Nipples are everywhere at the moment. Whether they are making appearances in tales of public breastfeeding, fighting for their rights at Free The Nipple rallies, popping up in Chrissie Teigen’s hilarious attempts to get around Instagram’s nudity policy or being shamed by MRAs who think that only men’s nipples are safe enough to display publicly, the fact is these tiny skin nubs are, for some bizarre reason, capable of creating quite a social stir. When Tessa Bergan was assigned an art assignment around internet artwork that engaged with net culture, she thought that nipples might just provide a perfect subject. And why not? Natalie O’Driscoll asked her all about her pointy project.
How does Nipple Net work, exactly?
Nipple Net is a user-generated, internet artwork. Anyone can submit a photo of their nipple and a short comment or story about their experience of their body to add to the work. The photos and stories are combined to create an interactive, collage-style artwork in which users can click the nipples to read about various experiences of the body.
What is the meaning behind it?
Nipple Net seeks to challenge negative body image by creating a playful, safe space to discover and celebrate the beauty that exists in the diversity of our bodies.
For many people, nipples are considered a private area of the body not generally shown in public, and especially not by women. In this space, the body is liberated from social and cultural constraints; the nipple acts a playful device to both equalise and promote diversity. In addition to challenging negative body image, the work promotes gender equality and may assist in desexualising breasts and de-stigmatising public breastfeeding. Through audience participation and internet presentation the work democratises the body and normalises difference.
How did it come about?
It started as a university assignment for a New Media Art course. With the directive to create an internet artwork that engaged with net culture, I considered that user-generated content, interactivity and a quirky idea were key qualities to incorporate into the work.
In thinking about the context of the internet, I considered that it is a space that fuels negative body image through the often unrealistic images promoted by pornography and social media. As this is achieved through its inherently democratic nature, it is also the ideal place to challenge such issues. And so Nipple Net was born as a means to promote better body image by showcasing diversity and sharing stories.
Can you explain a little further why you feel that the internet, social media and pornography can fuel negative body image?
The internet and social media are arguably the most pervasive media we experience today, and so have a huge impact on our personal and collective outlook. We’re now bombarded with idealised images not only from advertisers but anyone who can employ angles and filters for their selfies. Such obsessive manipulation is confusing our sense of what’s real and what isn’t and is consequently warping our expectations of ourselves and others. This is also true of pornography, which is more readily disseminated than ever, via the internet. Such fabricated (and ridiculous) images are increasingly seen as the norm, whereas real, imperfect bodies are denied representation and so, ironically, seem unreal, strange and wrong to us.
Do you identify as a feminist?
Yep, I certainly identify as a feminist. I think most people today believe in the concept of gender equality, but when you see statistics like the number of women to men represented in government or high management positions, or exhibiting artists, it’s clear there’s still more that needs to be done to make the idea of gender equality a reality.
Have you had any feedback from users of the site? What is the overall response?
The overall response has been wonderfully positive. Most people find the idea quite funny, and humour seems to be a good way to break down some of the walls we hold up (sometimes without even knowing that we do). Others have said they’re a bit grossed out by it, which I think says a lot about our uneasy relationship with our bodies. Most responses show that gender inequality and body image are very real issues that people are dealing with. I hope the process of sharing and reading these stories generates greater understanding and acceptance within ourselves and of others.
Why should people contribute to Nipple Net?
It’s a fun way to show your support for positive body image and gender equality; to get comfortable with our bodies in all their unique and beautiful strangeness, and see that it’s our differences that can connect us. Also, your nipple may never again get the chance to sit amongst so many friends!
Visit nipplenet.com to (anonymously) contribute your photo and story to the artwork.