Free the Nipple: How a Fashion Trend Became a Social Movement

Women have boobs. This is pretty common knowledge - at least one would hope. But women’s fashion is constantly changing the way we see our cleavage – do we hide it in a loose roll neck, or show it off to the world, in all its glory, by wearing something with a plunge neckline? But, more recently, the question seems to be - do we have to cover up at all?


Image 1 rachel


Nipples are always going in and out of style. Notable champions of the style are Rihanna and, of course, queen of everything nipple-y, Rachel Green (i.e. Jennifer Anniston). The friends actress was a patron of nineties style and now, in the twenty-tens, the nineties revival has brought the nipple back. There was a tough moment during the noughties, where it looked like the visible G-string would overtake the nipple in fashion’s “Look at my [insert thing that society deems inappropriate here]!” phenomenon. But the nipple is here again, and it’s doing its usual trick of forcing people to question what having nipples actually means.


Girls have nipples. Boys have nipples. The fact of the matter is that most mammals have nipples. But when was the last time anyone recoiled in horror because they were noticeably protruding through the fur of a dog? It’s a when a woman decides to wear something that outlines the shape of her naturally occurring breast – and that might, god forbid, even show a bit too – that all hell breaks loose. The key difference between all the varying types of nipples is sexualisation. The bare breast is a look that the catwalks have been advocating for years, but rarely does it go much further. On the catwalk, it becomes a form of art; it’s an aesthetic quality designed to break social convention, but not so much that it actually changes anything on a wider social scale. It’s the #freethenipple campaign that has really got people talking. Last month, an Icelandic student, along with her boyfriend, posed topless for a picture that was subsequently uploaded to Facebook. She received insults, expressions of distaste, and eventually took down the photo, as she felt others had sexualised her body against her will. Nothing was said about the bare chest of her boyfriend.


The Free the Nipple campaign began in Iceland.


The campaign gained some pretty high profile attention. In support, Cara Delevingne was photographed walking through the streets topless in an effort to desexualise the nipple. And this is where it gets a bit tricky. It’s fantastic that such big names in fashion are lending their support to a campaign that detracts from the normativity of the male gaze. However, we have not yet reached a point at which the effects of male gaze have been eradicated, and the desexualisation of female body parts is still very much in development. A semi-naked Cara, available for all to see, is typically ‘sexy’. It’s the kind of thing – like Rihanna’s see through dress – that people will flock to see. Because it’s still unusual; it’s not something your average woman, when contemplating her day, would necessarily feel comfortable doing. The question “Should I put a top on today?” is not yet something at forefront of the female consciousness.




Hannah Ellison

Brighton Fashion Week blogger



The Guardian