How Florence Pugh’s Dress Revealed More Than Just Nipples

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Who would have thought that the star of the new Valentino couture show wouldn’t be a dress but something that was underneath it?

Florence Pugh attended the fashion show in Rome in July wearing a stunning pink gown that was sheer across her chest and caused the internet to go into overdrive. The actor acknowledged it directly in her Instagram post with part of the caption reading “technically they’re covered.”

What Was The Big Deal?

Once Pugh posted the photos to Instagram there were two main reactions

The first was, of course, the battle cries of #freethenipple. The phrase made the rounds back in 2012, during the production of the movie with the same name. Lina Esco created the film to bring attention to the gendered responses to having one’s nipples exposed, which is also known as ‘topfreedom’. That’s the idea that there shouldn’t be a gendered double standard for who is allowed to be topless. This movement also includes the push to allow for public breastfeeding.

It comes down to the idea that female-presenting nipples get treated differently. Which leads us to the other main response that Pugh received and addressed in a second post with a lengthy caption. 


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A post shared by Florence Pugh (@florencepugh)

This was in response to the criticism she received, not only from her nipples being visible, but also about the size of her breasts. She ended her post with an emphatic #fuckingfreethefuckingnipple, but the saga doesn’t end there.

There’s Other Double Standards Too

For The Conversation, RMIT lecturer Harriet Richards wrote about Pugh as a young, white, cis-gendered, hugely successful movie star. And how this grants her a ton of cultural capital — the ease in which someone can move through their day to day without having structural barriers intersecting what they’re wanting to do. 

Richards also noted that while Pugh’s post is still up, research suggests that Instagram’s anti-nipple policy disproportionately targets people of colour, plus-sized users, and members of the LGBTQI+ community.

Pugh raises important points around why breasts can be so damn controversial, but the fact that she’s able to voice her opinion from a comparatively privileged foothold is worth noting.

Why Are Nipples So Controversial?

Here in Australia, the laws around obscene exposure refers specifically to the genital area. So technically, nipples aren’t illegal. Breastfeeding in public is also a legal right in all Australian states and territories.

When it comes to social media platforms, it depends on their specific guidelines. Instagram states that they don’t allow nudity in general, but mentions “female nipples” specifically, except in the context of breastfeeding, birth giving, health-related situations or an act of protest. Some Instagram users identify as male or non-binary — so what happens to their nipples?

It’s hard to find a justification for why some nipples are banned and some aren’t. One day we might reach a point where your gender doesn’t determine whether your nipples are free to exist, or are somehow an act of protest. But with the reaction that Florence Pugh got, it doesn’t look like we’re there yet.