What You Need to Know About the Great Nipple Equality Debate

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Since the advent of social media platforms like Instagram, individuals and artists alike have been fighting for nipple equality both on these platforms and IRL. BAWDY is happy to stand on the side of nipple equality with our new Nipple & Areola Stick by providing clean, natural skincare for, and bringing attention to a unique, beautiful, and deserving body part.

What is the ‘Free the Nipple’ Movement?

The objective of the #FreeTheNipple movement is to strip away the taboo of exposed female nipples. It calls for equality in who can display their nipples, how the nipple can be shown across social media, and even addresses the acceptance - or lack thereof, rather - of the natural and beautiful act of breastfeeding.

Filmmaker Lina Esco created the #FreeTheNipple hashtag in 2012 to accompany teasers for her film of the same name.  The teasers, which showed women exercising their right to appear topless in public in New York City, were removed from a prominent social media platform for violating their guidelines. Shortly thereafter, numerous celebrities including Miley Cyrus, Chrissy Teigan, and Lena Dunham got behind the hashtag and Esco’s initiative, transforming the concept into a global movement. 

Wait, Going Topless is Legal?

While it’s not illegal for women to go topless in a majority of the United States, they are often villainized, harassed, and arrested for doing so. Additionally, some cities within boob-friendly states have passed ordinances banning the act.  Further, it was only two years ago that all 50 United States got on board with legally allowing women to engage in the natural, necessary, and beautiful act of breastfeeding in public - oof.

In addition to her support for #FreeTheNipple, Chrissy Teigan has been vocal about the right for mothers to breastfeed their children in public, as lactation should not be taboo. Hormonal changes in pregnant women cause milk ducts to fill with breast milk, and lactating moms have to either breastfeed their children or break out the breast pump. It's bad enough dealing with sore nipples and cracked nipples—new moms shouldn't have to deal with unfair areolar standards while taking care of their children. Yes, nipple stimulation, breast stimulation, and nipple play can be used during sexual activity due to nipples' concentration of nerve endings, but there's more to them than sexual arousal. Nipples can even help in healthcare, showing early signs of Paget's Disease or breast cancer.

Men, on the other hand, have had the right to display their nipples since the 1900s. It only took four dudes protesting a $1 fine they received at New York’s Coney Island beach to change the law, allowing men to walk around shirtless.

Why Does it Matter?

The big issue at hand here is gender equality. Nipples, while unique in that they can be big or little, smooth or bumpy, light or dark, inverted or protruding - they are not uniquely male or female, yet the guidelines and policies are. The Instagram account @genderless_nipples was created to demonstrate just how silly these policies are. The account posts close-up photos of nipples and asks followers to identify whether the nipple is male or female - as expected, it is impossible. Even though women's nipples have Montgomery Glands, mammary glands, and milk lines beneath the surface, there's no visual distinction between a female nipple and a male nipple. 

Artists continue to lobby for women’s nipples to receive the same treatment as men’s across social media so they can adequately promote their work. Men’s nipples, no matter the form, are unequivocally allowed. Meanwhile, these platforms allow illustrated or sculptured pieces depicting women’s nipples to be shown but actual female nipples are required to be censored, oftentimes with emojis, pixelation, or intrusive black censorship bars.

Naturally, this then leads to the discussion of context. By these standards, a woman in a sexualized setting would be allowed as long as her nipple is covered. However, an uncensored image of a topless woman doing yoga would be taken down. 

How You Can Help

Lend your voice to the movement by getting involved on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Be supportive of those who choose to exercise their right to go topless. Put your perspective in check by quelling the sexualization of women’s breasts. Like Miley Cyrus proclaimed, “It’s not about getting your titties out, it’s about equality.” So, let’s LOVE the nipple, let’s CELEBRATE the nipple, and let’s FREE THE NIPPLE!