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Event: Nipplegate
Participants: Livejournal
Date(s): May 19, 2006
Type: Meta
Fandom: None (parenting)
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Nipplegate was an early Livejournal non-fandom wank that mostly involved the breastfeeding community. It was noticed and picked up by several outside blogs and eventually caused a recodifying of the Livejournal TOS.

Livejournal enforces "no nudity in default icons"

Breastfeeding icons targeted

On May 19, 2006, Livejournal user Cali4niachef was told by someone from the Livejournal Abuse team that she had to change her default icon, which showed an image of a baby being breastfed, or face suspension.[1] In response to user complaints from Cali4niachef's fellow members of the Boob Nazi community, a member of the Abuse team further clarified that U.S. and California laws exempting breastfeeding from indecency laws did not apply to Livejournal, as mothers were not actually breastfeeding on Livejournal itself.[2]

The discussion quickly moved to broader controversies over breastfeeding; specifically, the social stigma in parts of the U.S. that had prevented many women from breastfeeding in public and had caused campaigns to enact specific laws protecting breastfeeding mothers and their children. Cali4niachef responded to Livejournal Abuse:

I have carefully reviewed your restrictions for userpics and my user picture does not meet the criteria. It is not violate your TOS. Your TOS only specifies that "we require that your default userpic not contain anything too explicit. In particular, icons which are graphically sexual or violent in nature tend to be inappropriate for default userpics." In what way do you classify a photograph of an infant nursing, the single most natural act between a mother and child, as graphically sexual or violent in nature -- or indeed, as sexual at all?


Women have the legal right to breastfeed in public in all 50 states, many of which have laws which specifically protect a mother's right to feed her baby in public. Perhaps LiveJournal is not aware of the recent media coverage of cities governments and businesses which have tried to interfere with a mother's right to nurse her child?[3]

To which a Livejournal Abuse team member responded:

This policy and the email you received are not grounded in the belief that breastfeeding is illegal, obscene, inappropriate, or otherwise subject to censorship. Rather, the content restrictions placed on default user picture icons are made necessary by the fact that default icons can be seen in many places within the domain; their appearance is not limited to entries or comments for which they have been selected. Because these icons can be seen in places on the site where one would not reasonably expect to find sexually explicit content, such as user directories and searches, they must not contain material which may be considered inappropriate for viewing in certain settings. We realize that breastfeeding is not a sexual activity, however images depicting the activity cannot be used as default icons if they display an unobstructed view of the subject's breasts.[3]

As one pro-breastfeeding website put it:

"The response says essentially that although breastfeeding is not a sexual activity, breastfeeding is a sexual activity."[4]

Another fan wrote:

So, I, uh… started Nipplegate.

As with most things, it begins with Bea Arthur, in particular, my spiffy new user icon of Bea Arthur Naked by John Currin, a painting that has since then sold for more than $2M.

Now, the thing you need to know is that the LJ Abuse team was… terrible. It’s not really their fault; they were (almost) all volunteer (fun fact: the exception, team leader Denise, went on to be a founder of Dreamwidth). They were so notorious for sticking by nonsensical decisions that Abuse_LJ_Abuse became a giant-ass community making fun of them.

Anyway, for all those reasons, they tended to favor bright-line rules that any moron could apply — like no nipples in default usericons.

Even, apparently, painted ones.

So I got reported and they insisted I remove or cover Bea’s milk duds. “Well that’s obviously ridiculous”, thinks I. “I wonder how far they’re willing to take this terrible policy?”

So after adding animated swinging tasseled pasties to Bea and renaming the usericon “LJ Abuse Marie is an Art-Hating Philistine”, I went on a quest to find out. I reported pretty much every nipple I could find until I got bored, about an hour later. In addition to tons of more classical artwork, including nipples made of paint, pencil, pixels, and marble (also including LJ Abuse Denise’s default icon, also an illustration, which definitely contained a sliver of nipple even though they said it didn’t), and maybe four or five breastfeeding pics. I assumed, even if they banned all the art ones, they’d never be stupid enough to ban the breastfeeding ones.

They were stupid enough.

The uproar started quietly but as the real power trolls picked up on it and started reporting more breastfeeding shots, and as the abuse team somehow just kept doubling down on it, the whole thing snowballed, and eventually Cory Doctorow and Teresa Nielsen Hayden called me “some troll”, which was my finest Charlotte’s Web moment, and there were thinkpieces and nurse-in protests and the whole thing was just a glorious, ridiculous clusterfuck that could have absolutely been avoided if the damned abuse team wasn’t staffed, to a person, by paste-eating imbeciles.

Good times. [5]


In the comments, many users pointed out that the original icon contained a very obstructed view of the user's breast, as the nursing child was in the way. Later, a gallery was posted by ProMoM to display images that ProMom said were now banned by Livejournal's changing of the TOS to read "nudity or graphic violence", where before it had read "sexually explicit or graphically violent".[6]

The backlash from this controversy caused some users to quit Livejournal entirely[7], foreshadowing the later reaction to Strikethrough. The incident was mentioned in high-profile blogs and news sites, eventually making its way to Wikipedia itself.[8][9] The controversy also reached Fandom_Wank's otf_report three separate times, and later received its own entry on the Fandom_wank wiki.[10] Along the way, the name "Nipplegate" was coined, though it did not see universal adoption.

Livejournal issued an apology in the original community, stating that:

At present, we have agreed to review both our policies and our enforcement procedures to ensure that we are acting both consistently and fairly. Along with this, we want to add appropriate detail to our online FAQ so that it accurately reflects our policy.[11]

Two years later, Livejournal's policy was finally clarified: breastfeeding images would be allowed as default icons.[12]

See also


  1. ^ Boob Nazis - icon; archive link, by Cali4niachef. "someone informed the Live Jounal Abuse team my default icon is "inappropriate". i have to stop using it as my default icon by 23rd or my journal will be suspended." Posted May 19, 2006. Accessed February 9, 2012.
  2. ^ Boob Nazis - icon, comment by Raving_liberal. "So, LiveJournal places breastfeeding in the same category of sexually explicit and graphically violent materials, as outlined in your TOS for default icons? That's a very interesting policy, and an unfortunate one. I'll be sure to pass this information along." Posted May 20, 2006. Accessed February 9, 2012.
  3. ^ a b Boob Nazis - a response re: icon, by Cali4niachef. Posted May 21, 2006. Accessed February 9, 2012.
  4. ^ General Information. Accessed February 9, 2012.
  5. ^ comments by Hardvice, from Strikethrough, Boldthrough, Nipplegate, and Russian Censorship: The LiveJournal Saga (2021)
  6. ^ LiveJournal tells lactating mums to put 'em away, by Lester Haines. The Register. Posted June 1, 2006. Accessed February 9, 2012.
  7. ^ Stickytop post..., by Janecarnall. "This does come down to stubbornness, in the end. I'm not especially attached to this default icon: I put it up in solidarity with breastfeeding mothers, friends and nonfriends, who were being harassed because they were using pics of something very central of their lives. I put it up because I believe in public support for public breastfeeding. I put it up because I didn't like LJ Abuse changing their rules to support a hasty, stupid decision by one of their volunteers, and then claiming the rule had never changed." Accessed February 9, 2012.
  8. ^ Making Light: LiveJournal’s attack on women and mothers, by Patrick. Posted May 31, 2006. Accessed February 9, 2012.
  9. ^ Livejournal - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Accessed February 9, 2012.
  10. ^ Breastfeeding - Fandom wank wiki. Accessed February 9, 2012.
  11. ^ Boob Nazis - Response from Six Apart, by DougBryan. Posted May 24, 2006. Accessed February 9, 2012.
  12. ^ LJ Policy - Conclusions.
    "We have also stated within the policy that non-graphic, non-sexualized nudity is not considered explicit adult content. This includes things such as an image of a mother breastfeeding their child, or a non-sexualized work of art such as the Statue of David. We have also extended this to our policy on default userpics; non-graphic, non-sexualized nudity is no longer considered a violation of our default userpic policy." Posted May 30, 2008. Accessed February 9, 2012.