Women and activists fighting against internet censorship have found a clever new way to expose the double standard of Instagram’s nudity policies: superimpose the innocuous male nipple over those inappropriate female ones. Over the past week, social media users have been adopting the template created by artist Micol Hebron last June. It has been shared by Perez Hilton, Courtney Love and Sarah Silverman, among others:
What, optically, makes the female breast such a prurient thing? Is it the context of a curved, raised lump of flesh that surrounds it? Or is it the appearance of aureola, the part deemed NSFW and photoshopped out by Victoria’s Secret catalogs? Hebron’s male nipple template forces us to examine this absurd question. The answer is, of course, that it has little to do with anatomy and everything to do with culture. Our society has hypersexualized boobs to the point that to show a female breast is to show sex.
So much so that imitations of the nipple get censored, too. On the same weekend as the #malenipple went viral, sexologist and Dr. Jill McDevitt was censored on Instagram for posting a photo of herself in the TaTa Top — a bikini top that depicts a nipple — and a weird thing happened. Not only did Instagram take her photo down (along with the TaTa Top’s reposting of it), but Instagram also temporarily took down the #FreeTheNipple hashtag.
Meanwhile, hashtags for heinous things like #rapeabitch and #suckmydickhoe were totally searchable, and a photo she reported (with permission) of a topless male friend went untouched, McDevitt noted on her blog. All of this lead her to conclude:
Of course this is all about misogyny and the control of women’s bodies. Sex, nudity, and boobs are ALL OVER Instagram, but only so far as those bodies benefit, are overseen by, or are profitable for men or other upholders of patriarchy.
In its policies against nude images, Instagram states:
We know that there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t allow nudity on Instagram. This includes photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks. It also includes some photos of female nipples, but photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed. Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK, too.
(Supermodel Chrissy Tiegen recently challenged the company’s artificial lines-in-the-sand about art when she famously posted a topless photo on Instagram and then re-posted it with a photo filters that effectively turned it into a painting. The posts were removed by Instagram.)
Both Hebron and McDevitt are customers of the TaTa Top, which continues to fight against internet censorship. TaTa Top co-founder Michelle Lytle estimates that since the site launched its Instagram page last June, at least 15 images have been censored. “We aren’t even trying to post photos of female nipples on our account. We’ve never posted a bare female nipple. Ever,” says Lytle. “We are posting photos of a product that features a cartoon representation of a male nipple on a bikini top and that raises money for various charitable organizations. Not once have we violated their terms or community standards.”
But Lytle and other #FreeTheNipple activists are still waiting to be heard. And they may be expanding on their cyber protest: “A couple people have suggested adding a female nipple template for guys to use, or even posting a topless photo of a guy with female nipples photoshopped on,” she said. “Not a female breast…just the nipple, like the male template –obviously you can’t tell a difference between a female nipple or a male nipple. There’s an idea there…just haven’t fleshed it out yet.” And so, thanks to Instagram’s censorship the #FreeTheNipple movement continues.