Why can’t I go topless? Facebook, @BareReality and the censorship of female bodies


(Header Image Copyright to Laura Dodsworth)

Today this tweet caught my attention:

The attached article explains how the artist Laura Dodsworth has been banned from Facebook for posting links to her kickstarter for her artwork. Dodsworth’s work was deemed inappropriate (pornographic even) because her project contains images of 100 women’s bare chests. The header image of this post is the supposedly offending and X-rated article…*rolls eyes*

The @BareReality project aims to explore how women feel about their breasts by it’s subjects “bravely sharing un-airbrushed photographs of their breasts alongside personal stories about their breasts and their lives” (1).

It is a legitimate piece of art, art which Facebook purports to allow. Outraged, I tweeted back, “once again we’re only censoring female chests, I’d rather see no boobs than exclusively manboobs.”

Shortly after, and much to my horror after using an unsophisticated term like ‘manboobs’, the artist herself replied to me:

This is not the first time that social media sites have discriminated against women’s bodies. I’m talking about the SCANDALOUS pictures of Rihanna at the CFDA awards this year wearing a sheer dress which made her nipples visible (apparently in support of the #FreeTheNipple campaign).


Instagram banned these pictures and disabled Rihanna’s account temporarily for posting them. Yet male nipples are totally fine on the app…

Not only were her pictures removed but Rihanna, being the flirty so-and-so we all know and love, was blasted by many who believed that her ‘stunt’ (because wearing clothes is worthy of this term) was an attempt to gain attention for herself rather than the campaign. Excuse me but firstly; Rihanna really doesn’t need to get her nips out for attention: she can’t chug a Starbucks without the whole world knowing/tweeting about it. And secondly, Rihanna’s nips shouldn’t garner any more attention than David Cameron’s anyway. (Maybe just a little more, because they’re probably a lot nicer).

Rihanna’s not the only one. In 1999 after scoring the winning penalty in the Women’s World Cup final US footballer Brandi Chastain she ripped off her shirt in a memorable and controversial goal celebration. (She is pictured below wearing a sports bra by the way). But her goal celebration was nevertheless ‘controversial’ because she’s female.

These are just high profile examples. If I or any of my female friends posted topless pictures on Facebook you can almost guarantee that they’d be reported and removed from the site within a matter of hours. But that group pic of ‘the lads‘ topless in Kavos is fine, that can stay put.

Obviously my initial response that, “I’d rather see no boobs than exclusively manboobs” was hastily written. But when it comes to the level of acceptable nudity of male and female bodies, we need equality. And if it’s all or nothing, I’d rather go with all than total censorship.

Why should women be constrained by the fact that the naked female body has long been seen as the more potent of the gender binary? It’s really only the mystique of the hidden female nipple that maintains this potency.

Facebook now allow pictures of women who’ve undergone mastectomies as well as images of breastfeeding after receiving heavy criticism from users. So why the cover up on the bog-standard, non-lactating nips? Personally I think I’d keep my nipples to myself, but I’d like to live in a world where I could go topless if I wanted to and not just on a beach in Spain where nobody knows (or judges) me.

Come on Facebook. Stop hiding our lovely nipples just because they may or may not eventually feed babies one day.

Click here to learn more about Dodsworth’s powerful project.

Click here to read more on Scout Willis and the #FreeTheNipple campaign.

Follow me on twitter for regular updates @KateMenear

(1) Quote from Bare Reality Kickstarter page: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/barereality/bare-reality-100-women-and-their-breasts

Header image URL here and Copyright to Laura Dodsworth.

Rihanna image URL here.

3 thoughts on “Why can’t I go topless? Facebook, @BareReality and the censorship of female bodies

  1. Woodswoman

    A kickstarter for what? As a woman who makes her living via photography, I do not find this the least bit appealing or artistic- nor do I see a theme or message; it’s merely a means to find some kind of lame excuse to whine and complain about some delusional conspiracy that does not exist.
    And we wonder why real problems never get solved.. our court systems are bogged down with garbage like this.

  2. vallie

    I wonder if anthropological groups face the same issues when posting photos of native tribes around the globe. Many of their women LIVE topless, so banning those photos would be discrimination of both sex and culture.

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