Second Skin


Second Skin (2015), Esmay Wagemans. All images courtesy to the artist.

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 patronizing platform.


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.


  1. rq says

    I find the whole nipple discussion ridiculous -- bodies are as sexual as you teach children they are.
    We still go to the sauna as a family when we’re out in the country, and none of the kids seem to be harmed by the existence of my naked nipples. Weird how that works. :P

  2. says

    Exactly. A bare chest should not be a big deal, regardless of gender. I agree with Wagemans that making a woman’s chest forbidden is the beginning of objectification. FFS, kids don’t bloody care, and why should it be all kinds of awful if they saw nipples (a woman’s, natch)?

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