What’s More Threatening a Woman’s Nipples or Instagram?

Kutztown, PA— Nicole Pagliei, senior artist at KU, created an Instagram account for a photography project in 2017. The account was created to denounce sexualizing the female body, specifically nipples. @Freeda_elppin featured women covering their faces with mirrors while posing topless. 

When I asked Pagliei why she decided to create this account, she states “you are not allowed to have a female nipple in social media without [it] being blurred. So I thought what [a] great opportunity to make a full social media page of female nipples.” To Pageili, this account was more than rebelling against one of the major social media outlets in the world. This was her chance to step out of her comfort zone, freeing her from the confining regulations of Instagram. Pagliei was however “really pissed” when they deleted the pictures and account…I was really upset by them not fully understanding the art form.” Her intentions weren’t meant to spread images of naked women but “it was for project and photography purposes only.” 

Instagram does not support the art of full nudity, or even partial nudity unless it’s in the images of paintings or sculptures. Instagram is known to censor accounts that specifically post female nipples, even if its for the aesthetic pleasure. 

Nicole Pagliei Freed Project - 2017

As a major social media outlet, Instagram claims to “want to foster a positive, diverse community. We remove content that contains credible threats or hate speech, content that targets private individuals to degrade or shame them” but by removing content that empowers women, who are they protecting from shame? Pagliei believes Instagram is protecting those who don’t support nudity and its business. “It is something that is not fully socially acceptable and I believe that is the problem…I think by deleting the images Instagram is protecting themselves from the comments of others and protecting people from seeing them.”

Ariana Casado, another senior artist at KU, expresses her opinion on the issue. Casado has done sexually explicit pieces, such as “Tight Squeeze”, “Angry Army”, and “Spread Eagle”,which is a depiction of a woman—seated in a birthing position with her legs open. Casado thinks Instagram is protecting women, but also Instagram as an entity. She says “when I see words like ‘degrade’ or ‘shame’ I think of women whose bodies are constantly being scrutinized and commented on, and then harassed in their DMs later. Instagram is also protecting their own ass here. They don't want to damage their reputation or get involved in a lawsuit, for as much as they care about the consumer, us, they are really here to ultimately protect themselves.” If Instagram is attempting to protect those kids who rebel against their parents, and Instagram’s parental guide, Casado points out “You've got nudity in all forms readily available in museums, magazines and advertisements that bombard them daily anyway. The one artsy nude photo your kid sees on his Instagram feed isn't going to ruin his life.”

Arianna Casado Spread Eagle - 2017

She expresses how Instagram is following a cultural norm, “men can show their nipples, because they aren't as over sexualized as women's.” In the midst of expressing her anger with Instagram, she tells me “the argument that ‘women's nipples and breasts are inherently sexual’ which is a direct product of the male gaze and ultimately false.” 

When I asked Casado if she thinks its unfair that nudity is acceptable in the art world but not in the social media realm, she answered quickly with a sharp “definitely.” She went on to ask “do we want Instagram telling us what is and isn’t art? Just look at Jeff Koons, a superstar in the art world today, and check out his “Made in Heaven” series. Anyone could go into a big museum and see this sexually charged artwork, which are graphically realistic paintings of artist Jeff Koons and his wife actively having sex and doing other sexual activities. Yet, we can't show a naked women or man on Instagram in a photograph.”

There are thousands of women fighting against ideals that sexualize of the female body. Some of these women are apart of the KU community. 

Sarah Williams,a junior who’s a member of Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance at KU. Williams agrees with Casado, “this censorship is a part of our cultures over sexualization of female bodies.” The junior leader goes on to say she doesn’t “think its fair...especially if their users are expressing that they want that freedom.”  

Casado doesn’t believe that she or other artists who see nudity as art are respected by Instagram. She says “it makes me uncomfortable that Instagram is basically saying a photograph isn't art enough to warrant the nudity. I'm sure many photographers who use nudity in their work would take offense to that. I certainly don't want to concede that to Instagram, to let them have that power over us… If you don’t want to see Jeff Koons and his wife having sex, you avoid that room in the museum. You don't ban the whole collection, because that's free expression.” However, what about the other women who agree with Instagram?

Fraternities and sororities make up a large section of the Kutztown University community. Shaliah Jenkins, the treasurer of the Sigma Lambda Gamma chapter of KU, doesn’t agree with Instagram. She does however understand the issue of seeing female nipples on the site. Jenkins says “if there isn’t a message behind it whether its uplifting women on their bodies or some type of feminist movement, then why?”. The senior SLG member continues, “if she just got her nipples pierced and she goes on Instagram like ‘look I just got my nipples pierced!’, then no! Like why is she doing that?” Abdul Saad a brother of SAE Fraternity on campus agreed to give a comment on sexualizing female bodies. Saad says, he doesn’t see his brothers sexualizing women and “we have to take a learning module to respect ourselves and others.”

Nicole Pagliei didn’t state if she would do another project like @Freeda_elppin. Instead the senior let me know she wasn’t scared of Instagram or anyone who didn’t like her message. 

“If they didn’t like it, it didn’t bother me…I didn’t care about people’s opinions”