On Twitter, a day can feel like an age. With so much bullshit flying around, if you stay off it for a few hours you may well miss 10 different non-scandals that have enraged the Twittersphere before fading away again without a trace. It’s strange, then, that more than a week after Scout Willis, the 22-year-old actress and eldest daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, posted pictures of herself walking topless around Manhattan, in protest at Instagram blocking her account for posting similarly risqué snaps, she’s still sparking debate across the web.
It all started when Ms Willis posted on Instagram a shot of a jacket she designed, which had an image of two bare-chested women on the back. Falling foul of Instagram’s stringent no-nudity policy, presumably aimed at stopping the social network from being reduced to another soft-porn hub, the image was deleted and Willis’s account was suspended. In protest, she took off her top and took to the streets, tweeting the pictures with the hashtag #FreeTheNipple, to make the point that while it is perfectly legal for women to walk down the streets of New York with their nips on show, it is forbidden by the prudish gatekeepers at Instagram.
Bringing together the two best ingredients for a bit of sidebar-of-shame shine - nudity and vapid celeb self-obsession - Willis’s protest quickly set the internet on fire. But there was something more to this story – a grain of almost-substance that has meant that Scout has stayed on the trend list for much longer than expected. For this was not one bratty sleb’s fight against a social-networking site; no, it was apparently the start of a gender-politics revolution.
On Monday, Willis wrote a blog post defending herself against those who took her stunt to be sheer exhibitionism. She insisted that, even without realising it herself, she was taking on something bigger. ‘What began as a challenge to Instagram and its prejudiced community guidelines became an opportunity for dialogue’, she wrote. ‘What I am arguing for is a woman’s right to choose how she represents her body.’
As Willis concedes, #FreeTheNipple is a campaign, both online and off, that has been raging quietly for a few years now. Through a series of stunts, it has called for the bans which still exist in 37 US states on women going topless in public to be lifted. Willis’s intervention has given the campaign a new lease of life: Rihanna has pledged her support, after almost being kicked off Instagram herself for posting pictures from a raunchy French cover shoot; scores of supporters have got their baps out for the cause on Twitter; and a topless protest in solidarity with Scout was mounted in New York over the weekend.