Instagram itself is quite clear about it: nudity is in no way allowed. Yet there’s still a lot of discussion going around this policy. A question that often arises, for example, is: Why are male nipples allowed while female ones aren’t?’ Last year, the #freethennipple movement unexpectedly took surface. Woman from all around the globe took to Instagram and Facebook, and shared selfies of their nude bodies. They still got censored, but the motivation was clear. Advocates of the movement accused the Western world in general (and the platform itself) of a sexist double-standard. Instagram subsequently defended their policy by stating they wanted their platform to be suited for all age groups (the app has a 12+ rating in the App Store). And children, so it seems—according to their general opinion—shouldn’t see any female nipples.
If it’s up to Esmay Wagemans, a fourth year at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam, this will soon change. For her project Second Skin, she worked out a way to bypass Instagram’s nudity censorship. By using a self-developed special kind of latex, she actually managed to show her nipples without showing any skin.
I spoke to Wagemans about the creation of Second Skin, how people reacted on it, and why she thinks it’s important to revolt against any patronising platform.
Second Skin (2015), Esmay Wagemans. All images courtesy to the artist
The Creators Project: Is your idea working out well thus far? Are all of your pictures still online?
Esmay Wagemans: Up until now, they actually are [still online]. There has been one picture taken offline though, but that wasn’t because of the nipples but because of a rebellious gesture towards Instagram. See, I put up my middle finger in it, and it was removed in less than half an hour’s time. I believe they have this questionable part in their guidelines somewhere, saying you should be “nice to each other,” hence why it was removed I think. A little while after, I uploaded a similar picture. This time again including nipples but without the middle finger, and it’s still there.
Is it your intention to get more women to wear Second Skin, or do you see it more as a one-off statement?
Well, initially I considered this only to be a conceptual art project. I was merely experimenting and seeing how far I could go without being removed. Only now I realised there’s also a certain fashion-aspect to it—it’s almost a piece of clothing. I really like the design of it myself because it is located exactly at the crossing line of nudity and non-nudity. If you look at it a little longer, you’ll eventually start asking yourself: is what I'm seeing nudity?
Why do you think it’s important to put your breasts on Instagram?
To me, Instagram is a very important platform to share my work as an artist. And I’m not going to change the essence of my work just because it would be too shocking for other people, or because it wouldn’t fit the social norms. Sure, I get that pornographic images shouldn’t be on it, but then again Instagram should focus on creating a different, less sexist and more refined nudity and censorship policy. Apart from all of this though, I do think Instagram’s strict nudity policy is sustaining the idea of a woman’s body as a sexual object.
How do you mean, "sustaining the idea of a female body as sexual object?" Don’t you think it’s a good thing children are restricted from seeing naked breasts?
I myself don’t think nudity should be such a taboo, because it feeds objectification. Look, if you’re not portraying breasts in an erotic or pornographic way, I think everyone should be able to see them, even children. By withholding those kinds of "normal" nudes from young teenagers, you’re still presenting the female body as something sexual. That’s simply not beneficial for anyone. Within that abstinence, the idea of the body starts being seen as something separate from the woman. It’s right there, where the objectification starts.
Follow Esmay Wagemans on Instagram to stay tuned about Second Skin.
By the way: we’re also on Instagram ourselves. Right here, to be precise.
A version of this article originally appeared on The Creators Project Netherlands.