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Naomi Campbell's #FreeTheNipple photo couldn't survive Instagram's silly nudity rules

A supermodel looks to break the glass ceiling of ridiculous rules about nudity. Will she succeed?
A supermodel looks to break the glass ceiling of ridiculous rules about nudity. Will she succeed?
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

So many celebrities have endorsed the gender equality campaign Free the Nipple, it was almost a boring event when iconic supermodel Naomi Campbell posted a topless photograph of herself on Twitter and Instagram this week. The image was taken down on Instagram by late Wednesday afternoon, but remains on Twitter for the ages — and it all has to do with the fact that images that include a woman's nipples are treated differently by social media networks than that of a man's. (Reader warning: nipples ahead.)

#FreeTheNipple quickly won over gender equality advocates

If you're not familiar with #FreeTheNipple campaign, it probably just means you're rarely on social networks or not a woman (or both). The effort won over many online fans, who see it as part of a larger gender equality movement. Search any network for the hashtag; you'll find thousands of supportive photos and conversations. The campaign reached peak news interest in 2014, coined the "The Year of the Nipple" by Elle magazine, after Lina Esco and Rumer Willis, Scout Willis, Miley Cyrus, Chelsea Handler, and Rihanna shared topless images on Instagram and Twitter using the hashtag. Handler went as far as to post the notice she received from Instagram after one of her photos was taken down:

If a man posts a photo of his nipples, it's ok, but not a woman? Are we in 1825?

A photo posted by Chelsea Handler (@chelseahandler) on

On Tuesday, Campbell tweeted a photograph of herself as part of a plug for Garage Magazine's latest issue; the same image was posted on Instagram (and has now been removed).

The reaction on Twitter and Instagram has been overwhelmingly positive, and for a time Campbell's photo became a trending story on Facebook.

Instagram bans nudity, and Twitter is okay with nipples in tweets

Campbell risked both the deletion of the image and also the possible suspension of her account on Instagram. Not so on Twitter, unless she uses the image as an avatar.

  • Instagram bans nudity in every case: "You may not post violent, nude, partially nude, discriminatory, unlawful, infringing, hateful, pornographic or sexually suggestive photos or other content via the Service," according to the site's policy. The rule is poorly applied, and that criticism doesn't even take into account the fact that Instagram bans a lot of other natural things about women's bodies, like pubic hair and weight gain.
  • Twitter's terms allow for "graphic content" in tweeted images, but bans their use in other places like an avatar: "You may not use pornographic or excessively violent media in your profile image, header image, or background image."

What is considered pornographic content, anyway? There's no universally agreed-upon definition, but the most famous one is the following phrase (misattributed to US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart): "You will know it when you see it." Campbell's Instagram photo was taken down, but if anyone could have gotten away with breaking a few rules, it's probably Naomi Campbell.