We've all got them, usually a pair if not more.

For some reason (although largely unsurprising given the Western approach to nudity) the female nipple has become the hinge-point of a global movement around social media censorship, namely #FreeTheNipple.

Of course, male nipples are allowed to run free on any and every social media platform - however the female nipple is deemed to be in breach of Instagram and Facebook's guidelines on what is offensive. If their nudity policy was applied across the board it might not be so bad, however it seems limited to female breasts and pubic hair - both of which are generally considered rather common, if not the literal norm.

As with most things, celebrities have been at the forefront of not only the censorship but the fight against it. Rihanna's Instagram account was deleted after she posted her bare-breasted cover shot for Lui magazine. The popstar promptly turned up to accept her CFDA award wearing a bejewelled body stocking with her nipples the main feature, and boycotted the platform for months in protest (although came back just in time for Halloween).


The one and only Grace Coddington, fashion editor for American Vogue and industry icon, had her account deleted for a hand-drawn illustration of her younger self sunbathing topless - proving that the offensive breasts in question needn't even be in photographic form, a harmless pen and ink drawing will do.

This hand-drawn illustration of Grace Coddington was banned from Instagram. Photo / lawstreetmedia.com
This hand-drawn illustration of Grace Coddington was banned from Instagram. Photo / lawstreetmedia.com

Photographer Petra Collins had an image pulled from Instagram for the mere presence of pubic hair around a simple pair of briefs - a suppression that seems jarring considering the plethora of men's extended pubic hair on the platform.

Lover of nudity and nipple pasties, Miley Cyrus, is one of the public figures at the forefront of #freethenipple - posting barely covered nudes that taunt the Instagram watchdog.

laser tittys ( . ) ( . )

A photo posted by Miley Cyrus (@mileycyrus) on

Scout Willis (of Bruce and Demi's tribe of girls) went topless around NYC (where bare female breasts are, in fact, legal) posting the images to Twitter (one of the few social media platforms that allows nudity) as a big middle finger to Instagram's policies. Meanwhile, Kiera Knightly posed topless and un-retouched for Interview Magazine to promote the female body in its natural state, devoid of media alteration and Photoshopping, and challenge conventional body standards.

Social media is a hugely important platform for a brand's dialogue with its customer base, allowing for a free and constant link to their audience.

Locally, we see this affecting brands like Lonely Lingerie - impacting their ability to communicate their visual identity and market strategy. Nipple censorship is hugely detrimental to such a positive female brand, who are not only promoting their intimate product line, but also use social media to engage directly with their audience and champion a diverse approach to beauty and the female body - a unique and admirable approach that their audience and sales hinge on.

Sophie in her Ava set for @lonelygirlsproject. Image by @harrywere #LonelyGirls

A photo posted by Lonely™ Lingerie (@lonelylingerie) on

Creatives now find themselves thinking twice about what work they put on Facebook and Instagram, predicting watchdogs will pull down anything deemed offensive. Auckland photographer Harriet Were admits this gives her pause when deciding what to share of her work on social media, and she tries to "ignore all these things and do what I want. But I wouldn't put them up on social media if I knew it was going to be taken down because I just can't be bothered, or I put coloured lines through it". However, she also considers the exposure it gives her subject.

We switched! Me by C on Kawau Island for @lonelygirlsproject @lonelylingerie @carterwere ??

A photo posted by Harriet Were (@harrywere) on

"It does make me think twice, which is weird. But that's only if it is a photo I have taken. I'm pretty sensitive to how the girl or person would feel with their photo up there, especially if the girl is young. I don't want to upset anyone."


Carter as Carter ?? @carterwere

A photo posted by Harriet Were (@harrywere) on

Artist and social commentator Pebbles Hooper has had illustrations removed from Instagram due to their depiction of female breasts, and has started using strategically placed emojis to combat the problem; not only are real nipples censored now, artistic depictions too.

Because instagram will take down the last picture - here it is censored #pebblesart

A photo posted by P E B B L E S A R T // (@pebblesart) on

This re-contextualisation of nudity aligns art and pornography under one umbrella in the eyes of social media platforms and, as Were puts it, shows so clearly how "software isn't yet able to account for blurred lines or grey areas, and is really so crude".

There's an unsettling double standard with the alignment of bare breasts and the female nude with pornography and the male gaze when it comes to social media.

Were questions why Instagram has no problem with "girls wearing g-strings or tiny tops... They are terribly sexual and how come that's okay?... A tasteful nude is not okay, or a shot with a girl who happens to be topless is not okay, but twerking shot in a g-string is? Or a close up of breasts with a tiny bikini covering. How does that work?"

Likewise sexualised, near-naked images of males seem to fly easily past the all-seeing eyes of social media, yet the nude female form is seen as offensive.

Deeming a body part censored (for one gender specifically) immediately presents it as taboo, fueling the sexualisation of the female form and shame around the female body in its natural state. Hooper suggests it hinges on the long-standing tradition of "slut shaming", something that social media has only proven to fuel (read any celebrity's comment thread if you wish to be reminded).


This suppression serves to further sexualise the female nipple - admittedly a key part of the imagery around the male gaze and female body - also performs many other functional bodily duties not to mention being part of a woman as a whole.

Censoring breasts censors the support and empowerment of women - from breastfeeding mothers to victims of breast cancer, both causes that fight for visibility and agency.

As Were so eloquently puts it, "Who cares about some breasts? We all have them and we might not some day. Life's too short for these issues, in my eyes any way. Women and the whole women is so beautiful, breasts or none."

Fighting social media censorship and "Freeing The Nipple" comes under a greater movement to reclaim the female body. Everyone should have the right to present their body on their terms. Woman can be sexual but they can also be mothers, daughters and sisters - all of which can exist at once, alongside however else they wish to present themselves to the world. At the end of the day, it's just a nipple or two. Let them be free.

Author, Emma Gleason, stands by her word.

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The female nipple has become the hinge-point of a global movement around social media censorship. Emma Gleason explains #FreeTheNipple.

Posted by Herald Life on Thursday, April 9, 2015