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12th Jul 2022

Florence Pugh is right – it’s time to free the nipple

Social media’s censorship of female nipples reinforces the idea that they are inherently sexual.

Over the weekend, actress Florence Pugh shared photos of herself wearing a see-through pink Valentino gown to the designer’s Haute Couture show in Rome.

Given the dress’ sheer material, the actress’ nipples are visible in the photo, and in her caption, she gently referenced Instagram’s strict policy regarding female nipples.

“Technically they’re covered?” she wrote.

While the look was met with praise from fans, Florence herself later issued a subsequent post, outlining how she received derogatory comments about her body from online trolls.

“What’s been interesting to watch and witness is just how easy it is for men to totally destroy a woman’s body, publicly, proudly, for everyone to see,” she wrote. “You even do it with your job titles and work emails in your bio?”

Florence highlighted how much of the body-shaming she received was in relation to her breasts.

“So many of you wanted to aggressively let me know how disappointed you were by my ‘tiny tits’ or how I should be embarrassed by being so ‘flat-chested’. I’ve lived in my body for a long time. I’m fully aware of my breast size and am not scared of it.”

In her response, she pointed to society’s tendency to sexualise female breasts.

“Why are you so scared of breasts?” she wrote. “Small? Large? Left? Right? Only one? What. Is. So. Terrifying.”

Indeed, uncovered female nipples have long been a source of contention on Instagram. The social media platform forbids women from sharing images of their nipples apart from in a number of limited circumstances, though men face no such regulation.

According to Instagram’s Community Guidelines, some images of uncovered female nipples are classed as nudity, though they do make exceptions in a number of circumstances, such as in the context of breastfeeding, birth giving, after-birth moments, in health related situations such as breast cancer awareness, or, ironically enough, as an act of protest.

In outlining these rules, the social media platform acknowledges how female nipples are multi-faceted. They recognise that female nipples play a role in feeding babies. They understand that showing female nipples may help others recognise the signs of breast cancer. By their own admission, they recognise that female nipples are not inherently sexual, though they stop short of removing the ban entirely. Instead, they uphold the double-standard that fetishises female nipples, while men are free to share nipple pictures to their heart’s content.

In this day and age, a woman sharing photos of her nipples shouldn’t be controversial, but given the reaction to Florence Pugh’s outfit, it appears we still have far to go in removing that shock value and stigma.

Social media’s censorship of female nipples reinforces the idea that they are inherently sexual or inappropriate, and as long as this continues, so will its side effects – body-shaming, slut-shaming and needless fetishisation.