The Tussle of the Teat: Instagram versus the Nipple


Look, Instagram has good intentions, probably.

Their strict no-nudity clause, most likely created to protect the young and very modest (and the young and very reckless, no doubt), is rare in a digital landscape that has no qualms whatsoever about depicting and even encouraging, in some cases, nudity. The problem with Instagram’s strict nudity clause is that it isn’t nuanced enough: it basically hates on body parts, like the nipple in what seems like every single context,  fails to consider sexual, or other “explicit” inappropriate situations, in general.

The inadvertent message that Instagram is sending out is that fine art and breastfeeding are pornographic and in poor taste, while actual sex is fine as long as it consists of butt shots minus genitals, and as long as any body parts like breasts featured in the shot are black-barred or covered with cute stars or something. Sigh. Let’s just say the system isn’t perfect.

System-flagging and account suspension over small violations and infractions are rampant, but we tend to notice when it’s someone like, you know, the goddess herself @badgalriri who suddenly disappears from the site. Rihanna seems to be naked a lot, which I don’t think anyone minds (do you, boo!), but Instagram apparently did. She posted a photo of herself on a magazine cover that slipped some nip, they got into a disagreement about it, she bailed, and that was the end of RiRi in the feed of a whopping 12 million followers. Which seems like a shame, since it wasn’t even a personal picture snapped on the fly, but promotion of her magazine cover.

Not one to play shrinking violet, Rihanna has just amped up her Twitter usage, because apparently they love naked stuff over there. And then this week at the CFDA Fashion awards, where she was being honored by the Council of Fashion Designers of America with the Fashion Icon award, Rihanna naturally hit the red carpet in the sheerest of sparkly dresses. Forget the 200,000 Swarovski crystals studding the flapper-inspired affair; her nipples shone brighter than any diamond and she was fine with that. In fact, that was probably the point.

Rihanna is not the only celebrity who’s battled Instagram over the nipple and nor is she the only to make a big statement about it. Scout Willis was recently kicked off the ‘gram for having a photo in a sheer top and another with a jacket that has naked girls on it. To protest the decision, she decided to walk around New York topless, do some normal stuff like buy vegetables, and get photographed  doing it. Because you know what… nipples are legal in New York.

Men’s chests can be erotic too but you don’t see anyone worried about their nipples.

The heart of the issue here seems to be around the fact that women’s nipples get automatically sexualized, even when they are not being presented or used in a sexual manner what so ever. Just because they’re on boobs. Men’s chests can be erotic too but you don’t see anyone worried about their nipples. In the book of society policing the bodies of women, this debacle with Instagram getting its filters in a bunch over nip-slips might seem like a paragraph, maybe even just a sentence, when you compare it to issues like the passing of laws circumscribing the access of sexual resources for women in the United States. So why the fuss?

Because it’s important to remember that social media and digital communities are exerting an increasingly greater influence in the ways society consumes and approaches issues like sex and politics. How many times have you first heard breaking news from Twitter, or tagged your friend in a picture on one of the IG accounts you follow? So making the statement, however indirectly, that women’s bodies on their own are inherently pornographic and thus taboo, but women’s bodies engaged in sexual acts are acceptable, is bound to get through to Instagram users. Is that the kind of message that Instagram wants it community to take away from its experience?

Hey, IG: How about instead of revamping the user interface or rolling out different filters, you dedicate some time and resources to learning the difference between the human body and its parts and actual porn?

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