What is it about women’s bare nipples that gets social media platforms so riled up? In the past months countless images have been removed from Instagram and Facebook because of their inclusion of female nipples while shirtless men and graphic violence remain uncensored. And yet the double standard applied by anti-nipple community guidelines across social media hasn’t gone without backlash, leaving campaigns like Free the Nipple with newfound support.


Image censored by Instagram (via Grace Coddington’s Instagram)

Recently, bearing breasts has catalyzed a string of celebrity Instagram removals, starting with Rihanna in late April, who posted the image from her cover shoot for French magazine Lui, in which the singer wears nothing more than bikini bottoms and a bucket hat. Rihanna’s Insta-take-down was shortly followed by the deactivation of US Vogue’s photo editor, Grace Coddington’s, account after she posted a topless line-drawing promoting her curated sale of nudes on Paddle8. Most recently, Scout Willis had her account disabled after she posted an image of a jumper bearing the image of a naked woman. Willis took to the streets and Twitter (apparently the only nipple-friendly social media site) to contest Instagram’s censorship of the female body.

Facebook has a similarly stringent anti-nipple policy that allows female breasts to be displayed on their site, but only when suckled by an infant. In fact, Facebook is so keen to keep the nipple from appearing in the context of female sexuality, that if there isn’t direct nipple-baby contact the image will be removed. Alternatively, the site allows “graphic images” of animals as long as it’s “in the context of food processing or hunting as it occurs in nature”, bodily fluids — with the exception of semen — and deep flesh wounds/ crushed limbs and skulls.

Like Facebook and Instagram, Pinterest has a pretty buttoned up code of use in regards to nudity, but those restrictions also extend to violence, bullying and any type of representation of illegal activity. In contrast, Tumblr and Flickr utilize a filter system that allows users to select whether or not they are exposed to the “mature” content posted by other users. For whatever reason, no one is really posting their boobs on Google+, and the jury is still out on where LinkedIn falls on the nipple matrix.

However, the prevalence of social media nipple-censorship has inspired a series of creative responses pushing back against the stringent guidelines. For example, Micol Hebron posted a satirical “digital pastie” one can use to cover offending female nipples with a male nipple template to sneak those topless photos past image regulators.


Artist Micol Hebron posted this image of a nipple on Facebook, with the comment: “Here you go – you can use this to make any photo of a topless woman acceptable for the interwebs! Use this ‘acceptable (male) nipple template’, duplicate, resize and paste as needed, to cover the offending female nipples, with socially acceptable male nipples (like a digital pasty). You’re welcome.” (via Micol Hebron’s Facebook)

Alix Taylor is a former intern at Hyperallergic and a comparative literature major at Brown University. Her work has been published on BurnAway and her mother's fridge. Sometimes she tweets.

6 replies on “Your Concise Guide to Social Media’s Female Nipple Policies”

  1. I posted a picture of Lynda Benglis’ 1974 Artforum centerfold and it was taken down by Facebook – not sure if it was the nipples or the dildo, but Instagram has yet to take it down

  2. Websites that rely heavily on traditional advertising have to censor as a part of doing business. Advertisers do not want to be affiliated with what’s considered mature content. Thems the breaks. I don’t think Facebook particularly cares that much outside of economic reasons.

    Female toplessness is still not legal across most of the United States, and despite being legal in New York since 1992, is still viewed as a shocker to most NYers when it happens, and has been known to still often result in police intervention (despite its legality). This would seem more of a pressing issue than what private companies policies are.

  3. Female Nipples HEAVENS NO!………yet a daily dose of 9 YARDS of JOLO & Kim Kardashian-West cleavage is NO PROBLEM as seen on ALL Faux NEWS channels!

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