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Jean Paul Gaultier's Naked Top and social media censorship

Lotta Volklova's trompe-l'oeil covered by white hearts got us thinking

Jean Paul Gaultier's Naked Top and social media censorship Lotta Volklova's trompe-l'oeil covered by white hearts got us thinking

The new obsession of fashionistas and influencers? The naked top (or for the more daring even the dress) part of the Jean Paul Gaultier x Lotta Volkova capsule which revisits some of the brand's archive pieces in a way that is appealing to the Z generation. If the first to sport a bikini version was Kylie Jenner, one of the latest was Chiara Ferragni. The digital entrepreneur chose to wear it, not only to ride the trend of the naked dress and trompe d'oeil prints that draw digitally realized nipples and curves on the fabric, but as a statement against the overturning of the Roe vs. Wade ruling. To the cry of "MY BODY MY CHOICE", Chiara claims the right of every woman to decide for herself, for her own body, but also if and when to exhibit it. In all this, however, she has to deal with Instagram's censoring algorithm and, to avoid the social network's shadow ban, she covers her screen-printed nipples with little hearts or hands.

Being forced to self-censor in a post that is an appeal to freedom of expression, plus while not fully covered and exhibiting fictitious nudity, may seem like sheer nonsense. In reality, it prompts us to ask: Why are breasts and nipples the focus of censorship? What makes them different from an ear or an arm? Or, in the words of Julia Roberts (as Anna Scott) in Notting Hill, "What is it about men and nudity? Particularly breasts? How can you be so interested in them? But, but, seriously: they're just breasts. Every second person in the world has them." One of the most shared responses is that this is all the result of the evil gaze. Outside that gaze now internalized by society, breasts and nipples are banished, confined to the sphere of the forbidden, the perverse, of modesty that is not personal, but determined by hypersexualization and objectification. For centuries, the female body has been scrutinized, told, shown and conceived from the perspective of a heterosexual cisgender man. When a woman tries to self-represent her body, it is perceived as disturbing, a problem to be eliminated, even with the censorship of a social network.

According to Instagram and Facebook Community Guidelines, the publication of nude content is not allowed, including "photos, videos and other content created with digital tools that show sexual intercourse, genitals and close-ups of fully exposed backsides, photos of female nipples". There are exceptions for art, for photos of scars from a mastectomy and women breastfeeding, but often the censoring algorithm gets it wrong and bans these types of images. One only has to read this policy carefully to realize that censorship mainly targets women. Showing a man's nipples, in fact, is not a problem. A prominent example of gender inequality that Micol Hebron suggested a few years ago to exploit in order to circumvent social restrictions. The American artist published a template of a male nipple to be cut and pasted on photos of female nudes to adapt them to the guidelines of the most popular sharing platforms. The idea with a clear provocative intent was overtaken by Lina Esco, activist and actress famous for the S.W.A.T. series, who, with a film about an imaginary group of young women in pink balaclavas running around Times Square topless, started the #FreeTheNipple movement against female nipple censorship. Although support, from the Femen to stars such as Miley Cyrus and Emily Ratajkowski, was immediate and affected many people, the movement was often mocked, and branded as superficial. The most common excuse to belittle #FreeTheNipple is that there are more serious issues than showing breasts on social media or in the street. Perhaps, but censorship aimed at only one section of the population only perpetuates a patriarchal mentality that continues to cause effects in everyday life such as on abortion and the tampon tax.  

"It is part of my taking notice of my sexuality and celebrating it. It is my choice and there should be room for it in our culture and in our world." Emrata paraphrased John Berger's famous quote "To be naked is to be yourself. To be naked is to be seen naked by others." In an equal and ideal society, he would be entitled to this. Today, there is still a long way to go. According to many, the first step is to change how we communicate and talk about and describe the female breast and body. The public art collective CHEAP tried this last year with the Tette Fuori campaign, which in order to claim the right to self-determine the breast out of evil gaze filled the walls of Bologna with graphics, texts and images taken from the book ¡Pechos Fuera! by Patricia Lujan, which examines the representation of the breast in the history of art and visual communication. "Talking about the breast in pop culture and media representations with the aim of eradicating all forms of prejudice and preconceptions about women's bodies" is also the mission that led to the creation of Megazinne, a magazine founded by Ilena Ilardo and Giulia Vigna that offers a new perspective on the subject.

We live in a strongly patriarchal society, where women's bodies are inextricably linked to a sexualizing and commodified image, devoted to satisfying the male appetite. Talking about it in a multifaceted, non-sexualizing way and perhaps with a hint of irony can be a way to help society internalize a personal, free and diverse vision of the female body.