Free the Nipple, a very controversial feminist movement
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Free the Nipple, a very controversial feminist movement

Advocating for women's freedom, the "Free the Nipple" movement was born in 2012 during the pre-production of the eponymous film. This American full-length film is actually the starting point for a campaign that will highlight the inequality of the legislation on torso nudity. While men can undress freely, it's much more controversial for women. Distributed through the media and social networks, the feminist cause of Free the Nipple will quickly spread across the globe and will have powerful political and social repercussions.

We’re going to look at this movement in more depth, because at Sisters Republic, we also have our opinions about femininity, feminism and freedom of expression in all its forms. Period underwear is an accessory that helps promote women's freedom and the liberation from the taboos around our periods.


A feminist campaign based on a legal vacuum

Long before the release of the film "Free the Nipple", many feminist organizations pointed out the discriminations around women's bodies. This is generally linked to established cultural norms that systematically sexualize the female body. In the majority of countries, men are not bothered if they walk around bare-chested. However, this tolerance is almost non-existent for the female sex.

This is what director Lina Esco decided to focus her documentary ‘Free the Nipple’ on. The film was released in 2014, but it took over two years of research to get out. Luckily, from there it was promoted by social networks, organizations fighting for women's rights and many celebrities, helping boost the movement’s visibility.


The worldwide rise of the Free the Nipple movement

A global protest

With the rise of feminist commitment and the release of the film, many demonstrations have sprung up around the world. In Iceland, a young girl stripped naked on Twitter, which generated a wave of sexist protests. In England, more than 200 women and men marched shirtless on a beach. In the United States, topless activists were arrested for indecent exposure during the campaign of Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders. Pieces of tape were covering their nipples in protest. They were eventually released, but one of them filed a complaint. These women claimed that their constitutional rights had been violated and that breasts are not sexual organs because they are intended for breastfeeding. In France, the breastfeeding awareness campaign COPAM (Coordination Française pour l'Allaitement Maternel) has been campaigning for a long time for mothers to be able to feed their children naturally in public.


The ambiguity of social media

On social media, the controversy has created a tidal wave of controversial images and censorship. As early as 2013, Facebook removed promotional clips of the film ‘Free the Nipple’ citing that they were contrary to its rules. When celebrities shared the movement by posting nude photos, social networks had to position themselves more clearly. Each platform has its own policy towards nudity. Facebook allowed it, for example, in the case of breastfeeding or prevention of breast cancer, whereas Instagram was formally opposed. Rihanna's account was deleted on those grounds following the publication of photos revealing her breasts under a transparent outfit. Since then, dedicated social accounts have been created to support the movement, although controversy is still rife. Recently, Facebook and Instagram censored a woman who had posted a photo in which she was breastfeeding her baby.


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A legal blur on nudity

Some countries such as Italy, New Zealand, Greece or Spain allow women to be topless. On the other end of the scale, the American states of Indiana, Tennessee and Utah explicitly forbid it. Elsewhere, there is often a legal vacuum, which activists exploit. On social media, networks specify the nature of the nude images they will accept. The different example of nudity are numerous and complex:

  • breastfeeding
  • birth and post-birth
  • breast cancer prevention
  • post-mastectomy
  • gender transition surgery
  • sexual nudity
  • non-sexual nudity
  • protest nudity
  • artistic nudity

Since the laws are not always clear, arrests related to nudity are quite common. In countries where men can be topless, why should women be denied equal rights? Often, the issue stems from what is socially accepted, and not necessarily from the law. For example, toplessness has been allowed in New York since the 90s, but this does not prevent arrests for public order or exhibitionism. The feminist demonstrations related to the Free the Nipple movement have lifted the veil on a societal taboo and the absence of official legislation surrounding the subject.


A large-scale media coverage

The full-length film ‘Free the Nipple’, by Lina Esco, features a group of young women who protest in the streets of New York against cultural taboos. They open the debate on the representation of women in advertising and on the sexualization of the female body.  The film was the official starting point for this topical social movement, but social media took it to new heights. In an episode of the American series ‘The Bold Type’, the protagonist participates in the feminist campaign on social media. She posts photographs of women with male nipples, advocating gender equality.

A multitude of stars also supported the Free the Nipple movement. These include:

  • model Cara Delevingne
  • singer Miley Cyrus
  • actress Chelsea Handler
  • singer Soko
  • Demi Moore and Bruce Willis' two daughters, Scout Larue Willis and Rumer Glenn Willis
  • singer Rihanna
  • model Chrissy Teigen
  • screenwriter Lena Dunham
  • and the actress Jennifer Aniston.

Sometimes confused with the Femen movement which uses  images of breasts as a means of expression, Free the Nipple has nevertheless received massive media coverage. This craze has, of course, been boosted thanks to the visibility from public demonstrations and support from stars, but also from the legal cases and censures that have made the headlines. To date, the debate is far from over…


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