Nipples are a weapon in the fight against Instagram inequality

Nipples are a weapon in the fight against Instagram inequality

CultureDecember 29, 2016 By Lindsey Kline

Right now, you have two perky pink examples of gender inequality attached to your chest.

If you’re a woman, you hide your little areolas and any evidence of their existence behind the prison of a bra. If you’re a man, your nipples are a spectacle, free for the public’s viewing pleasure.

This inequality is pervasive not only in our social norms, but also in our social media. On Instagram and Facebook in particular, female nudity is aggressively censored. Photos of women’s nude bodies are banned, while men’s butts, nipples, and sacks abound.

Now, the stigma against women’s bodies is finally facing opposition in a nipple-fueled uprising. Using Instagram as their platform, men and women are sharing gender-ambiguous photos of their nipples to protest the double standard that allows images of men’s nipples, but blocks any images of women’s.

One such soldier in this war is Instagram account “Genderless Nipples,” which has gained a generous following for it's fight against gender-specific censorship. The account publishes user-submitted photos of both male and female nipples that are too close-up to discern whether the nipple belongs to a man or a woman, highlighting that it shouldn’t matter where the nip came from; a nipple is a nipple, and all nipples should be treated equally.

Photo: Genderless Nipples

Before Genderless Nipples began garnering attention, another campaign fought the stigma by providing a male nipple “template” that women could paste onto their topless photos. The artist who began the movement mocked that his male nipple template would make photos of women’s breasts less offensive. The feminist internet immediately embraced the experiment, and women posted copious pics of their Photoshopped boobs.

Both new accounts are offshoots of the original nipple equality campaign, #freethenipple. Founded in 2012, the Free the Nipple movement aims to destigmatize the female body and eliminate social injustices. However, while its mission statement is to raise awareness and affect change, no known social media policies have been altered as a result of the Free the Nipple campaign. This lack of progress may be explained by a lack of meaningful resistance, as the campaign operates from within Instagram, protesting the app’s policies while simultaneously working well within its parameters. Their Instagram account calls for women to post topless photos, despite knowing that any imagery of women’s nipples would be immediately deleted by moderators. A little ineffective, some would say.

However, judging from the commentary on these teat-themed accounts, Instagram users themselves seem more than ready to move past nipple inequality. Users have posted countless comments applauding captions such as, “Breasts don't hurt children, breasts feed children, and it's the sexualization of women's bodies that's actually hurting children the most” on a Genderless Nipples photo, and “Women's bodies are not commodities to be regulated. When did you allow society to trick you into thinking that a woman's chest is inappropriate? You would not be alive if it wasn't for the millions of breasts that have nurtured our nation and world since the beginning of earthly time. What psychological message are you sending to women when you tell them they must cover up who they are? Cease the foolishness!” on a Free the Nipple photo. Although the posts are not without their fair share of misogynistic trolls, the overwhelming support for these photos speaks for our society at large and its eagerness to encourage nipple equality.

Social media platforms are more conservative, though. In recent years, Instagram and Facebook have endured fierce criticism for their severe censorship of the female body. Facebook and Instagram moderators have censored famous works of art, historical images, photos of women’s mammograms, and even a cake that kind of looks like a boob. Only this past year did Instagram begin to allow photos of mothers breastfeeding. However, the update was hardly a victory for Instagram equality, as it only allowed for imagery of a female nipple if an infant’s mouth was attached ... as if to say nipples are only appropriate in a reproductive setting.

Last year, when Instagram faced scrutiny for its aggressive censorship, the company deflected blame onto Apple. Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom claimed that to be available in the Apple store, the app had to designate an age rating of 12+. Systrom explained that if Instagram wanted to allow nudity, Apple’s guidelines would force the app to alter its age rating to 17+. With that sort of age requirement — one that would remove the app from the Apple store — a lot less money would be made. And everyone knows money trumps equality.

However, Systrom's explanation is easily disproved by popular apps like Twitter and Snapchat, both of which enforce no restrictions against nudity and have age ratings of 4+ and 13+, respectively. In a statement to Wired, Instagram claimed to be "deeply invested" in creating a space where people can "express themselves" but said its policies had to be mindful of "different ages, backgrounds and beliefs."

Instagram is not alone in perpetuating stigmas against women’s bodies. The app’s strict censorship of images of the female form is only a reflection of our culture’s social norms. Instagram only serves as a platform for those who hope to overcome the double standard. It allows a pedestal from which we can call for the celebration, rather than the suppression, of women’s bodies; where we can cry out, “All nipples are created equal!”