fashion

There are two uncomfortable sides to the Florence Pugh nipple controversy.

Listen to this story being read by Laura Brodnik here. 


If it wasn't for a certain group of enraged people, we could have all taken a moment this week to really enjoy Florence Pugh's nipples.

The Oscar-nominated actress recently attended Valentino's Fall/Winter 2022 Haute Couture runway show in Rome, wearing a swoon-worthy pink gown and a pair of matching platform shoes that would have sent a pang of jealousy through Barbie's heart.

The top section of the dress was completely sheer, meaning the 26-year-old's breasts and nipples were visible as she stood regally on the red carpet for the pre-runway photo call.

Florence then posted the images to her own Instagram account with a sly nod to the fact that her nipples were 'technically covered' and the only initial reaction from the public were a handful of headlines covering her 'risque' look.

But behind the scenes, the feedback was much more brutal.

The next day, Florence uploaded a second round of images of herself in the sheer pink gown, with a caption that called out the many scathing messages she had received about her appearance at the event. 

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"What's been interesting to watch and witness is just how easy it is for men to totally destroy a woman's body, publicly, proudly, for everyone to see. You even do it with your job titles and work emails in your bio.

"It isn't the first time and certainly won't be the last time a woman will hear what's wrong with her body by a crowd of strangers, what's worrying is just how vulgar some of you men can be. So many of you wanted to aggressively let me know how disappointed you were by my 'tiny tits,' or how I should be embarrassed by being so 'flat-chested.' I've lived in my body for a long time. I'm fully aware of my breast size and am not scared of it."

Her statement was met with a wave of adoration and support from fellow celebrities, her own followers and various media outlets.

And rightly so.

After all, as Florence's words so strongly pointed out, the female nipple has had quite the troubled and censored treatment throughout history and she is not the first women to take this stance. 

For years publications photoshopped and tweaked nipples to follow 'acceptable looking' beauty standards (or just banned them all together) while social media platforms are still rife censorship.

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Whether a woman is at the beach, feeding a child or just going about her daily life, the presence of a nipple or two is a surefire way to see your account punished.

Celebrities such as Rihanna, Cara Delevingne, Chelsea Handler and Chrissy Teigen have all posted images of their nipples to their Instagram accounts over the years and had them swiftly removed in response. While the men who star alongside them in campaigns and films are free to post a montage of their bare chests across their accounts without so much as a hint of shadow banning. 

When it comes to our TV screens, the nipple has also had a controversial run. 

At a Television Critics Association event in 2007, the creator of Desperate Housewives complained about having to spend more than $100,000 a week digitally removing any nipples that dared to peak through the actresses' clothing, as showing them on the small screen would historically lead to complaints, loss of advertising and changes to ratings classifications.

While campaigns such as #FreeTheNipple have achieved some changes to the way women's nipples are censored in media, there is still a strong stigma around having them visible. With the surrounding criticism always alluding to the idea that uncovered nipples are there solely to entice sexual interest or as an act of calculated rebellion.

In the case of Florence Pugh, the criticism went further than just the fact that she had her nipples on display. It turned to the brutal shaming of the size of her breasts, the way they sat under the dress and even the colour of her nipples – giving her more than enough right to issue a scathing response to the (mostly men) who ripped her body to shreds.

After decades of seeing only one kind of 'acceptable' nipple or breast in media, having any woman consensually show off her uncensored body is a gift – a way for at least one other person to see a figure that mirrors their own instead of an endless sea of safe sameness.

Yet while we can applaud Florence Pugh for this, the conversation around this topic cannot end here.

Listen to this episode of The Spill, which discusses the very topic you're reading about now. Post continue after podcast.

In the same breath as we support Florence for writing these words it also has to be said that she lives in a body that allows her an immense amount of privilege. And with that privilege comes a safer space from which to make these comments. Safety from a world that is less likely to debate her body and the message it sends.

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As a young, blonde, white, thin and able-bodied woman, criticism around her body can still sting, but it also provides her entry into the world of entertainment and power. 

Voices coming together to defend a body that fits into conventional standards of beauty is always a worthy cause, but only when those voices extend their power to include marginalised bodies. Because these bodies are also censored and ridiculed on platforms such as this – often to a larger, more painful extent. 

Women of colour, plus size women, transgender people, and many more marginalised groups regularly face torrents of criticism and censorship around their bodies. These groups of people have been speaking up for years about the idea that social media platforms are much more likely to allow abuse and censorship around their bodies to go unchecked – a stark contrast to their thin and white counterparts.

But that's a more difficult conversation to have, and unfortunately there is no one-size-fits-all message of body empowerment that can speak to all groups. 

For all the famous voices who threw their support behind Florence, for all the people who reposted her words with messages of support, and the media outlets who championed her "clap back", there is a larger group of people who cannot find comfort here.  

For many people, simply choosing to love yourself, or, as Florence writes, telling your industry to "f**k that", will make no active change to their situation. 

It is of course not up to Florence Pugh (or her nipples) to stand up for all marginalised bodies, but her words are a reminder to us all that there are two uncomfortable sides to this conversation.

There is the idea that no body, no matter how conventionally attractive, should be subject to abuse. 

And then there's the second idea: One that reminds us that if we're going to lend our voices of support to one specific group of bodies, then those voices need to be just as active in protecting those whose bodies are in more danger.

Laura Brodnik is Mamamia's Entertainment Editor and host of The Spill podcast. You can follow her on Instagram here.

Feature image: Getty/Mamamia.

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