Instagram and its parent company, Facebook have a thorny relationship with the female nipple. In the latest controversy, the photo-sharing service reportedly pulled a post from artist Javier Jaén, who designed a poster for Pedro Almodovar’s latest film, Madres Paralelas.
Madres Paralelas, or Parallel Mothers in English, is set to debut on September 10 in Spain before enjoying a wider release by Sony Pictures Classics on Christmas Eve. The post in question featured a lactating nipple positioned to resemble an eye shedding a tear.
What we see here is a completely harmless image, an elegant one even but one that also violates Instagram’s clumsy, no-nudity policy. The policy in question has sparked the ire of the general public many times over the last decade and inspired the grassroots movement #FreeTheNipple, which works to raise awareness over gender equality in media representation.
So stupid — The core tenet of Instagram’s guidelines over nudity states that female nipples are not ok to post because they are located in “erogenous zones.” So, shortly after Jaén uploaded the image on Monday, Instagram removed it. This action led to a flurry of users uploading the poster themselves before the social media app re-uploaded the post and apologized.
In a statement to the Associated Press amid the firestorm, Jaén noted that “This [the nipple] is probably the first image I saw when I was born. A company like Instagram tells me my work is dangerous, that people shouldn’t see it, that it’s pornographic. How many people are they telling that their body is bad, that their body is dangerous?”
He went on to imply that Instagram’s algorithms used to vet user content are flawed: “They say their technology can’t differentiate the context. I don’t care. Change your technology then,” the designer said.
Will the nipple ever be freed? — Probably not, considering this debate has raged for nearly a decade. Instagram has historically doubled down on its policy, notably removing solidarity nip slip posts from the likes of Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, and Chrissy Teigen. In 2019 a group of artists and anti-censorship activists met with Facebook representatives for a reported five-hour discussion about policing nudity within an artistic context, to no avail.
While the company has implemented changes to reduce abuse on the platform and had a recent hamfisted approach to settings options, it looks as though the nipple may stay locked up... assuming it’s a female nipple, that is. Male nipples remain fair game. Sigh.