A project run by two Bristolians aims to end the taboo around women’s bodies by collecting images of their nipples.
Where are our Nipples? is the work of two filmmakers, Maria Rovira and Paula Romero, both originally from Spain.
‘We want to create a reflection on how female bodies are always an object of sexualisation,’ said Paula, speaking to TBA.
‘And I think sometimes art is the best way to make change,’ added Maria.
Creating online community
Frustrated at seeing how women’s nipples are censored, particularly on social media, and the sexualisation of the nipple within a patriarchal society, in 2018 the pair came up with the idea of a project to reimagine the nipple outside of the male gaze.
They began an online campaign to collect images of nipples in their full diversity which over time became WaoN?. The project currently exists as an Instagram page showcasing a selection of the images Maria and Paula have collected and acts as an invitation to others to take part.
Dozens of women from around the world have already participated by submitting photos and Maria and Paula are keen for as many women as possible to contribute by sending in their own images.
Maria said: ‘When we ask people to take a picture of their nipples, that is an intimate space, they don’t show their identities and their faces.’
‘I think that has allowed us to collect even more because people feel more able to do it,’ added Paula.
Creating an online community is central to the duo’s campaign. ‘To feel confident enough to talk about a subject that we’ve never been able to, not just able but we’ve not been allowed to talk about, because it’s through the male gaze that we’ve seen the nipple,’ said Paula.
Maria and Paula have much bigger plans. They are currently fundraising to exhibit their photographs in a gallery complete with an interactive exhibition, a photographic exposition, a video-art screening and an installation of modifiable bust casts.
‘It’s quite a big project and we’re just in the initial stage,’ said Maria.
Challenging the status quo
The name “Where are our Nipples?” refers to the censorship of female nipples in society and culture.
Instagram, similar to other social media websites, has content guidelines that prohibit images showing female nipples.
The site’s community guidelines allow for exceptions to this rule in the case of ‘photos in the context of breastfeeding, birth giving and after-birth moments, health-related situations (for example, post-mastectomy, breast cancer awareness or gender confirmation surgery) or an act of protest are allowed’.
By contrast, male nipples are not censored at all.
It was this discrepancy that in part motivated the #FreeTheNipple campaign of 2012, which became a worldwide trend after celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Lena Dunham and Rihanna post topless photos on social media in a direct challenge to censorship rules.
Bringing the nipple to life
What sets WaoN? apart from previous campaigns is how in each image the nipple is brought to life by being seen to interact with an object – sometimes an egg, a spoon, a leaf or even a slice of meat.
Paula explained ‘What’s also important about what we’re doing in Where are our Nipples is that the nipple is no longer treated as an object. As well as showing the diversity of the nipple our aim is to show how the nipple becomes active and becomes a subject by interacting with objects.’
‘When we are asking “where are our nipples?” women are also giving up a story behind the nipple. A story about their own body and how they feel in this sexual part or this sexualised part of their body. ’
For instance, Maria added, one woman who had become a mother and how her nipples changed throughout maternity and motherhood.
‘It’s really interesting the responses that we’re getting from women and their stories with their nipples. It makes you think and wonder about things you’d never think about,’ she said.
WaoN? has been threatened by Instagram for breaching content rules. Maria and Paula say they will not bow to the pressure, however, and vow to continue the site for as long as they can.