After the great Janet Jackson nip slip that defined the 2004 U.S. Super Bowl, performers everywhere have experienced sleepless nights (I presume) fearing the same "wardrobe malfunction" might one day befall them.

The incident, which many critics saw as more of a publicity stunt and less of an accident, received lots of exposure, mostly negative. Jackson bore the brunt of it while Timberlake's career flourished. One thing it did show us was that a woman's areolas continue to make the public uneasy.

There is still a bizarre sexist double standard when it comes to male and female nipples.

But where do we stand now? We've become used to seeing Miley's side-boob and under-boob, girls' bum cheeks spilling out of denim cut-offs, red carpet low-low-low backs and high-high-high slits – but we are still concerned with some nipple? Is it the last taboo?

The fear of smuggling raisins has seen women klap their boobs way more than they should. Surrender nipple, gaan lê!

Read: The endless pubic hair debate: shedding all myths

But it hasn't always been like this. Broadly.Vice.com notes that in the 1700s exposed nipples were the order of the day. Court ladies were often painted with one exposed breast, and royals like Queen Mary II were spotted walking around with both their breasts out.

"Dressing tables, too, stayed stocked with nipple makeup, in an orange-red carnelian shade", notes the article.

How lovely.

To me, personally, exposed nipples have always - for as long as I can remember - been very French. From their burlesque nipple tassels to their fashion magazines and designers, the French are not shy of the nip.

Sure, I don't think Parisian women actually walk around like Saint Laurent ALWAYS suggests they should...

Read: Dressing for big boobs

2016 and 2017


Yet editorials and runways have a freer approach to nipples in France. Being a French nipple must just be the best kind of life.

And when it comes to celeb nipples today, it seems to be okay to show them on purpose (albeit veiled behind sheer, bejewelled fabric) a la Rihanna's Great Gatsby moment at the 2014 CFDA Awards.

Read: Will this be 2017's red carpet “naked dress”?

And in 2016 we saw a full-blown trend emerge on Instagram, with bloggers snapping and sharing their sparkly bits. Yes, the disco tit was born (or perhaps reborn?).

Disclaimer: I had a spray tan prior to this holidaisy.

A post shared by Daisy Keens (@pieandfash) on

Even the now 88-year-old Instagram fashion celeb Baddie Winkle got in on the action.

So outside of France, this spelled progress for the nipple in fashion. But then, recently, people made a big hoo-hah over Nicki Minaj’s nipple sticker at the Paris Fashion Week, and believe me, this was not the French media's doing.
 

The sexist double standard

Fashion has so often used material (or lack thereof) to make political statements. So, the showing of nipple (be it with or without a patch) is thus viewed as a fashion statement that is also political.

To protest against what society deemed "appropriate" in 1964, designer Rudi Geinrich put a model, Peggy Moffitt, in a monokini. By law, she was not allowed to wear this garment to a public beach.

During the 1920s, the well-known anti-segregation activist Josephine Baker dazzled audiences as she danced on stage in shiny costumes, headpieces and tops with limited fabric.

And there are so many recent examples of public toplessness being used as a political act. From the much-publicised topless protests held a few years ago by FEMEN, the Ukrainian feminist group campaigning for equal rights, to last year's Stellenbosch Woordfees and #FeesMustFall protests where students stood up against rape on campus - being topless gets you noticed.

And when censorship of certain social media platforms was questioned a few years ago, particularly censorship of mothers breastfeeding their babies – which was deemed to be "inappropriate" in nature - celebs like Miley Cyrus and Rumer Willis campaigned to Free The Nipple.

But does it get you heard? Or noticed and then, ultimately, just disregarded?

Assuming a woman who exposes a nipple is making a statement of some kind is a sexist double standard. Why can't we (even those of us who don't own French nipples) just show our tit without the expectation of a tat?

Mainly because a woman's breast is still synonymous with her sexuality and hyper-sexualised. Even when breastfeeding a child, people want nipples to be hidden because exposing them might trigger some sexual response.

Indecent woman! Indecent!

Women are in fact nipple-shamed instead of nipple-celebrated.

When can our nipples fly free like Saint Laurent longs for in his runway shows, without agenda, but just for the sake of showing them?

Images: Getty