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 23 March 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, 19 March 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 former 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".[citation needed]

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]

Influential people[edit]

Miley Cyrus publicly supported the movement in 2014 when she posted a topless photo of herself on Instagram. The photo shows off Cyrus’s short blonde hair, she is resting her arm over top of her chest exposing one of her breasts.[51] The caption including #freethenipple. The photo was quickly flagged and taken down from Instagram. Even with pushback Cyrus continued to post photos online, including photos of a cut out of her face on nude dolls and other topless women. Since 2014 Cyrus has pushed the boundaries of this movement, continuing to express herself through media, clothing and speech. In 2015 Miley Cyrus went on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, a popular late night show since 2003, in a revealing top. As she was sitting down for the interview Kimmel made a comment about her outfit, Cyrus then made a comment on it then lifted her shirt to reveal the sparkly heart patches covering her chest. Kimmel proceeds to say "now I am embarrassed", then repeatedly mentions how flustered the singer made him feel through body contact and comments. A comment on the fact that he would have to stare at her eyebrows or her headpiece in order to not look at her breasts.[52]

Scout Willis, daughter of American actor Bruce Willis, went shopping topless in New York City in 2014 shortly following Miley Cyrus’s Instagram post being deleted.[53] After her outing Willis posted a photo to Twitter(X) with the comment 'Legal in NYC but not on @instagram.’ She followed it with another comment and attached photo saying ‘What @instagram won't let you see.' It is speculated that Willis’s topless errand run was a result of Instagrams "anti-nudity" policy when a mother’s account got temporarily banned due to a photo she posted breastfeeding her child.[54]

The Nipple Bra[edit]

The Skims nipple bra adds to a long line of clothes that mimic or draw attention to the breasts, creating a greater conversation about modesty and the human body. On 31 October 2023, Kim Kardashian released "The Ultimate Nipple Bra" in her shapewear, loungewear, and lingerie company, Skims. She posted an announcement about its release just a few days prior on Instagram, where she met a lot of different reactions.[55] Regardless of Instagram users' opinions, the nipple bra was sold out in under a month of being up for sale.

To be fully educated on the Nipple Bra and its relation to the Free The Nipple movement, we must understand the reasoning for why it was made/purchased. According to the The Washington Post, purchasers liked that the bra was able "to offer a sort of controlled bralessness" meaning "that it enhances the bust such that you look like you’re wearing a T-shirt over a pristine breast augmentation or "idealized" pair of natural breasts" (Tashjian R).[56]

The viral slogan 'Free the Nipple' united artists, activists, and advocates globally, highlighting the everyday double standard many face and how society can oversexualize women. Overall, it strives for women to wear what they want, and to not be judged or sexualized for not wearing a bra or covering their breasts. The Nipple Bra can be used by people who would like to contribute to the 'Free the Nipple' movement who don’t have the means to do so (people with mastectomies or other bodily issues).[citation needed]

Dress codes[edit]

The concept of dress codes in school is familiar to most from elementary school up until the corporate workforce. The basis of dress coding starts with a teacher/facility member/coworker noticing the prohibited clothing and addressing it as a violation. The person affected will leave class/work to receive a talking to and often ends up covering up with other garments that aren't their own. Some common dress code restrictions targeted towards young girls are, no crop tops, no shorts, dresses, or skirts above the fingertips, no spaghetti straps or off-the-shoulder tops, no leggings, mandating bras, and covering bra straps. These are just a couple of the regular restrictions that are enforced on girls' bodies.[citation needed]

The "Free the Nipple" movement challenges double standards in societal norms while advocating for gender equality through dress codes. These regulations often permit men to go shirtless or at least wear a shirt without undergarments while women are often prohibited from attending school without abiding by these rules. It aims for equal treatment for men's and women's dress codes. It promotes self-acceptance and societal acceptance to challenge the stigma surrounding female bodies being sexualized. For example, the dress code policy from the Glenbrook South High School handbook states that an appropriate dress code, "promotes self-respect, balances social responsibility with self-expression and is free of distracting, disruptive, threatening or offensive diversions from the educational process."[57] Common stigmas include showing skin, nipples, and cleavage. "Free the Nipple" asserts that girls shouldn't get sexualized or policed for their natural autonomy. As some may see dress codes as something that's needed to reinforce traditional gender norms in school and professionalism in the workforce, others argue that a strict dress code contributes to the sexualization of young girls and perpetuates the idea that women's bodies are inherently provocative or distracting for others.[58] It seeks to empower girls and women by giving them agency over their bodies and clothing choices.[citation needed]

Overall, the "Free the Nipple" movement catalyzes broader conversations about gender, autonomy, and societal norms, including those related to dress codes in various contexts, including schools.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


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  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.
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  11. ^ NBC News. "NYC pays $29,000 over topless arrest" Associated Press, New York, 18 June 2007. Retrieved on 1 March 2015.
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  18. ^ SK (2 July 2018). "Free The Nipple Takes To Brighton Seafront". Sussex Local. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
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  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.
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  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. 5 (3). Lisbon: Cogitatio: 28–36. doi:10.17645/mac.v5i3.989. ISSN 2183-2439. Retrieved 15 November 2017.
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