From her infamous corset bodysuit with conical bra cups to her bondage-inspired outfits at the Met Gala and MTV video music awards, Madonna has never been shy of causing a stir with her looks. But now the international superstar has come up against an unlikely and powerful foe: Mark Zuckerberg’s social media empire.
On Thursday, the singer criticised Instagram for taking down photographs in which her nipple was exposed, telling her 17 million followers she was grateful she maintained her sanity “through four decades of censorship … sexism … ageism and misogyny”.
She added it was “perfectly timed with the lies we have been raised to believe about the pilgrims peacefully breaking bread with the Native American Indians when they landed on Plymouth Rock! God bless America.”
The 63-year-old had earlier this week shared risque images of herself on and underneath a bed, wearing a cut-out bra, a thong, fishnet tights and high heels.
Re-sharing the images, this time with emojis covering her nipple, Madonna explained the original posts had been taken down by Instagram, saying it was “astounding” that women could show any part of their body except their nipples.
“I’m reposting photographs Instagram took down without warning or notification,” she said. “The reason they gave my management that does not handle my account was that a small portion of my nipple was exposed.”
She added: “It is still astounding to me that we live in a culture that allows every inch of a woman’s body to be shown except a nipple. As if that is the only part of a woman’s anatomy that could be sexualized. The nipple that nourishes the baby!
“Can’t a man’s nipple be experienced as erotic??!! And what about a woman’s ass which is never censored anywhere.
“Giving thanks that I have managed to maintain my sanity through four decades of censorship … sexism … ageism and misogyny.”
Instagram’s guidelines ban “photos, videos and some digitally created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals and closeups of fully nude buttocks”. The company says this “also includes some photos of female nipples”, though photos of mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed.
For years, artists and activists have put pressure on Facebook and Instagram to treat female and male nipples equally. The #Freethenipple campaign has since 2012 challenged the general convention of allowing men to appear topless in public while considering it sexual or indecent for women to do the same.
Various high-profile women including Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, Scout Willis and Cara Delevingne have publicly supported the movement.
Last year, Instagram was forced to update its nudity policy after it was accused of censoring and silencing the plus-size model Nyome Nicholas-Williams.
A wave of content creators then said the platform was repeatedly discriminating against black people, plus-size users and other marginalised communities by deleting their photos or failing to promote them in the same way it did for its white, straight-sized users.
Instagram has been approached for comment.