Are Nipples Really So Offensive?

Posted on the 25 April 2012 at 15:30

If you are a social media user / yummy mummy / avid news-follower / combination of all three, you may have noticed the uproar about Nipples. Perhaps you even joined in the debate.

A Debate About Nipples?
Social Media giants Facebook have long been censoring photographs containing breastfeeding images. This has got many – particularly mums, of course –irked because of the implications of treating a photographed nipple when breastfeeding in the same context as a nipple taken for pornographic purposes.

Most recently, The Guardian ran a campaign to encourage mums to send in their breastfeeding nipple photos which they claimed they would post on the womens’ behalf to see if Facebook really would take them down. Somewhat disappointingly, The Guardian never followed through on this but the ensuing thread of comments makes for interesting reading if you want to research the Breastfeeding Photos debate.

How Does This Relate to Cosmetic Surgery?
The angle of this blog, however, is not only nipple photography but body photography in general and the wider issues that are raised by the Facebook breastfeeding situation. Facebook actually have policies forbidding public posting of a range of other images of nudity and ‘sexually explicit’ content. Some of the points which are being raised in the breastfeeding photos debate can equally be applied to Cosmetic Surgery pictures…

It’s All About Context
There is no denying that certain types of photography censorship are good. On Social Media, all forms of content including images spread very quickly and users cannot easily pick and choose what they are shown in Feeds. Removing offensive sexually explicit images and those of an obscene nature makes sense.

But it all comes down to context.

For a cosmetic surgery company, working hard to be honest and open with patients, videos and photography are a fantastic medium for showing the realities of surgery and potentially achievable results. In this field, a picture really is worth a thousand words and no amount of talking a patient through the procedure or providing information sheets for research is quite the same as actually showing them.

This is not so easy when strict policies would censor images of breasts, nipples and nudity.

Again, we acknowledge that certain images are inappropriate: a vaginoplasty photo, for example, is probably too extreme to accompany a mainstream Blog or Social Media post. In fact, we have tried text-only posts about genital surgery in the past and these were not received well so we learned to keep such topics to the confines of our main site. Breast Enlargement and Nipple Surgery, however, are two of the most commonly sought out procedures at Aurora Clinics. Prospective patients actively look for information and resources about these topics online; including via social media.

There is a clear an obvious difference between a clinical image – posed against a background in a rigid still-frame position to show the patient at all angles before and after surgery – and a sexually enticing photograph.

It is similar to arguing that information pages about cosmetic surgery procedures are pornographic because they contain words related to bodily parts, sometimes intimate ones. The sole purpose is to inform, educate and aid research. The language is chosen for this purpose and, other than the subject matter involved, there is no further blurring of boundaries in any respect.

Handle With Care
The handling of body photographs online, however, is still a tricky issue. There are certain factors which need to be carefully considered:

  • Obtaining consent and retaining the anonymity of the subject involved, if requested
  • More explicit images should be avoided
  • Surgical images (i.e. those of surgery actually being performed or with obvious scars or stitching) may be deemed too explicit for mainstream social media too. When we use them, we tend to keep them to internal pages rather than as Featured Images or use Warning Messages as disclaimers that there will be surgical footage involved.
  • The frequency of these kinds of images should be considered – as social media streams images and content through feeds and people use social media for fun, even the most avid cosmetic surgery researcher is unlikely to want bombarding with these kind of pictures.

If All Is Done Properly…Where’s the Harm?
If all of the above considerations are observed, pictures can be a powerful tool for helping prospective patients learn more about procedures, identify problems, empathise with others and get realistic expectations of results. It also allows them to research the work of surgeons before getting up the courage to make that initial contact.

Some procedures are relatively obscure so people may not have known about them in order to actively look up online via the main website. Or they may have felt too embarrassed to search the term. Inverted Nipples are a good example. Yet inverted nipples pictures and articles on social media tend to get high viewings and our pictures are always very sensitively handled.

If a male nipple gets the OK to be shown online, across social and other medias, we would fully agree with the Breastfeeding campaigners that there is nothing any more offensive about Female Nipples if sensitively handled and in the correct context.

As Facebook are keen to point out: They don’t actually actively monitor all photos online. In order for a picture to get taken down, it has to be reported by somebody else. So the main consideration when posting cosmetic surgery pictures on Social Media needs to be: might this offend others? Is this picture informative, useful and from a clinical context? If so, there should be no problem.

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Blog Comment(s) [2]

I'm very much in two minds about this. On the one hand, I think it's absolutely essential that people should be able to educate themselves about procedures that they might want to undergo, and seeing before and after photos is immensely important. BUT... let's remember that social media sites are open to a huge array of people. The age limit for Facebook is 13 years old. Now imagine someone puts up some before and after photos of inverted nipples. A couple of 13 year old boys find it and forward it to all their mates... it goes viral around the school and all their mates, and then all the schools in their town etc.... You then have the young girl, her confidence, already fragile, is completely destroyed because she HAS inverted nipples and now feels like a complete freak.

Personally, my feeling is that, whilst these photos are immensely useful, let's keep them restricted to the websites of the organisations performing the procedures. Yes, those 13 year old boys can still look at them, but the ability for them to go viral is greatly reduced. Ultimately, I suspect the policy is in place to protect our youngsters, not to sensor. As Facebook have stated, they don't look at all the photos that are posted (how could they even begin to?!) so an all-or-nothing approach really has to be the way when it comes to protecting our children.

Amy Crawford-Small

Thanks for your great comments on this debate Amy. It's a very valid point and we would agree that there is a time and a place for these images and social media may not be it, i.e. cosmetic surgery clinics should use social media to educate/inform/promote and then refer people to detailed content (information/images/video) on their own website. However, we know this will not always be the case and of course 13 year old boys will always find something if they want to! Interestingly, in line with this topic the GMC is currently undertaking a consultation with its members to come up with best practice guidelines for doctors on their use of Social Media, including Facebook and Twitter. You can read more on this here (opens in PDF) GMC Consultation on Doctors & Social Media. If Facebook and similar all rely on the people power of those offended reporting an image then maybe this is policing in itself and all that is needed for images of cosmetic surgery before and afters or actual surgical shots to be or not be tolerated.

Lorna Jackson |