Chrissy Teigen's not afraid of a little nudity, and she's certainly not afraid of taking on Instagram's no-nipple policy. Judging by the cheeky captions on a series of photos the model uploaded to Instagram this week, she clearly knew she was going to cause a stir.
The irony? Teigen only uploaded the photos — indeed, she only posed for the photos — because in the world she comes from, nudity doesn't cause a stir at all.
Instagram could learn from fashion's longtime shame-free approach to nudity.
In fashion, nudity is beauty: Instagram took down the photos shortly after Teigen posted them, practically begging the model to engage in what became a back-and-forth duel: She would upload a new or edited version of the photo, and the company would rush to take it down, over and over again. The public sparring exposed Instagram's controversial photo policy, which has been slammed repeatedly for overzealous censoring.
But it also exposed just how limited the company's concept of nudity is when compared to fashion's.
Teigen's topless photo wasn't constructed in a vacuum. As she wrote in the original caption, the picture was part of a photo shoot titled "Privacy Settings," shot by famed photographers Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott for W, a magazine that's sold regularly on newsstands. Styled by W's own fashion and style director Edward Enninful, the shoot featured models like Emily Ratajkowski, Rosie Huntington-Whitely and Anna Ewers in various states of sexy undress — and included more nipples than just Teigen's.
Few eyebrows were raised about model Anna Ewers' nipples exposed in the pages of W, nor are many people outraged by the nudity they don't realize is happening in fashion magazines every day. Just take a look at fashion's annual Pirelli Calendar or Karlie Kloss' 2011 photo shoot for Italian Vogue. For readers of magazines like W or Vogue Italia, photos like Teigen's often meet blasé responses, or simply admiring ones.
That's because fashion has long embraced nudity as a perfectly natural way to showcase beauty and the female form. There's a difference between being naked and being nude, art aficionados like to say — the latter is art. (Just go look at the status of David.)
Nudity doesn't have to be sexual: As representations of beauty and the human figure go, nudity doesn't have to be sexual. Consider, too, that most of the magazines featuring female models and fashion are women's magazines, aimed at female readers, and the male gaze is largely removed (male photographers notwithstanding, of course).
While photos like those in "Privacy Settings" are undeniably sexy, in fashion, a nipple doesn't always scream "SEX!" — just as "come hither" eyes, accompanying a totally clothed model, still can.
And even when they are sexual? Well, sexuality and nudity can both be empowering. In a video accompanying the shoot, Teigen told W that she actually prefers being naked. "I am the most comfortable in my own skin," she said. "I actually am better in less clothing. It's a blessing and a curse."
Of course, it helps that models like Teigen are beautiful according to almost any society's standards. Nudity is easy to celebrate when the nude body is considered desirable. But Teigen's body isn't the only one that deserves celebrating — and uncovering, should that be the desire.
What we need isn't more shame around bodies but a non-censorious, accepting approach is the place to start— and fashion's been doing it for decades. Instagram, are you listening?