's film by the same name and took off with celebrities like Scout Willis, Cara Delevingne, and most recently, Madonna, protesting Instagram's double standard of removing images of women's nipples but not men's. With that star power and the attention-grabbing nature of this endeavor, the movement's become quite the trend. Which makes this next thought all the less trendy: maybe we slow our roll with freeing the nipple.

#freethenipple raises awareness about vitally important issues that only the worst trolls could disagree with. It's safe to assume that most of us believe new mothers should be able to breastfeed in parks, and post images of their newborns breastfeeding on social media. And, we evolved people agree that women should have ownership over their bodies - men don't have the right to decide how and when it's to be sexualized. The movement has also opened up healthy dialogue around equality - men protested for and won the right to be publicly shirtless in the 1930s, but women weren't included in that victory.

But when it comes to freeing or hiding the nipple, how can it be so black and white? Isn't this more of a grey area? Women should not feel shame or censorship around their bodies. But we would all be pretty shocked if our co-worker or child's teacher showed up topless one morning.

With its steam-gathering trendiness, #freethenipple oversimplifies the issue. There are a lot of questions to figure out before deciding how nipples play into feminism and if their role should even be so monumental. There's got to be a middle ground, where we can keep #freethenipple's message as well as our shirts. There are flaws in this movement, and some points to keep in mind:

It's all about the context.
In the argument for public toplessness,people continually call upon the "once ankles were shocking, too!" argument. Sure, but that's ignoring that in many cultures, they weren't, and neither were breasts, which is still true. Women go topless in many African tribes, and used to in the Indian royal family. It's not a matter of warming the world up to exposed body parts, one at a time. What's considered the norm varies culturally and contextually.

We have to draw the line somewhere.
Is it fair that a man's chest isn't sexualized or considered taboo the way a woman's is? Is it fair that a man's bare chest is cool on Instagram while a woman's gets deleted? Hell, no. But it's not as easy as saying "Okay, all boobs are okay now!" There's way more murkiness here to wade through to define what we want on Instagram (which children have access to) and what we don't. If nipples are accepted, then how do we determine what kind of nipples shouldn't be, what kind is pornographic? Google uses an algorithm to separate medical or artistic imagery from porny content when you search, so the only option would be for Instagram to implement something similar. Really, Instagram's standards probably need to be revisited all together to define a perception of the female gender that's adapted to our social media-focused world. Petra Collins's account was deleted because of her post of her unshaven bikini line, which begged the question of what Instagram deems offensive about the female body. There needs to be a line somewhere, but that line's positioning needs to be adjusted.

We're not all Cara Delevingne, Rihanna or Miley Cyrus.
Here's an arguably painful dose of reality: we're not all pop stars or models, we're not all "conventionally" attractive, we don't all have "conventionally" perfect bodies. The women leading this charge are more often than not white, young and thin - oh, and frequently mega-famous, too. The latest Insta-crusader is Madonna. Isn't a bit easier for women constantly heralded for their sex appeal, who are used to baring it all in photo shoots or daring tour costumes, to take up this cause? How relatable does that make it for all women everywhere? A Bustle essay on this points out that #freethenipple may have actually created a new, "impossible beauty standard." So it's feminism for the beautiful people? A feminist movement should be something that embraces everyone and that everyone is comfortable with. As the Bustle story also notes, "the unconscious ignorance of diversity is one that we cannot allow within any feminist movement in 2015…freeing nipples and only representing nipples that adhere to patriarchal standards of beauty is pointless."

Um, weather. Also, clothes are pretty.
This is just the most basic, elementary point, but really, covering up at its most instinctive core is about it being comfortable, or protective against the elements. A lot of women have larger busts that would cause back pain without a supportive bra. A lot of us like clothes, too. While we want the same rights as men to be publicly shirtless, it's not like Western-world men are usually exercising that right unless they're doing mid-summer manual labor. Restaurants, bars and stores usually reserve services for those that are shirted, male or female. A guy probably wouldn't feel at ease dining shirtless, so why would a woman?


Text Courtney Iseman

Free the Nipple
hide the nipple