Monday, January 5, 2015

The Free the Nipple Campaign

by Melissa Scott

Miley Cyrus isn't afraid to show some skin. Now her affinity for nudity supports women’s rights. As an enthusiastic supporter of the Free the Nipple Campaign, Cyrus took to social media to voice opposition to rules against female nudity.

Free the Nipple is an equality movement and mission aiming to raise awareness about nudity around the world. Lately, the movement has stirred support and involvement from a rising number of people and celebrities in the United States, including Liv Tyler, Lena Dunham, Cara Delevingne, and Chelsea Handler. “There’s still so many laws against women’s bodies but barely any against men,” campaign founder Lisa Esco told FOX411 earlier this month.

Standing against censorship, female oppression, and over-sexualization, the Free the Nipple Campaign works to reverse laws against women going topless or breastfeeding in public. The campaign argues, “Today, in the U.S., it is effectively illegal for a woman to be topless, breastfeeding included, in thirty-five states. In less tolerant places like Louisiana, an exposed nipple can take a woman to jail for up to three years and cost nearly three thousand dollars in fines. Even in New York City, which legalized public toplessness in 
1992, the NYPD continues to arrest women.” 

The Free the Nipple film documentary follows a group of topless women activists who protest censorship laws throughout the streets of New York City. The women spread awareness through public feats and graffiti, equipped with First Amendment lawyers. As the campaign affirms, “we’re working to change these inequalities through film, social media, and a grassroots campaign.”

Although Twitter, and at times Facebook, are generally lenient with policies concerning nudity, Instagram remains notoriously anti-nipple. After a few warnings, Instagram has no mercy. The app will deactivate any unruly account, suspending it indefinitely. Rihanna joined the Free the Nipple Campaign last year, following the release of Scout Willis’ article calling for a change to Instagram’s nudity policy. After retweeting Willis’ article, and posting several topless pictures of herself, Rihanna’s Instagram account was deactivated because of the pictures. She recently reactivated her account in October, after what amounted to a five month ban.

Miley Cyrus faces the same fate: she shared her own topless photo on Instagram, black and white, and laying serenely on a pillow. Cyrus haughtily predicted the photo would be taken down in her caption, and also referenced Free the Nipple. Promptly and inevitably removed by Instagram, Cyrus posted more images of her childhood face Photo-shopped onto topless adult women bodies in retaliation. Whether or not her account will be deactivated as punishment, like Rihanna’s, remains to be seen, but Cyrus seems confident in her protests. In an interview with BBC’s Newsbeat, she disputed, “guys get to show their titties on the beach, why can’t we.” She added, “I don't understand the double standard of life.”

The campaign certainly raises important issues of gender equality. I can understand the difficulties that censorship laws place on breastfeeding. Imagining the discomfort of breastfeeding in public, I believe that in cases such as those, going topless is not a choice but a necessity—and should not cause embarrassment to the mother. I realize that women may want to be liberated from that feeling.
Rihanna pic deleted from Instagram

I don’t understand the fight against the sexualization of female breasts. If the goal is to de-sexualize, then posting semi-provocative nude pictures of female celebrities on social media probably isn't the way to go. Each of Rihanna’s pictures included a sexy pose of some kind, and a fierce stare. Cyrus’s comprises of a pillow, sheets, and bed ensemble. I don’t think posting pictures of lying naked in a bed helps defend sexualized associations. Maybe if Cyrus posted topless pictures of herself doing everyday activities like walking her dog, or going for a run, the message would hit closer to home. To me, it seems like the movement only gives Cyrus, and other A-list celebrities, the chance to turn more heads in their direction. Obviously, celebrity nudity gets attention. But should the campaign be using this kind of attention to raise awareness for women’s rights?

I also think there is a time and a place for the “nipple.” I don't think it is appropriate (and generally neither does society) for a man to go topless anytime he wants either. Schools, work settings, restaurants, and most public shops and buildings forbid men to go topless as well. Protesting for a woman’s right to go topless at the beach or pool is another story—but I still can’t see Cyrus’ Instagram display as a valid part of this crusade.
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