Guest post by Kirsten Spiteri

Scrolling the posts of my favourite photographers on Instagram a couple of days ago, I came across a plethora of different artists, upset because their work was being blocked. Turns out that most of these profiles include nude photographs with female nipples. While they’re all very aesthetic, Instagram has a very strict policy when it comes to nudity. So some of these artists were literally sending the platform’s developers to hell, claiming that their art shouldn’t be banned because they were displaying the beauty of women’s bodies – which happen to include some nipples (while some others resort to emoji to continue displaying their art).

Why are women’s nipples, specifically, such a taboo? Why are people so shocked by women’s nipples? Why do they have so much power?
Men have them. Women have them. We demand equality and want to be treated equally, yet women are still vilified for ‘indecent exposure’ when showing something that both parties naturally have. Why only women? It’s as if the public is simply too delicate to handle seeing female nipples. Where do you draw the line at ‘indecent’? They are, after all, a normal part of all women regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.

I’m trying my best to understand why society looks upon women’s nipples that way. I understand the whole religious morality issue – even though, as an Atheist, I don’t agree with it. “Women were taught since early childhood that displaying their nipples openly is offensive, slutty, and down-right against societal mores. This belief system dates back thousands of years,” writes the blogger of Sassy Townhouse Living.

“We are constantly seeing nip-slips primarily from celebrities whom I believe, do this on purpose. I’m not saying I’m going to run around topless – I want to understand why women have a different set of rules. I can’t seem to wrap my head around the fact that it’s ok for men, and not for women,” the blogger continued. Why can’t women show their nipples, but Putin can? There’s a double standard and it’s time to change that.

In many countries topless sunbathing is accepted

Although we have become a more tolerant society, at its core, men (and women) still view women who display their nipples as sluts, or somehow starving for attention. There are also these signs in bays like Sliema and Għadira with ‘’No Topless Bathing’’ written on them. I go to these bays in summer, and whenever there is a topless woman sunbathing, I have to hear these comments like, X’għarukaża and Missha tistħi. Sometimes even stronger ones like qaħba [whore]!

“What really boggles my mind is how men’s nipples are perfectly acceptable to display openly and yet women’s nipples are not. It is also acceptable to display women’s breasts as long as the nipple area is covered. Now, who the heck implemented these standards? They can display the under-boob and the cleavage, but God forbid that nipple area shows!” Sassy Townhouse Living blogger wrote. And what about those ‘micro’ bikinis which pretty much show off the whole boob, and just cover the nipple?

Female nipples have been neatly wiped from mainstream media. Even today – in 2018 — we’re still censoring women’s anatomy. In 2015, Instagram came clean about its policy of banning female nipples, by blaming someone else. That someone else is Apple. Instagram CEO explained that Apple’s App Store, which houses Instagram, has strict policies when it comes to inappropriate content, and if Instagram goes against these rules, the app runs the risk of being banned from the store.

I have a hard time understanding the message we’re sending when we delete such a beautiful part of a woman’s body. Nipples are harmless, but deliberately removing them from existence makes us think otherwise.

What I am arguing for is a woman’s right to choose how she represents her body — and to make that choice based on personal desire, and not a fear of how people will react to her or how the society will judge her. This is not simply about nipples. It’s about equality. It’s about having that choice.

Kirsten Spiteri is a Maltese science-fiction / fantasy writer for young adult audience. He is the winner of the Young-Adult Category of the 2017 London Book Festival with his first book, The Wave. He also received Honorable Mentions in other prestigious cities like Amsterdam, Paris, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. See his blog.