Free the nipple

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A campaign participant at the World Naked Bike Ride in London, June 2015. Her nipples are covered with adhesive tape crosses and "Free the Nipple" is written on her torso.

Free the Nipple is a topfreedom campaign created in 2012 during pre-production of a 2014 film of the same name.[1][2] The campaign highlights the general convention of allowing men to appear topless in public while considering it sexual or indecent for women to do the same and asserts that this difference is an unjust treatment of women. The campaign argues that it should be legally and culturally acceptable for women to bare their nipples in public.[3]


In 2012, filmmaker Lina Esco started this campaign in New York City. She created a documentary of herself running through the streets of New York topless. As the documentary was being made, she posted teaser clips with the hashtag #FreeTheNipple. In 2013, Facebook removed these clips from its website for violating its guidelines. In 2014, several celebrities such as Miley Cyrus, Lena Dunham, Chelsea Handler, Rihanna and Chrissy Teigen posted photos on social media to show their support of Esco's initiative.[4]

Two protesters, Tiernan Hebron and UCSD graduate student Anni Ma[5][6] were arrested for indecent exposure outside of a campaign appearance for Senator Bernie Sanders on March 23, 2016. They appeared topless except for pieces of tape over their nipples, and had the words "Free the Nipple", "Equality", and "Feel the Bern" written on their chests. Los Angeles Police officers asked them to cover their breasts, and the two women refused and were arrested. They were held for 25 hours in jail but were not charged with any crime. After being released, Ma filed a federal lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department. Ma said that her action was not lewd because mammary glands are not sexual organs, but rather have the purpose of breastfeeding children, and said she believed she did not at any point show her "genitals" or "private parts". Her attorney claims she was never "nude" and that California's indecent exposure law applies only to genitals, not breasts. Her lawsuit also alleged that her constitutional rights had been violated, that she had been subject to unlawful gender discrimination, and that federal civil rights laws had been violated.[7] She was topless at a Bernie Sanders campaign rally, March 19, 2016, in Phoenix, Arizona, and she was led to the back of the venue without incident.[8] On 23 January 2016, Anni Ma, as a FEMEN activist, Carly Mitchell, Chelsea Ducote and Marston protested at a "Walk For Life" event at the San Francisco City Hall and the Civic Center.[9][6]

Historically, women have sometimes been arrested or charged with public indecency, disturbing the peace, or lewd behavior for baring their breasts in public, even in jurisdictions where there was no law explicitly prohibiting doing so.[10] In New York state, female toplessness was made legal around 1990, and when a woman was arrested there in 2005 for appearing topless in public, a court ruled in her favor and she later received US$29,000 in damages.[11]

In 2015, the campaign received attention in Iceland after a teenage student activist posted a photo of herself topless and was harassed for doing so. In support of the student and the initiative, Björt Ólafsdóttir, a Member of Parliament, posted a topless photo of herself in solidarity.[12]

Free the Nipple protest at the 2017 Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Free the Nipple events were held in Brighton, England, in 2016,[13] 2017[13][14][15] and 2018.[16] The Free the Nipple Brighton group[17] is headed up by Bee Nicholls and Mickey F, both of Brighton.[18]

In 2017 a Free The Nipple event was held in Hull, England, on the day also celebrated as Women's Equality Day and Go Topless Day, the anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920 which gave US women the right to vote.[19]

There was also a Free the Nipple event in 2017, held in Charleston, West Virginia.[20]

Court cases[edit]

Various court cases in the United States have involved the question of whether women may publicly expose female breasts. Two examples are Erie v. Pap's A.[21] and Barnes v. Glen Theatre.[22] These involved ordinances that placed restrictions on how women were legally permitted to appear in public, focusing on banning any public exposure of the female breasts. A lawsuit was filed as Free the Nipple v. City of Fort Collins,[23] which was an attempt to remove the provision in the municipal code of Fort Collins, Colorado, that prohibits women from revealing their breasts. The federal lawsuit was won at the appellate level. In September 2019, after spending over $300,000, Fort Collins decided to stop defending their ordinance and repeal it. That effectively gave women of all ages the right to go topless wherever men can in the jurisdiction of the 10th Circuit (the states of Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas and Oklahoma, including all their cities).[24]

There are two U.S. states where the mere showing of women's breasts is illegal: Indiana[25] and Tennessee.[26]

Social media campaign[edit]

Every major social media platform has its own guidelines and policy regarding nudity and revealing nipples. Facebook only allows photos of nipples to be posted when it is "in the context of breastfeeding, birth giving and after-birth moments, health (for example, post-mastectomy, breast cancer awareness, or gender reassignment surgery), or an act of protest."[27]

Instagram generally censors nipples on women's bodies.[28] Instagram's guideline for nudity 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."[29] This is an update from Instagram's historic community guidelines, which included the ambiguous phrase "keep your clothes on."[30] Instagram's CEO Kevin Systrom said that because of the Apple's App Store regulations, every app needs an age rating. If an app contains nudity, it has to be rated 17+. The CEO would prefer Instagram remain at its current rating of 12+, to attract a younger audience.[31]

Pinterest allows artistic and non-sexualized nudity.[32] Their reasoning on why they allow nudity and mature content is for "art, safe sex education or advocacy for political protests".

Differing rules are applied by other social media and these change with time. In 2014, YouTube had no specific policy that barred nipples, but the platform did not allow sexually explicit material. Google+ had a policy of not allowing nipples to be shown unless they were in cartoons. Flickr and Tumblr allowed users to control how much nudity they wanted to see, but when the filtering was switched off there were no restrictions. Twitter placed no restrictions on female nudity.[33] In 2018, Tumblr changed its rules to ban "female-presenting nipples" and other nudity,[34] though these restrictions were relaxed in 2022.[35] Google+ was shut down in 2019.[36]

A tactic that activists have taken up is the use of the hashtag #FreeTheNipple. This tag has been used on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, where it can be used for searching the databases for posts with the same tag.[37]

Some celebrities have expressed support for the #FreeTheNipple movement on social media, including Miley Cyrus,[38] Lena Dunham,[38] Jennifer Aniston,[39] Scout Willis,[40] Rihanna,[41] Cara Delevingne,[42] Naomi Campbell[43] and Florence Pugh.[44] Miley Cyrus said, "The nipple, what you can't show, is what everyone has. But the jug part that everybody doesn't, you're allowed to show underboob. I've never understood the way it works" on Jimmy Kimmel Live where she spoke about the campaign.[45][46] Florence Pugh, in an interview with Vogue, addressed comments on her red carpet gown and said, “If I’m happy in it, then I’m gonna wear it. Of course, I don’t want to offend people, but I think my point is: How can my nipples offend you that much?”[47]

Film and television[edit]

In 2014, director Lina Esco released her American feature film Free the Nipple. The film is centered around a group of young women who take to the streets of New York City as they protest the legal and cultural taboos regarding female breasts by way of publicity stunts, graffiti installations, and First Amendment lawyers. After shooting the film in 2012, Esco found it difficult to get the film widely released, motivating her to start the campaign in December 2013.[48][49]

In episode 106 of The Bold Type, the main character, Kat, participates in the campaign on social media by going against Instagram's guidelines by posting pictures with male nipples pasted onto women's bodies. The character said that freeing the nipple is more than just about Instagram and more about equality.[50]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jenny Kutner (16 December 2014). ""Maybe America just needs a big blast of boobies": Lina Esco tells Salon about her topless crusade to free the nipple". Retrieved 4 April 2015.
  2. ^ Esco, Lina (9 December 2013). "Why I Made a Film Called Free the Nipple and Why I'm Being Censored in America". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 11 January 2017.
  3. ^ Höfner, Susan. "Free the Nipple!". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)[dead link]
  4. ^ West, Sarah Myers (22 September 2017). "Raging Against the Machine: Network Gatekeeping and Collective Action on Social Media Platforms". Media and Communication. 5 (3): 28–36. doi:10.17645/mac.v5i3.989. ISSN 2183-2439.
  5. ^ Citations:
  6. ^ a b Anni Ma (26 July 2016). "#FreeTheNipple Arrest outside of San Diego Comic Con" – via YouTube.
  7. ^ Citations:
  8. ^ Citations:
  9. ^ Citations:
  10. ^ "The Weird, Wild Legal History of Breasts and Nipples". Yahoo Health. 12 December 2014. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  11. ^ NBC News. "NYC pays $29,000 over topless arrest" Associated Press, New York, 18 June 2007. Retrieved on 1 March 2015.
  12. ^ Heawood, Sophie (6 April 2015). "#FreeTheNipple: liberation or titillation?". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
  13. ^ a b Wallace, Nigel (9 June 2016). "Hundreds strip off on Brighton Beach to stop social media boob ban". The Daily Mirror. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  14. ^ Citations:
  15. ^ "freethenipbrighton".
  16. ^ Hendy, Arron (14 July 2018). "Free the Nipple organisers vow to return to protest topless". The Argus. Brighton. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  17. ^ "Who are we?". Free the Nipple Brighton. Retrieved 29 September 2020.
  18. ^ SK (2 July 2018). "Free The Nipple Takes To Brighton Seafront". Sussex Local. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  19. ^ Mackley, Elizabeth (26 August 2017). "Why these women went topless on Hessle Foreshore today". Hull Daily Mail.
  20. ^ Coyne, Caity (24 June 2017). "Dozens go topless, braless in Charleston to normalize female bodies". Charleston Gazette-Mail. Charleston, West Virginia. Retrieved 8 February 2022.
  21. ^ "Erie v. Pap's AM, 529 US 277 - Supreme Court 2000 - Google Scholar".
  22. ^ "Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc., 501 US 560 - Supreme Court 1991 - Google Scholar".
  23. ^ "Free the Nipple v. City of Ft. Collins, 216 F. Supp. 3d 1258 - Dist. Court, D. Colorado 2016 - Google Scholar".
  24. ^ Williams, Peter (20 September 2019). "Topless women win big as Colorado city drops ban". NBC News. Retrieved 20 September 2019.
  25. ^ "Chicago's ban on uncovered women's breasts upheld by divided court". Chicago Tribune. 10 November 2017. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  26. ^ "Nudity and Public Decency Laws in America". n.d. Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  27. ^ "Community Standards | Facebook". Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  28. ^ Bramley, Ellie Violet (1 June 2022). "Breast in show! How nipple pasties went from underwear to outerwear". The Guardian. UK.
  29. ^ "Community Guidelines – Instagram Help Center". Instagram.
  30. ^ Olszanowski, Magdalena (3 April 2014). "Feminist Self-Imaging and Instagram: Tactics of Circumventing Sensorship". Visual Communication Quarterly. 21 (2): 83–95. doi:10.1080/15551393.2014.928154. ISSN 1555-1393. S2CID 145667227.
  31. ^ Morrish, Lydia (5 October 2015). "Here's the real reason Instagram won't #FreeTheNipple". Konbini. Archived from the original on 7 October 2015.
  32. ^ "Nudity".
  33. ^ Taylor, Alix (20 June 2014). "Your Concise Guide to Social Media's Female Nipple Policies". Hyperallergenic.
  34. ^ Liao, Shannon (3 December 2018). "Tumblr will ban all adult content on December 17th". The Verge.
  35. ^ Robertson, Adi (1 November 2022). "Tumblr will now allow nudity but not explicit sex". The Verge.
  36. ^ Schroeder, Stan (2 April 2019). "Google+ dies today". Mashable.
  37. ^ West, Sarah Myers (22 September 2017). "Raging Against the Machine: Network Gatekeeping and Collective Action on Social Media Platforms". Media and Communication. Lisbon: Cogitatio. 5 (3): 28–36. doi:10.17645/mac.v5i3.989. ISSN 2183-2439. Retrieved 15 November 2017.
  38. ^ a b Bussel, Rachel Kramer (12 December 2014). "Free the Nipple! The Problem With How We Think About Breasts". Time.
  39. ^ Branch, Kate (10 August 2017). "Jennifer Aniston on Bringing the #FreeTheNipple Movement to the Masses First". Vogue.
  40. ^ Weinstock, Tish (4 June 2014). "The nipple controversy". Vice. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  41. ^ Donahue, Rosemary (3 August 2017). "18 Times Celebrities Freed the Nipple (NSFW)". Allure.
  42. ^ Klein, Alyssa Vingan (11 July 2014). "Cara Delevingne Goes Topless For 'Free The Nipple' Campaign". Fashionista.
  43. ^ Noriega, Margarita (16 September 2015). "Naomi Campbell's #FreeTheNipple photo couldn't survive Instagram's silly nudity rules". Vox.
  44. ^ Demopoulos, Alaina (18 January 2023). "Free the nipple: Facebook and Instagram told to overhaul ban on bare breasts". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 20 July 2023.
  45. ^ Zeilinger, Julie (27 August 2015). "Miley Cyrus Made a Brilliant Point About Why We Must Free the Nipple". Mic.
  46. ^ Kaplan, Ilana (20 May 2016). "Miley Cyruss showed her Nipples Off on Instagram without being Reported". Paper magazine. New York City. Archived from the original on 23 May 2016.
  47. ^ "Florence Pugh Addresses Her "Free the Nipple" Controversy". Vogue. 11 January 2023. Retrieved 20 July 2023.
  48. ^ "The Naked Truth Behind the 'Free the Nipple' Movement". 3 December 2014. Retrieved 4 April 2015.
  49. ^ Siegemund-Broka, Austin (29 September 2014). "'Free The Nipple' Picked Up By Sundance Selects For North American Release". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
  50. ^ Romero, Ariana (9 August 2017). "The Bold Type Proves Freeing the Nipple is About So Much More than Instagram". Refinery29.

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