“Everyone Has Nipples”

by ChristopherAgostino

Janet and Justin - Superbowl XXXVIII

On the day of the Superbowl it seems appropriate to write about nipples. I’ve been reading a bit on the habit Facebook has of censoring body painting images, and the surmise that Facebook measures the level of offense based on the relative visibility of a female model’s nipples in the final image. One blog referred to it as “Facebook’s war against nipples”. Well, I have a relevant quote, too: “Everyone has nipples.”

One of the first discussions I had about all this was with a European body painter back in 2006 on the conflicted duality of the American cultural fascination with female breasts (in Playboy, advertising, Superbowls, etc.) versus the fear of the exposed female nipple. The subject came up because of the restrictions imposed about just how much of the model we could paint at the convention we were teaching at. The quote above is from Carolyn Roper, another European body painter, at a different convention in 2008. That convention had one of the strictest modesty requirements. Not even pasties or nipple covers were enough, the female models had to wear tube tops or bras to get painted for the classes and competitions. I’ve written before how poorly I think it works to paint over someone’s underwear, and at this convention I found it very awkward—and I’m an American, how much more so for the Europeans teaching there, like Carolyn. So she arranged to have a male model for her demonstration class to avoid the problem, and as she painted the salient portion of his chest she remarked about how everyone has nipples and so she didn’t see what all the fuss was about painting a woman’s as opposed to a man’s.

You really can't got much more naked than this, can you?

If Ingres’s Venus, fully naked, hangs as a treasured masterpiece in a museum, if it is acceptable for an artist to paint nipples on a canvas portrait of a naked model, why should I have to hide a model’s nipples in a body painting? We already had Demi Moore‘s nipples on the cover of Vanity Fair on newsstands twenty years ago (see http://wp.me/p1sRkg-6v), so why all the fuss still today?

There was a very funny sequence in the U.S. Supreme Court just recently as they adjudicated the case regarding decency standards on prime time TV when the question turned towards the offensive nature of a bare buttocks being seen (from the side) in an episode of NYPD Blue some years ago and the lawyer arguing against that interpretation pointed out that the US Supreme Court building was full of classic art images that included bare butts, many bare butts. Looking back at the most famous “nipple slip”, Janet Jackson’s at the Superbowl, which is also a topic of the larger case the Supreme Court is considering, it’s hard to decide which part of that half time show all about sex was the most offensive. I’m pretty prudish, or, rather, I have real trouble with what I perceive as sexism and the objectification of women, so the part that troubled me most was when the dancers dressed as cheerleaders chose to “take off all their clothes” because “it’s getting hot in here.” Janet’s breast was anticlimactic after that. You can review the show and form your own opinion:  http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x45h8i_super-bowl-xxxviii-halftime-show-fu_music

Although prudish, I am a liberal minded person, I admit that, and believe that we each should have the freedom to control how we use,  display or decorate our own bodies. I think that the more that American women are given the opportunity to be topless (at the beach, for example) the less power there will be in the cultural insistence on women’s breasts as indecent sex objects (and it is that  implication of indecency that bothers me, not the sexuality.) In New York State a women can go topless any where that a man can, otherwise it is considered sexual discrimination. Just to know that this is the law is a good thing. There is topless sunbathing sometimes on some NY beaches, even fully naked men and women on some (“nude but not lewd” is the New York State Parks guideline on that.) Occasionally you’ll see a topless woman on a NY city street, usually for a political cause, like the topless women holding signs at the start of Occupy Wall Street that pundits used to ridicule the nascent movement and which John Stewart made fun of (he didn’t show them naked on TV, because even though he’s on a cable channel without any relevant FCC restrictions about that it’s just not done in the U.S. for fear of public outrage—but my local Comedy Central channel airs ads for a strip club just about every night during his show.)

Regarding the public acceptance of nudity in body painting I believe that the best advocate for that acceptance is to expose the public to beautifully painted bodies, male and female in all shapes and sizes. Significantly, I think, there will be a step in the right direction at this year’s Face and Body Art International Convention (FABAIC http://www.fabaic.com/) in Fort Lauderdale as they have invited the general public to attend the body painting competition for the first time, on May 27. That’s gotta be a good thing and I am looking forward to being there—though I expect nipple covers will still be required for the female models, we are not in Austria yet.

Painting at the World Bodypainting Festival

As a liberal-minded body painter I wish I could always paint my models topless (male or female) even in public, as my European colleagues usually get to do. Twice, recently, I’ve had to change plans because a female model who had agreed to be body painted in a private studio for a fine art photograph informed me in the midst of the planning process that they didn’t want their nipples to show in the final image. It’s always entirely up to a person as to how they want to appear and what they choose to do with their body, so I’m fine with any model that makes that choice. In both these cases, though, it threw me because the models knew my work, had seen samples along the lines of what we were planning and should have known what to expect when they committed to being painted. So I was surprised. Particularly by one of the models who was fine with being painted topless but asked if I could airbrush out her nipples in the final image. I did think about accommodating her even though I don’t usually do that much photo re-touching, but decided against it because of the nature of the design, having too much detail work going across the breasts for this to be a reasonable option. I couldn’t set out in a painting session thinking about nipples rather than art and the model’s concern was also quite genuine and valid, not about whether we’d be creating art, but about how it would be received in our current culture. I opted to cancel the session instead, and we both felt bad about that. Fortunately, it was just my own project with no deadline, so no harm no foul, I’ll find the right model and re-schedule.

With the other model I think it was more a case of misunderstanding, in that she had seen my work but didn’t realize just how naked some of the models were, and she probably thought it didn’t matter to the final result if she wore pasties or not. If you haven’t ever painted a body I should point out that it does make a difference. Because makeup adheres to skin differently than it adheres to even the best nipple covers or pasties, wearing them effects the final result. The artist has to spend time and use some makeup trickery to try and hide the pasties, and then may have to do some photoshop retouching at the end. If you are painting someone for a video or to be seen in performance or in public then you don’t have the ability to do any photoshop work at the end, and the appearance of the pasties may draw more attention to the model’s breasts than if they were naked and well painted. So wearing pasties has an impact on the results and I for one don’t like having to do that much manipulation if I am painting something intended to be fine art, especially as nudity in fine art is an accepted tradition, right? Museums are full of naked people.

I don’t want to make any models mad at me. I like models (for the most part…some more than others to be sure, but generally yes) and I thoroughly appreciate their value in the art we create together (see the relevant posts about that, please), so I don’t want anyone to think I am being nasty about the two female models who I’ve sited here as an example. To be very clear about this, again, they are completely justified in setting ground rules for if and how they want to be painted. It’s been years, but I have modeled naked for artists in the past and experienced the vulnerability involved. Like all conscientious body artists, I understand that the model needs to be completely comfortable with how they will be seen and wouldn’t ask a model to go past their comfort zone. In our current American culture I don’t blame any model for wanting to avoid having photographs in public view that include their nipples because of their understandable concern that the photos might then be perceived as indecent. That’s the problem. My larger point here being that what I do blame is the current cultural climate which labels artistic nudity as pornography and makes such a big issue about a little thing as a nipple.


I also don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that all I got out of that class with Carolyn Roper in 2008 was a better understanding of nipples. I’ve enjoyed and profited by every class of hers I’ve taken. From my notes on that class, two great hints:

1- All water based makeup colors sink in to the color beneath, so every color you paint on top of another will pick up a tint from the underlying color. It is especially true of white going on top of colors. So plan for this in how you lay down your background colors, and leave extra time to go over white highlights again at the end of the painting.

2- Keep the model’s butt, hands and mouth clear until the last stages of the painting, so they can sit, eat, drink and hold things as needed during the long hours you are working together. (See, we do care about our model’s comfort).


Enjoy the Superbowl! GO GIANTS!

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One comment on ““Everyone Has Nipples”

  1. Jayne Walker says:

    Its a strange culture we’ve developed – seem to be a lot of hang-ups about breasts…today is the international protest about Facebooks censorship of breast feeding images. Breasts and nipples may double up as erogenous zones but going by this strange cover-up logic then we’ll all have to cover our mouths & ears as well!

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