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Facebook sure has been thinking a lot about nipples

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

There’s a curious divide on social media about when, where, and what kind of female nipples are allowed to exist in photos. Pictures of post-mastectomy scarring and breastfeeding are generally okay, as is nudity in art, but Instagram strictly forbids nipples on breasts outside of those guidelines. Twitter is far more forgiving if you mark content as sensitive. Now that Facebook has finally made its community guidelines public, there’s new insight into how the social media giant defines an acceptable nipple vs. a forbidden one.

According to Facebook, its policies on nudity have become “more nuanced over time,” and the company now recognizes that the naked female body can signify more than sexual titillation; it can also be used to protest, raise awareness, or educate. “While we restrict some images of female breasts that include the nipple, we allow other images, including those depicting acts of protest, women actively engaged in breastfeeding, and photos of post-mastectomy scarring,” the guidelines read. All other “uncovered” female nipples need not apply.

The debate over whether it’s acceptable to show female nipples is a long-standing one, popularized by campaigns like Free the Nipple. Men are allowed to appear topless in public, these advocates say, while women are considered lewd for doing the same. Online platforms have struggled with this debate as well when setting community guidelines; until 2015, sites like Instagram wouldn’t even allow women to show photos of themselves breastfeeding. Under these rules, all uncovered breasts were inherently sexualized, regardless of the poster’s intent. Facebook’s “nuance” and acceptance of non-sexualized nipple imagery is a step toward the normalization — rather than sexualization — of the female body, but it still doesn’t quite bridge the gap between how men and women’s bodies are treated online.

It’s also unclear how “acts of protest” are defined under these guidelines. Does the term only apply to political protest? Would it apply to posting topless photos on Facebook in protest their nudity policies? Facebook’s newfound transparency on nudity leads to more questions than answers, especially when the company explains that it won’t allow “visible anus and/or fully nude close-ups of buttocks unless photoshopped on a public figure.” But please, go on about how nipples are harmful.