The drama began two weeks ago when Willis said her Instagram account was deactivated because she posted a photo of herself in a sheer shirt and another photo of a sweatshirt featuring a picture of two friends topless. (You can't see her faces in the photo.) She made a new account, but Instagram quickly took issue with one of her photos. She tweeted Instagram's fairly long response to her in which the company noted that while they "love that people use Instagram to express themselves artistically," they must remain conscious of their global audience's sensitivities when it comes to nudity.
So last Tuesday she took to the streets of New York — where female toplessness is legal — as a demonstration, tweeting photos of herself as she went: "Legal in NYC but not on @instagram" and "What @instagram won't let you see #FreeTheNipple" she tweeted. Willis has continued since to post photos in which her nipples are visible to her Twitter account.
Willis is far from the first woman to be booted from social media for showing areola: the Facebook-owned site has previously asked mothers to take down pictures of them nursing their children and breast cancer survivors to take down their post-surgery photos, according to People. And earlier this year, Rihanna deleted her notoriously racy Instagram after the app mistakenly flagged the account.
Instagram's policy, Willis argues, discriminates against women and reinforces sexist societal norms. She wrote in XOJane:
In the 1930s, men's nipples were just as provocative, shameful and taboo as women's are now, and men were protesting in much the same way. In 1930, four men went topless to Coney Island and were arrested. In 1935, a flash mob of topless men descended upon Atlantic City, 42 of whom were arrested. Men fought and they were heard, changing not only laws but social consciousness. And by 1936, men's bare chests were accepted as the norm.
So why is it that 80 years later women can't seem to achieve the same for their chests? Why can't a mother proudly breastfeed her child in public without feeling sexualized? why is a 17-year-old girl being asked to leave her own prom because a group of fathers find her too provocative?...I am not trying to argue for mandatory toplessness, or even bralessness. What I am arguing for is a woman's right to choose how she represents her body —and to make that choice based on personal desire and not a fear of how people will react to her or how society will judge her. No woman should be made to feel ashamed of her body.
Willis equates the nipple issue with body shaming and slut shaming in another part of the essay.