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Should Instagram Free the Nipple?

Some of you reading this blog, may not be aware of the rules that forbid the exposure of the female nipple on our much-loved social platforms. In short, posts of women with their nipples exposed are prohibited on Facebook and Instagram. Posts that show the bare breast are permitted if the nipple is covered, however, posts of males with their nipples on show are allowed. (Basically, male nipple fine, female nipple not fine). 

May 2nd, 2022 |Lifestyle

Free the Nipple

If you’ve ever had a post removed on social media, it is likely that it goes against the platform’s community guidelines. The removal of posts is out of our hands and can sometimes be confusing as to what rules were broken in the first place. Many people argue that some of these social media rules and regulations are sexist as they target women only and need updating! 

Here at MYA, we have found creative ways to display the female breast without our content being removed, but it’s hard work. In order to share our amazing breast surgery before and after results, we have to cover nipples with an emoji, white circle or pixelation.  We obviously don’t want to be doing this, we want to celebrate womanhood and showcase nipples in all their glory. It’s also frustrating that we have to cover nipples when we want to show the scarring after an uplift or reduction. 

What Instagram has to say about female nipples 

Instagram’s community guidelines state that they “do not allow ‘nudity’ such as photos, videos, or digital-created content that show female nipples.” However, they state that “photos in the context of breastfeeding, birth giving and after-birth moments, health-related situations (for example, post-mastectomy, breast cancer awareness or gender confirmation surgery) or an act of protest are allowed.” 

However, the guidelines set by these social media platforms are somewhat of a grey area. Many people and businesses have reported posts being removed or accounts blocked even when they’re clearly meeting the criteria.  

In 2021, Tommee Tippee, the popular baby bottle brand, launched an important advert that showcased the realities of breastfeeding. The ad creatively celebrates the beautiful and the not-so-glamourous moments that breastfeeding mothers go through. The ad was then blocked by Facebook, due to it ‘not meeting their advertising regulations and showing nudity’. This is a prime example of when social media platforms go against their own guidelines and when regulations get in the way of an important cause.  

It's worth noting that different social media platforms have different rules. Twitter, for example, allow female nipples to be shown and state that “they don't prohibit nudity but ask that users who post ‘sensitive content’ mark their accounts appropriately.”  

Why are people offended by the female nipple? 

When looking at Instagram and Facebook’s strict guidelines, we must question why the female nipple is deemed offensive? Or, who in society finds it offensive? 

The male and female nipple look very similar and share the same anatomy, both have a circular areola that is pink or darker in skin tone and both males and females have nipples that protrude outwards. Everyone’s areolas are unique in shape, size and colour and some people may even have inverted nipples. So, if they look the same, why should there be an issue with one but not the other?  

Some people agree it’s ok to show a female nipple in a breastfeeding or medical context as the nipple is being shown in a functional way, but they wouldn’t feel comfortable in other situations as nipples are then sexualised. Why? Because we’ve been taught to think in this way for years  and it’s been imprinted in our brains. 

Have female nipples been sexualised? 

Female nipples are rarely shown outside of a sexual context in mainstream media – think Page 3 and Playboy. This is a reinforcing narrative that breasts = sex, rather than a functional part of the anatomy for 50% of the population. You wouldn’t see a casual female breast on Eastenders, for example, and although this is due in part to censorship restrictions, these primarily exist because there is a social perception that female breasts and nipples are sexualised. It's a catch 22 and a difficult cycle to get out of. 

If we remove the sexualised labelling from the female body and society starts looking at breasts, nipples and genitalia as anatomy, would there be a need to censor these images in the first place?  

Should social media free the nipple? 

People are putting pressure on these social platforms to make a change. The campaign #FreeTheNipple is largely celebrated by women around the world; artists, activists, and celebrities alike are urging the social media world to stop removing posts of the female nipple and change their guidelines. The hashtag has over 4 million posts on Instagram and the campaign is fighting for female nipples to be treated equally.  

As the world is trying consciously to be more inclusive and celebrate all body types, here at MYA we feel it’s important to change the perception of society and the patriarchal beliefs that have been forced upon us.  

What the MYA Community are saying  

We put the debate to our MYA Community, posting a poll on Instagram to see how our community felt about the issue. As we expected, 85% of our followers believe we should free the nipple and only 15% feel they should remain covered online.  

We wanted to hear your thoughts, so we opened up the conversation on Instagram and some members of our MYA community had some really interesting points to make! 

@tanyabuxton commented saying: I’m fully behind this, I started my own campaign as a result of social media censoring my images of nipple tattoos I have carried out on breast cancer survivors after their mastectomy surgeries - but it quickly became about so much more! I’m so sick of the media shaming and censoring women’s bodies #celebratednotcensored 

@abbs_thompson said: I honestly don’t see the point in having to cover the nipple when the majority of the breast isn’t. We all know what’s under there. Stop sexualising women. #freethenipple 

@juststeph91 said: I got banned off TikTok for doing a breastfeeding video! Which I was quite proud of considering I’ve had a BA!! 100% free the nipple!!!!! 

@arosebynoname commented saying: Perhaps if all ‘nipples were free’ and all forms of the human anatomy were shown more often in non-sexualised circumstances it would remove the labelling unconsciously associated with it. We are so used to seeing the bare female, or male form for that matter, sexualised that we cannot un-see it anymore and even something as pure and natural as breastfeeding is seen as explicit. When in fact the female nipple design is functional first above all else. We need to see boobs and bums in a non-sexualised way to get past the fact that MEN have made them sexual to sell products or covert envy from other men.  We need to understand that all bodies are normal and can be sexual but are not solely for sexual purpose. Our bodies are designed to keep us alive first and foremost.  

Our Final Thoughts 

It’s an interesting concept: a world where female breasts and nipples aren’t sexualised. Could it happen? We’re living through a period of progressive social change and so much has evolved in our society over the past few years. Would it be possible for our collective perceptions to change and for female breasts to become more accepted? We at MYA certainly hope so. We’re going to continue fighting the fight and we hope you join us on our journey. 

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter so please leave a comment on our Instagram by clicking this link

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