Florence Pugh: Is a visible female nipple the last clothing taboo?
12th Jul 2022
The huge controversy Florence Pugh's sheer Valentino dress has sparked shows that conversations around women’s bodies are still inflammatory.
Barbiecore has taken over as the latest fashion aesthetic du jour with everyone from Lizzo to Khloe Kardashian, Reese Witherspoon and Texan singer Kacey Musgraves embracing the look. A trend inspired by, and aligning with, Greta Gerwig’s upcoming Barbie movie, Barbiecore can only be described as unapologetically feminine – or at least stereotypically so.
A heady mix of Elle Woods meets Mean Girls (on Wednesdays we wear…), the entire concept centres on one very specific shade of hot pink and people have been loving it, to say the least. Even the world’s top luxury designers have been championing the new colourway. Valentino, for example, turned Rome’s Spanish Steps technicolour with their recent AW22 couture spectacular.
Lighting up the Eternal City with a flamboyant procession of vibrant designs over the weekend, the cobblestones were awash with an array of brightly-hued garments… and it wasn’t just the models who impressed either.
Anne Hathaway wore a sequined fuschia mini and platforms, Ashley Park donned a plunging long-sleeved dress in Pink PP (the distinctive hue creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli developed for his fall 2022 collection), Ariana DeBose opted for an off-the-shoulder ensemble that was about being “loud, proud and shouty” in the aftermath of Roe v Wade being overturned.
One outfit caused more ruckus than most though; Florence Pugh and her sheer tulle gown. A modern reimagining of the infamous naked dress, Pugh arrived to the event in a full-bodied, high-neck number complete with a multi-layered skirt, cinched waist and ruffled collar. Valentino’s signature pink in colour, the statement piece was quite the talking point… though not for the reasons we’d hoped and, disappointingly, the public has decided to focus on just one aspect of the look; the fact that you could see Pugh’s nipples.
Sparking needless controversy online, searches for “Florence Pugh sheer dress” soared in the following days with men seemingly thrilled at the novelty of seeing a woman’s breasts through her dress. Many felt justified in sharing their unedited thoughts and opinions of Pugh’s body with the world – treating the internet as the perfect place for their stream-of-consciousness monologues.
Responding to the misogynistic trolling last night, Pugh shared a lengthy post on Instagram, voicing her concerns at the ease with which men have pulled her body apart. “Listen, I knew when I wore that incredible Valentino dress that there was no way there wouldn’t be a commentary on it. Whether it be negative or positive, we all knew what we were doing,” she began. “I was excited to wear it, not a wink of me was nervous. I wasn’t before, during or even now after.
“What’s been interesting to watch and witness is just how easy it is for men to totally destroy a woman’s body, publicly, proudly, for everyone to see. You even do it with your job titles and work emails in your bio..?”
Noting that this isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last, that a woman is told what’s wrong with her body by a crowd of strangers, Pugh said that perhaps the most worrying part is how vulgar some of the men’s commentary has been. “So many of you wanted to aggressively let me know how disappointed you were by my ‘tiny tits’, or how I should be embarrassed by being so ‘flat chested’. I’ve lived in my body for a long time. I’m fully aware of my breast size and am not scared of it,” she continued.
“What’s more concerning is… Why are you so scared of breasts? Small? Large? Left? Right? Only one? Maybe none? What. Is. So. Terrifying,” Pugh questioned. “I’m very grateful that I grew up in a household with very strong, powerful, curvy women. We were raised to find power in the creases of our body. To be loud about being comfortable. It has always been my mission in this industry to say ‘f*ck it and f*ck that’ whenever anyone expects my body to morph into an opinion of what’s hot or sexually attractive.
“I wore that dress because I know. If being loudly abusive towards women publicly in 2022 is so easy for you, then the answer is that it is you who doesn’t know. Grow up. Respect people. Respect bodies. Respect all women. Respect humans. Life will get a whole lot easier, I promise. And all because of two cute little nipples.”
Kim K once broke the internet with a picture of her balancing a champagne coupe on her arse. Florence Pugh did it with a sheer Valentino gown.
Why are nipples so taboo though? We all have ‘em, but the crass comments Pugh has been forced to endure at the hands of faceless men on the internet prove that there is still much work to be done. It’s the year of our Lord 2022, but men are still commenting on, and publicly ridiculing women’s bodies. These men feel it is their prerogative to have an opinion. Not only that, but they feel entitled to share those opinions too – regardless of how tawdry or damaging or hurtful they may be. They sexualise and shame and vilify women for having breasts; conceal them or flaunt them, they’ll always have something to say.
The female form has been so hyper-sexualised that even the outline of a nipple is enough to outrage these days. There’s such a fixation on how women look that people feel the need to comment on anything outside the “norm” (i.e. not wearing a bra). Photos of topless men permeate social media without anyone batting an eyelid but Instagram continues to censor the platform for fear that a bare-chested woman may slip through.
Pugh never intended to make a statement. As The Conversation pointed out, “the pink confection Pugh wore in Rome, defiantly feminine in its colour and silhouette, was not a statement in itself. It was not until she posted the images on Instagram that it became a lightning rod. Even then, it was not the dress that was the statement, it was what the dress revealed.”
The internet has split into two distinct categories; those who support Pugh’s feminist f*ck you response to those policing women’s bodies, and misogynists who’d rather humiliate her, simply for existing in the body she has.
While seeing bare breasts is an everyday occurrence to those of us who have them, it turns out that the rest of the world still considers them taboo and a quick scroll through Twitter is enough to tell you that we have a long way to go before the nipple can truly be free. Pugh’s outfit choice shouldn’t be shocking, but the huge controversy it’s sparked shows that conversations around women’s bodies are still inflammatory.
The only solution is to do as Pugh says – “f*cking free the f*cking nipple.”