The "Free The Nipple" Movement Isn't Benefitting Anyone But The Men That The Feminists Claim To Hate

Out of all the movements that have emerged from feminism, "free the nipple" may be the most ridiculous of all. Women claim that showing their bare nipples to the world is a way to stick it to sexist men, but it's only benefitting the very patriarchy that they hate.

By Gina Florio5 min read
GettyImages-1407560158 no-nipple
Getty/Vittorio Zunino Celotto

Florence Pugh showed up to a fashion show in Rome last summer wearing a beautiful, sheer, pink Valentino dress. The neckline was halter with ruffles around her collarbone, and the skirt was full and flowing. The Barbiecore ensemble was completed with matching pink platform heels and even pink earrings and a large pink ring on her right hand. Florence wore her short blonde hair slicked back and tucked behind her ears. But there was one thing about her outfit that stood out above the rest: Her nipples were showing clearly through the sheer fabric. She was braless and making no attempt to cover up her bare breasts.

The look became headline news, and everyone talked about her bold choice to free her nipples. When Florence shared the photos on her Instagram, she wrote in the caption, "Technically they're covered?" She knew exactly what she was doing, and it was an intentional move to spark a conversation. The photo was liked more than 1.7 million times, and thousands of comments showed how quickly people split themselves into camps: praising her for her bravery or declaring that this look was inappropriate, particularly considering the fact that minors use Instagram regularly and follow stars like Florence.

After all the backlash, Florence posted even more photos of herself in the dress and wrote a long message about the responses she was getting. "What’s been interesting to watch and witness is just how easy it is for men to totally destroy a woman’s body, publicly, proudly, for everyone to see. You even do it with your job titles and work emails in your bio..?" she wrote. "It isn’t the first time and certainly won’t be the last time a woman will hear what’s wrong with her body by a crowd of strangers, what’s worrying is just how vulgar some of you men can be."

She talked about how she has become comfortable with her body and her "flaws." Florence declared that she's not scared of her breasts or her nipples. "What’s more concerning is…. Why are you so scared of breasts?" she continued. "Small? Large? Left? Right? Only one? Maybe none? What. Is. So. Terrifying."

Although the "free the nipple" movement began long before Florence stepped out on the red carpet in Valentino that day, her choice launched a nationwide conversation about breasts, nipples, and how unfair it is that men are allowed to go completely shirtless but women aren't.

What Is the "Free the Nipple" Movement?

You've probably heard the phrase "free the nipple" at some point before Florence donned the infamous pink dress. There was even a 2012 film called Free the Nipple that followed a group of women who were hell-bent on protesting for equality by demanding that women should have the right to expose their bare nipples to the world if men could. The movie was set in New York City, and apparently the cast did real protests that gained media coverage. While the movie didn't become very well-known, the hashtag #FreetheNipple was born, and the idea only got more and more popular from there.

In the coming years, there were various female celebrities who posted photos of themselves topless as a form of resistance to the social norm that women were meant to cover up their breasts. Miley Cyrus shared a topless photo of herself in her bedroom in 2014. That same year, Cara Delevingne posted a photo of a man and woman standing next to one another topless with the hashtag #freethenipple in the caption. The following year, Lena Dunham joined in on the trend. From there, the movement spiraled into a conversation about why men are allowed to show their nipples in public but women aren't.

The "free the nipple" movement even has its own Instagram page now, and just one scroll through the photos shows that this concept is now synonymous with progressive politics and intersectional feminism. Women want to free their nipples to the world because they are raging against the oppressive patriarchy, they are furious at how long certain rights were withheld from women in our history, and they are demanding a society where men and women are truly equal. At least, that seems to be the tagline. "Free the nipple" supporters are pro-abortion, trans allies, and avid stans of Kamala Harris. The idea of women exposing their nipples to the world isn't just about the comfort of going braless or topless. It's about demanding equality, righting wrongs in history that made women second-class citizens, and putting women in positions of power to influence major decisions across the country.

The "free the nipple" movement is also on board with the idea that white supremacy rules this country and is in the very fabric of the United States. Racism is a big concern for women who want to free the nipple, as is body positivity. The beauty standard is offensive and rooted in misogyny, and the burka is just as much of a sign of empowerment as nudity is, because empowerment really comes down to choice and consent.

What "free the nipple" boils down to more than anything else is equality. If men can walk around topless, women should be able to do the same. But as simplistic as it sounds, this entire movement gets a few things wrong not only about our society but about men and women in general.

The "Free the Nipple" Movement Only Hurts Women and Benefits Men

Florence Pugh isn't the only celebrity recently who has gone braless to make a point. Lizzo wore a purple sheer, sparkly dress to Cardi B's birthday party in 2021, and Kendall Jenner pulled off a similar look in a black sheer dress just last month. The trend has become so popular that a writer for Bustle detailed her experience at New York Fashion Week Fall 2023, where she chose to wear a sheer top with nothing underneath, showing her nipples for all to see and writing about the response as well as the other nipple sightings on the runway. The writer celebrated the fact that NYFW is the best place to let your nipples loose, that "nipple censorship" is something that needs to be destroyed in order to achieve equality. The fact that nobody stopped and stared at her bare breasts being exposed to the city was a good thing that indicated New Yorkers are progressive enough to accept such a "titty-positive" ensemble.

Everywhere you turn online, the "free the nipple" movement is portrayed as a pro-woman movement that is designed to liberate women and help them break away from the oppressive patriarchal structure that has made women feel ashamed of their own bodies. But just like abortion, sex work, and sexual promiscuity, "free the nipple" is nothing more than a feminist movement that is sold to women as a portal to freedom, when it's nothing more than a benefit handed on a lovely platter to men. Mind you, these are the very men that feminists claim to hate. The men that are part of the so-called patriarchy.

Exposing your nipples to the world doesn't do anything to help women move forward in the world. It doesn't matter how many progressive buzzwords you attach to the "free the nipple" movement. Exposing your private body parts to the world will never be anything more than crude and entirely unnecessary. Besides, men are thrilled at the idea of looking at women's naked breasts for free. It's exactly what they want. If the premise of "free the nipple" is to stick it to the patriarchy, why are they giving men what they desire—naked breasts with no strings attached?

On Florence Pugh's original post with her sheer pink dress, a man commented, "As a man I completely support this. Why are you men pissed about it?" He may have been joking, but he spoke a truth that everyone already knows deep down. Men love it when women take their clothes off, and they especially love it when women take their clothes off without the men having to do any work or coercion for them to get naked. So while these feminists think they are empowering themselves and helping society progress forward, they're really only throwing the men a bone.

Another comment on Florence's post was, "if men can do it SO CAN YOU." Herein lies the fundamental issue with the "free the nipple" movement. Men and women are not completely equal creatures. We are inherently different—biologically, physiologically, mentally, emotionally, etc. That means we will never be able to do exactly what men can do because they will never be able to do exactly what women can do. In any major crisis that has taken place in history—the Titanic, 9/11, any natural disaster—women and children are the first ones to be evacuated, rescued, and cared for. This is not equal. And yet men don't parade themselves around and demand, "If women can evacuate first off the Titanic, then so can we!"

That's why the "free the nipple" cries for equality are disingenuous at best. These feminists don't want true equality. They don't want equal representation in dangerous jobs, sanitation, the military, or the battlefield. They just want to cherry-pick the easy things that men are able to do in order to make life easier for themselves—or to generate attention, clicks, and views for themselves. This mindset only hurts women in the end, as it makes them entitled, spoiled, and completely unaware of the realities around them, which makes them ill-equipped for the real world and poor candidates for a lifelong wife and mother.

We also have to stop pretending like free nudity is a positive thing for women to adopt. Our bodies are sacred, and yes, our breasts are more sacred than men's are. This is a fundamental truth that has been acknowledged by all our ancestors throughout human history, and only in the last 5 minutes (in the grand scheme of things) have we abandoned this truth and adopted the radical idea that men's and women's bodies are exactly the same. Screaming "free the nipple" may feel fun and controversial, but this movement is nothing more than an embarrassment that brings women heartache and pain in the end, no matter how much they try to convince you that they are happy and carefree.