HYPERALLERGIC – Free the Nipple is a movement of our time, epitomizing the power and peril of occupying both global social media and local social norms. Now ubiquitous, the slogan was introduced in 2012 during the filming of a movie of the same name.
Thanks to real protests created for the film, and the fanning of flames on social media by celebrities, Free the Nipple protests soon cropped up internationally.
Framing the issue for causes like women’s health, body equality, gender-based laws, and art censorship, it quickly became clear that a real and important movement was underway.
Unlike other social-media-centric movements like BLM and #MeToo, Free the Nipple lacks central leadership, outlined goals, and an active website.
Despite remaining a “hidden hashtag” on Instagram and TikTok, making it difficult for activists to organize, it has gained international recognition, legal successes, and a fervent base of support.
Still, the movement has long been cast as a frivolous concern of bored and sexy celebrities and social media enthusiasts. This misconception reveals the paradox at the core of the movement: our societal tendency to sexualize and diminish women displaying bodily autonomy.
Free the Nipple embodies two identities: online, and offline. Online, the movement centers on calling out sexist and damaging community guidelines that hinder users from sharing information, art, and advocacy based on their perceived gender. Offline, it focuses on effecting legal change, gathering community, and changing minds.
Because offline concerns are often idiosyncratic by comparison, the public image of the movement is generally tied to social media. Therefore, that perception is shaped by algorithms and engagement, usually depicting younger, Whiter, thinner activists.
This has contributed to a real problem Free the Nipple faces over intersectionality and representation.
Bee Nicholls, founder of Free the Nipple Brighton, worries about the alienating nature of the popular image of the movement …