#freethenipple – a micro trend

Ebba Lindström  2016-09-13

In December 2014, Lina Esco, actress, activist and producer, launched the movie Free the Nipple. The movie follows a group of young women in New York that, by walking the city street toppless, are questioning the old fashioned view of the women body. Not only by this kind of activism, but also with graffiti and installations, these women are examine the illogical glorification of war and violence and the censorship of the women body (Free The Nipple, 2016).

But in what way is this a micro trend? Well, even though it is not a product or a brand it is a movement and a hashtag diverged from, what I argue is a meso trend in the western world, feminism. Feminism has been a hot topic the last couple of years. Of course it is an old concept and movement that has been around since the late 18th century (Nationalencyklopedin, 2016) but has escalated. Let us take the originals series Girls from HBO, starring and directed by the outspoken feminist (Dowling, 2015) Lena Dunham as an example. A series about a group of young women, living their lives as a modern version of Sex And The City. Or Beyoncés statement during her Mrs. Carter tour, projecting the word “Feminist” in bold pink letters when performing her song “Flawless”. In an interview with Elle she clarified why she chose to do that:

“I’m not really sure people know or understand what a feminist is, but it’s very simple. It’s someone who believes in equal rights for men and women. I don’t understand the negative connotation of the word, or why it should exclude the opposite sex […] I don’t want calling myself a feminist to make it feel like that’s my one priority, over racism or sexism or anything else. I’m just exhausted by labels and tired of being boxed in.” (Gottesman, 2016)

2014 MTV Video Music Awards - Show
INGLEWOOD, CA – AUGUST 24: Honoree Beyonce performs onstage during the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

Both Dunham and Beyoncé are good examples of setters (Ponten, 2016) of the meso trend feminism from which the movie, movement and hashtag “Free The Nipple” has, in my opinion, grown to be a micro trend. When analyzing what could be the mega trend holding it all up, I would argue it is the trend of activism. A way for the young people of the generation to do something bold and make a statement which in this day and age takes form in feminism and in a micro level, Free The Nipple.

Today, Free The Nipple is a movement that takes form in several different ways; in social media accounts, in a movie but foremost as a hashtag! Under the hashtag #freethenipple, instagram has over 300 000 uploaded photos (Instagram, 2016) that mainly picture a pair of womens breasts, hiding the very middle of it, the nipple. On many platforms, it is legal for men to show their nipples whilst it is not for women. And in this case, the movement and the nipple has become a metaphor for gender equality addressing the notion that the female body gets sexualised when naked and the male body doesn’t (Thomas, 2016).

When searching for the phenomena “Free The Nipple” on Google Trends it is clear whereabout it has been popular: In Australia, Sweden and the U.S. But also western Europe and Taiwan have been showing interest. Even though it is a well search term it had its culmen in December 2014 (Google Trends, 2016) proving the micro trends decline in the lifecycle (Ponten, 2016).

But now to the question: Do you think that Free The Nipple is a meaningless movement and hashtag that is irrelevant for the gender equality fight or is it a necessary and drastic move to raise awareness about it?



Dowling, A. (2015). Lena Dunham explains feminism in 12 quick quotes. Retrieved 2016-09-12 from: http://www.theloop.ca/lena-dunham-explains-feminism-in-12-quick-quotes/

Freethenipple.com. (2016). Film Synopsis. Retrieved 2016-09-12 from: http://freethenipple.com/film-synopsis/

Google Trends. (2016). Free the nipple. Retrieved 2016-09-13 from: https://www.google.se/trends/explore?q=%2Fm%2F012z969n

Gottesman, T. (2016). Beyoncé wants to change the conversation. Retrieved 2016-09-12 from: http://www.elle.com/fashion/a35286/beyonce-elle-cover-photos/

Instagram. (2016). #freethenipple. Retrieved 2016-09-12 from: https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/freethenipple/

Nationalencyklopedin. (2016). Feminism. Retrieved 2016-09-12 from: http://www.ne.se/uppslagsverk/encyklopedi/l%C3%A5ng/feminism

Ponten, H. (2016). Trends Theory. Retrieved 2016-09-12 from: https://learn.hu.nl/pluginfile.php/5303/mod_resource/content/2/Tand%20B%20block%20A%201617%20trend%20theory.pdf

Thomas, L. R. (2016). Free the nipple isn’t just about nipples, it’s about equality. Retrieved 2016-09-13 from: https://i-d.vice.com/en_gb/article/free-the-nipple-isnt-just-about-nipples-its-about-equality?utm_campaign=iduktwitter



3 thoughts on “#freethenipple – a micro trend

  1. I think the movement of Free the nipple is very powerful and on point. The explosion of the hashtag on Instagram and the fact that it has become a metaphor for gender equality are proofs showing that it is truly neccessary – and that it definitely has increased awearness about equal rights.

    In fact, every single picture being removed on social media (mostly Instagram and Facebook) I see as clear evidence and reasons to why the activism of feminism, and movements like Free the nipple, need to continue.

    The swedish woman Charlotta Lundgren’s open letter to Facebook is a good example of this. (Read about it here: http://www.vk.se/1809003/oppet-brev-till-facebook-tycker-ni-bilden-ar-acklig ) Or morelike the fact that a picture of her has been deleted over and over, due to showing her torso undressed. Due to something that men can do without no one cares. And she tries to make a statement. In her letter she describes her war against cancer which invaded her body in different forms, forced her to remove her right breast and gave her a body full of scars. On her belly you can read “I am a warrior”, because what she wants to share here is that despite everything her body went through she could get pregnant and now carries a life inside her. All she wants is to share this miracle, to spread hope and to be an inspiration for all those people out there being right in the middle of their own nightmare of cancer. The best way to reach out to people is through social media of course. People started to share the post, the swedish foundation of breastcancer did the same and so did newspapers etc. What Facebook does then is the big questionmark here. They deleted the post everywhere. They even deleted the womans Facebook account. And so did Instagram.

    The problem here is that it seems like both Facebook and Instagram judge the picture for being to sexual. It is obvious that according to their community rules it is not aloud for a woman to show her breasts. People can be offended. A mans torso is okay, but as soon as the breasts belongs to a woman they have to sexualize them.

    Another example is the swedish artist Stina Wollter who is a true activist of equal rights and the human body. Her instagram (@stinawollter) is full of posts with for example “free the nipple”- activism. She writes about the body with the aim to de-dramatize it and delete the norms of the human body. According to me she is true power. But her feed has also alot of post showing when Instagram deletes her pictures and stories. In the meantime alot of posts from other accounts can stay. Take a look at Stina’s own example here:

    Why do you think it is like this? It is 2016, shouldn’t we have got this right by now?

    So yes, social media and the world needed Free the nipple. It is a strong movement for body activism and a powerful beginning of freeing all nipples out there.


  2. Why do you think it is like this? It is 2016, shouldn’t we have got this right by now?
    (YES, but apparently nipples are extremely offensive and our poor souls can not handle to see things that might be inappropriate to see. Especially when you are under aged and scrolling on social media. It is clearly impossible to google more disturbing content)

    Do you think that Free The Nipple is a meaningless movement and hashtag that is irrelevant for the gender equality fight or is it a necessary and drastic move to raise awareness about it?

    I think there are different ways to approach the Free The Nipple movement. I wouldn’t say that it is meaningless or irrelevant. The whole fuss about seeing nipples is very hypocrite. Whether it is a successful way to communicate feminism is a point that I’m not sure about. It is not something I would think about immediately. Perhaps I’m not that aware of the bigger picture, or the meso trend behind this micro trend. I definitely agree that it is a micro trend, but I would consider equality as the mega trend which is holding it all together.

    I feel like this Free The Nipple movement is more about the weirdness of the internet. You can find porn in less than a second, but a decent half-naked portrait of a woman on Instagram is immediately inappropriate. Even blurred out nipples are so obvious that it is a strange thing to censor.

    I’m not sure whether this movement is extremely necessary in the gender equality fight. On the other hand, every small step will help. Perhaps the basic fact of not being aware of these small details is actually very important.

    Since you seem to be personally interested in this subject, you might want to take a look at FEMEN (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Femen) and their documentary. I think this was quite a big thing before the Free The Nipple movement.

    – Cashmyra Rozendaal


  3. I think it’s definitely necessary to pay attention to the equality of the sexes. It’s not okay that it’s still possible that a man earns more than a woman in the same position.

    But I’m not sure if ”Free the nipple” is the right way to raise awareness for this problem. The thing I notice is that the attention of the whole free the nipple movement moved to pictures of naked boobs instead of attention for the equal rights of man and women. And I don’t think that’s the purpose of the free the nipple movement. In my opinion making a more serious and less naked statement would be better and more helpful to create awareness for the problem. On the other hand every movement for feminism is a step in the right direction. Even though I think this is not the best way to raise awareness for the subject, it did become a big hype all over the world. Milano, A. (2015, September)

    There are some other protests for equal rights that I think are more appropriate and suiting the goal more, for example:

    – The women’s marches against Trump. In different cities all over the world men and women protested on the streets, because Donald Trump was becoming the president of the United States. Trump is well known for his women unfriendly behaviour. (Broomfield, M. 2017, January 23)
    – The instagram hit #zeikwijf, which was started was by a woman who got a fine for peeing outside. She told the judges that there were no women toilets outside and that she thought is was sexist that there are toilets for men everywhere. The judge then told here that women should be perfectly capable of peeing on an urinoir. The woman started an online protest with the hashtag ”zeikwijf”. (http://www.actiezeikwijf.nl/)

    I think it’s great that people are fighting for equal rights, but I think the message of #freethenipple got lost somewhere. What do you think. Do people see #freethenipple as a protest or is it just another way to objectify women?

    Broomfield, M. (2017, January 23). Women’s March against Donald Trump is the largest day of protests in US history, say political scientists. Retrieved January 12, 2018, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/womens-march-anti-donald-trump-womens-rights-largest-protest-demonstration-us-history-political-a7541081.html

    Milano, A. (2015, September 11). I Worry ‘Free the Nipple’ Works Against Equality. Retrieved January 12, 2018, from http://time.com/collection-post/4029633/alyssa-milano-should-we-freethenipple/


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