Free the Nipple is an equality movement focused upon the double standards regarding the censorship of female breasts started by activist and filmmaker Lina Esco. The campaign is not a crusade that exclusively advocates for women to bare their chests at any and all given times; rather, it seeks to strip society of its tendencies toward the sexualization of the female upper body, addressing hypocrisies and inconsistencies in American culture and legal systems that enforce its taboos. Ultimately, the campaign resolves to decriminalize female toplessness in the US and empower women across western nations in a greater effort toward global gender equality.
At the turn of the 20th century, all bared nipples—including males’—were a violation of public nudity laws in the US. In fact, the human areola was viewed as being extraordinarily crude (“immoral and evil”) for both men and women throughout this time. In the early 1930s, however, a group of four men began initial protests for their right to wear shirtless swim trunks. The men, who wandered about the hot beaches of Coney Island completely topless, were subsequently arrested. This motion gave rise to later events in 1935 in which 42 men flaunted their bare chests on an Atlantic City beach and were consequently apprehended en masse. Come 1936, the state of New York lifted the ban on male toplessness, deeming men’s nipples “commonplace and natural.” This development paved the way for a 1986 boycott by seven topless women in Rochester, NY, whose case was taken to the New York Supreme Court and resulted in the 1992 ruling that all people, male or female, have the right to go topless in New York.
Despite changes in statutes and regulations legalizing toplessness for women in a number of states, women are still at risk for being charged with public indecency, disturbing the peace, or lewd behavior. As a case in point, a Phoenix Feeley was arrested and incarcerated for being a topless in the state of New York in the year 2005. Because these charges were proven erroneous—considering female toplessness had been legal for nearly 15 years in the state of New York—Feeley was released and later received $29,000 in damages.
A reflection of American culture, Internet culture too perpetuates and enforces taboos surrounding the female nipple as many social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram prohibit any and all “graphic content” that pictures a woman’s areola. Instagram’s Community Guideline’s demands of its users, “Keep your clothes on.” However, this rule seems only to apply to images that contain women’s nipples as they are promptly removed by Instagram unless the areola itself is covered. Contrastingly, photos featuring topless men are generally not subject to this regulation. Chelsea Handler, Miley Cyrus, Rihanna and Scout Willis have each received backlash from Instagram for sharing photos of their chests exposed. Willow Smith also had a post removed because it pictured her wearing a shirt with a pair of women’s nipples printed on it, though the shirt itself was fairly conservative in cut
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