The Breast of Times: 10 Years of Irrational Nipple Controversy

by Gabriella Paiella

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No body part inspires puritanical pearl-clutching in decent Americans quite as much as the humble nipple. Ten years ago, Janet Jackson slipped the nipple heard ‘round the world, prompting comic levels of outrage and morality policing. This summer, the MPAA banned Eva Green’s Sin City 2 poster for hinting at the possible existence of a nipple through her sheer robe. In between, there was a decade’s worth of similar incidents regarding this particular brand of anatomical exposure:

Janet Jackson at Super Bowl XXXVIII

The nipple-baring that started the national conversation about wardrobe malfunctions took place at the 2004 Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show. When Justin Timberlake dance-ripped Jackson’s top, viewers caught a glimpse of Jackson’s nipple for 9/16th of a second. 1.4 million people went on to complain to the Federal Communications Commission about the supposedly indecent exposure. (Yes, Americans complained more about 9/16th of a second of nipple on CBS rather than the 10+ years of Two and a Half Men they’ve been airing.) CBS was fined $550,000 by the FCC, and Jackson’s career arguably suffered after the fact. Timberlake is doing just fine for himself.

Nancy Grace on Dancing with the Stars

In 2011, justice-seeker Nancy Grace’s Dancing with the Stars routine ended up exposing one of her nipples briefly — as one can do when partaking in a vigorous physical activity while wearing a deep-cut dress. Grace vehemently denies it to this day. Meanwhile, contestants are getting entirely naked on Dancing with the Stars’ equivalent in Argentina.

The New Yorker on Facebook

When Mike Stevens posted a cartoon (below) on The New Yorker’s Facebook page in 2012, the magazine was temporarily banned from the site for violating their terms of service.


As Bob Mankoff explained:

“Some sleuthing showed that the offense was actually caused by the inclusion of these two dots in the cartoon,

visual nipple evidence part 1

which, by the way, also contained these two non-offending dots.”

nipple evidence part 2

Now, we all know that The New Yorker is a filthy rag staffed by smut peddlers, but Facebook seemingly overreacted with this one.

Rihanna on Instagram

Earlier this year, musician and noted friend-of-the-nipple Rihanna posted a photo of her topless Lui magazine cover on her Instagram account. When Instagram pulled the photo for violating their terms of service, she deleted her entire account. The world still has not recovered from the loss of Bad Girl Ri Ri.

Grace Coddington on Instagram

Grace Coddington was recently suspended from Instagram for this drawing, below. It’s my personal favorite of the bunch because, well, look at it. Downright pornographic.

my normal weekend

Eva Green

In late May of this year, the MPAA pulled Eva Green’s Sin City 2 poster for hinting at an outline of nipple. It’s visible if you squint really, really hard.


These are just a few notable incidents. Even for people whose sensibilities aren’t quite so easily offended, Google searching “nip slip” will yield over 1.5 million results. You haven’t lived until you’ve clicked through a 41-photo gallery, each picture showcasing entire centimeters of celebrity areola.

The public fixation on nipples — outrage or otherwise — is entirely illogical. It’s acceptable to pose in sexually suggestive positions and show every other bit of breast surface area, but it’s that one small dot that throws everything off kilter.

Plus, nipples are everywhere. I even started furiously typing “half the population has them!!!” but, hey, joke’s on me: Everyone has nipples. And save for the formula-reared, we’ve all sucked a teat or two back in the day.

I have to wonder if people who are truly offended or intrigued by a hint of nipple on public television, Facebook, or Instagram know that anyone with a decent Internet connection can easily view not only nipples, but every orifice available stuffed with all sorts of things.

Looking back on Jackson’s initial incident, it’s embarrassing how great the fallout was from it. Ten years later, not much has changed. Here’s to less attention paid when someone has a “wardrobe malfunction,” and for social networks to consider nudity and terms of service more thoughtfully. And, for the love of god, here’s hoping we get Rihanna’s Instagram back.

[image via WN]

Gabriella Paiella writes (and tweets) from Brooklyn. Yes, her name rhymes.