What does Internet have against women's nipples? Five young women in Taiwan are now facing repercussions after posting a series of topless photographs on Facebook, in a statement of defiance against the site's community standards. Their images have been censored on Facebook and disparaged by local media.
The women posted these photos in support of the global campaign to “Free the Nipple”, launched in 2013 by Lina Esco to address gender inequality in the censorship of female nipples.
Not long before the incident, Facebook had suspended the accounts of users who had shared and liked articles about the #FreeTheNipple campaign, including blogger Liu Meiyu, who is one of the five. After her account was suspended, she criticized Facebook's community reporting rules on her blog and argued that Taiwanese society needed to change its perception on human body. Later, she and four of her friends carried out their experiment:
A few days ago, “Jing Zi” [or Mirror], Lin Yu-hsuan, Sung Chin-yi, Wang Li-Jou and myself carried out a small photography project as a response to Facebook's ridiculous reporting and censorship rule. What is the meaning of [female body]? Before we label it as “indecent” and “obscene”, a body is just a body, a part of the human self. Sexual desire is related with body, but does nudity have to be equated with sexual desire? Can't we express sexual desire without being nude? (And even if it stirs sexual desire, there is nothing wrong with such desire.)
The body exists naturally, it can feel pain, it can cries, laughs, eases, tenses up, plays, breathes, walks, eats and sleeps. That's all.
The photos were widely reported by local media, but many of these reports distorted the story. One article said that they were student activists from the Sunflower Movement (they are not). Another suggested that they felt embarrassed while taking the photos. In most of the reports, newspapers hid the nipples using a mosaic effect when republishing their photos. Liu said she found this ironic.
Independent journalist Liao Yun-chieh pointed out that the mosaic photos in mainstream media had reproduced people's impression of the nipple as an indecent body part. The photographs became a consumptive piece of news rather than a reflection on gender politics.
Facebook meanwhile has continued to delete female topless photos and suspend user accounts that post said photos, in compliance with their Community Standards, which specifically address women's nipples as follows:
We restrict some images of female breasts if they include the nipple, but we always allow photos of women actively engaged in breastfeeding or showing breasts with post-mastectomy scarring. We also allow photographs of paintings, sculptures, and other art that depicts nude figures. Restrictions on the display of both nudity and sexual activity also apply to digitally created content unless the content is posted for educational, humorous, or satirical purposes.
Clearly, the female nipple resides in a grey area for Facebook.
In addition to this systematic form of censorship, the five women have also faced online harassment as well as pressure coming from family and romantic partners. Another woman who has joined #FreetheNipple campaign wrote about the issue of family pressure in a post entitled a-letter-to-mother:
你打電話來罵我，怎麼上傳了「不檢點」的照片[…] 你說，「全世界都看到，這樣你一輩子不就毀了嗎」。又說，「這樣你以後要是跟對方分手，還有誰會要你」。[…] 我是一個女生，很需要努力把自己銷出去，很需要擔心有誰會要我，很需要害怕我沒有人要。我的一輩子很容易毀，不管我作了多少努力，幾張照片就可以毀了。作為一個母親，你必須為我操更多心，因為我的人生很脆弱，因為我是女生。[…]我不相信我的身體。只要我一天還是女生我就一定是個賤貨，我這麼胖、臉上斑點這麼多、腿這麼粗、個性這麼乖辟，不會有人愛我的。
我花了很久的時間抵抗這件事。說服自己是個很好的人，很可愛，值得被愛 […]你看著我的照片。你看著你女兒人生這麼多年來難得這麼自在地與自己身體相處的一刻。你還可以看著我與我的好朋友一起拍的照片。請你指著我們這些自在笑著的照片，說這些照片讓我的一輩子毀了。說像我們這樣美好的身體沒有人要。[…] 我希望你不止是一個反對我的行動的人，你是我媽媽，你是一個女人，你有跟我一樣的壓迫經驗。
You called and yelled at me. Asked why I uploaded such “indecent” photos. […] You said, “the whole world saw it, you have ruined your whole life.” You said, “If you broke up with your current partner, who else would want you.” […]
As a girl, I have to promote myself and worry about who would want me, what if nobody wants me. My life can be ruined easily. No matter how hard I have tried, a few photos could ruin me. As a mother, you care about me because you know that my life is fragile because I am a girl. […]
I don't believe in my body. As a girl, I will be viewed as a slut. I am too fat, have too many freckles on my face, my tights look like trunks, my personality is too introverted, no one will love me.
It took me so long to convince myself that I am all right, I am adorable, and I am worthy of others’ love and that I can walk freely in this world. […] When you look at the photos, looking at your daughter feeling at ease with her body, looking at me and my friends talking the picture together, please point at our laughing face and say these photos would ruin your whole lives, say no one would want such beautiful bodies. […]
I wish you would be not only a person who stands against me. You are my mother, a woman who shares so much of the same experience as me.
Several stories about men breaking up with their girlfriends who joined #FreeTheNipple campaign have surfaced. Queerology, a columnist from online news portal The News Lens, was furious about the break-up stories:
Stories about boys breaking up with their girlfriends because of their topless photos keep popping up. Aside from being angry and yelling out “my body belongs to me”, we can address men's discontent and frustration over the photos from a more structural perspective. […] Today, boyfriends can stop you from joining the free nipple campaign, tomorrow they can do opposite for the sharing of housework and child-rearing.
The columnist further explained that the same set of power of relations has trapped the nipple and confined women to a private sphere called “home” and that the struggle to free the nipple should be about more than just posting photos in a public timeline.
Despite the controversy and negative attention in the media, women continue to join the #FreeTheNipple campaign to make a statement about women's autonomy over their own bodies. Campaign photos are collected by Sister Saying's Twitter account with #TaiwanFreeTheNipple as hashtag. Below is one of the collection showing a girl's surgical scar on her chest:
小時候動過離心臟很近的切骨手術，手術完後在胸口留下一個倒U字型的疤痕，因此小時候很討厭這樣的缺陷，但現在非常自豪，因為這疤痕是我，戰勝死神後，努力活下來的證明 #TaiwanFreeTheNipple #FreeTheNipple pic.twitter.com/m4yDgPY5Hr
— 性解放の學姊 (@sisterssaying) April 18, 2015
I went through a surgery near my heart when I was little. A bone had taken away leaving a U-shaped scar. I hated my deformed body when I was small, but now I am proud of it. The scar defines me. It is a proof that I have defeated death and survived. #TaiwanFreeTheNipple #FreeTheNipple.
The group also called for a poster and sticker competition for future advocacy efforts.