Why Sasha Frolova’s Nudes Don’t Have Nipples

Sasha Frolova knows her shit.

It’s not totally uncommon for someone to be a self-titled model, artist, actress these days. But it’s slightly less common for someone to be as self-aware and inquisitive as Sasha Frolova is.

In Sasha’s latest series, “Busts,” she explores Instagram’s anti-nipple policy in an interesting way (and no, not in a Kim nude selfie type of way).

We talked with Sasha about “Busts,” being a multi-medium artist, and how we still have a long way to go when it comes to presenting women’s bodies on social media.

For Busts, it’s kind of like you combined this renaissance background and layout but put in a female gaze into it. Can you kind of talk about that juxtaposition?

Yeah, well it’s interesting that you said “female gaze” because I never thought of this series, as a female gaze until you just said that. I’ve always thought of it more as a self portrait. But I guess I identify as female so if it’s a self portrait then it’s a female gaze. The renaissance and the surreal elements came from a painting that I saw at The Whitney and also from collaborating with Sophie.

We had met very early on in the project, Sophie made the cloud paintings and we got Ramen and we were sitting there for a million years talking about it. The project has been a product of a lot of email conversations that I’ve had with different friends as I was doing it and I think that helped me to formulate it. We’ve been friends for a long time and I think she’s a really talented artist so she brought in the kind of surreal element to the renaissance ideal that I kind of had brought to her. It kind of hit some check points along the way and made the art history reference stronger for me. Then, I wanted it to be that when you looked at it you understood that the conversation that you were having with yourself and whoever you were with, or whatever, the conversation around the image was a timeless conversation in art.

So the inspiration behind the project was sparked by censorship on Instagram, correct?

Yeah, and actually this is a very timely interview that we are having because the only picture that I had ever had taken down was that picture. I obviously had seen that other people who’s work gotten taken down but I didn’t know what it felt like to have that happen to me. So my Instagram is kind of in stripes of like themes and colors and stuff because that makes me feel more comfortable about being a self-promotional asshole. So the last stripe that I did after posting the series were all pictures of me naked, censored with emojis.

Last night I posted one from a Ryan McGinley shoot I did and I had these punches over my nipples and a little unicorn over my vagina. It was up for a few hours and then it got like, I don’t know, six or seven hundred likes and people were commenting. So there was activity on it, but then it got taken down! And I was like, “Oh my God! No way, this is so crazy!”

Actually I was having a DM conversation with this person, just some random person because I wrote that people should reach out to me and I was actually really happy that some people did. We started talking and she was like:

“On a superficial level, it seems to be just the nipple.” She was like, “I agree, their actions almost seem targeted and there has never been any explanation of the guidelines as to why these images are explicit. Because there is not valid reason that doesn’t contradict itself or imply sexism. And that was such a strong component of your work: is the breast vulgar? Is the nipple? Are both in conjunction? Why? On a superficial level, it seemed to be just a nipple so the fact that a censored image of yours was deleted, yet your Busts series wasn’t, would indicate that none of the above are actually vulgar to Instagram. Rather, it’s literally just a prejudicial denial of women’s bodies in the whole.”

And I was like, “Damn, throwing it real. I love that!” So true though, I actually had to re-read it like eight times. But it is funny that the whole series was about censorship being simply the nipple making it vulgar or sexual instead of anatomical. And that even covering up something with a Zana Bayne leather harness, or something like that, where you’re not exposed would I think be more vulgar to me and be more likely to stay on Instagram.

Yeah, it’s very bizarre.

And it is a conversation, sorry I’m going off again, that I don’t think is always dealt with properly. Like I do think that some magazines, and I won’t name names, but I think there are a lot of articles that’s like, ‘These women are changing the face of the female gaze’ and female directed art, and I think that a lot of articles will include some people that are doing that with some people that are hopping on the trend.

Yeah, definitely.

Which is dangerous.But like with the Instagram, like the emoji censorship, it worked for the other two images that I posted but not for the third one? And like why? It just doesn’t make sense to me, I don’t understand it.

Yeah, and that is where you get all of these angry dudes being like, “Oh, well getting naked doesn’t make you a feminist, or if you pose naked then you’re not a feminist” and all that shit.

It’s complicated because then where is the line where you can say what I just said, it’s not even fair for me to say, “well this woman is not actually sincere about her intentions with this.” Because who am I to say that? That’s not really cool of me, but at the same time maybe it’s a line between someone being successful at doing it and having an image that really sparks a conversation rather than just presenting something. I’m not sure if I have given that enough thought.

So if Instagram were to free the nipple, do you think that it should free all nudity? Where does that line get drawn?

Well that’s something that I’ve been thinking of recently too. There is a validity to saying, “we don’t want pornography on Instagram. That we don’t want Instagram to become anything but a place to share.” It is a community, it’s got its community guide lines, which I think is fair. And where do you say, “Ok well, because Ryan McGinley is a famous photographer who shoots nudes then his photographs get to stay. But then this student photographer who is doing a similar thing doesn’t because they don’t have the success to validate the image.” It gets to be a very tricky playing field. I was just actually looking at the community guidelines before you called because I was curious to see what it said.

“We know that there are times where people might want to show nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons, we do not allow nudity on Instagram. This includes photos, videos, and some digital content that shows sexual intercourse, genitals, and close up images of nude buttock. It also includes some photos of female nipples but photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breast feeding are allowed. Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK too.”

It doesn’t actually talk about tonality of the image, it only talks about aesthetic content and what’s visually there. But it seems like that’s not true based on the three images I just posted. The third one was definitely the most–even though it wasn’t beckoning at all–it was probably the most challenging to the rule. Even though it was all covered up. But, I mean, I think there is a difference between if my boss saw that, I don’t have a boss I mean agents I guess, if my agents saw it I wouldn’t be embarrassed. If someone I babysat for saw it, I mean I think it would be kind of weird and they would ask questions, like the kids or whatever, but I don’t think that it would be something that I couldn’t explain to them.

And I think that’s a very vague guideline, and obviously they can’t make a guideline like that, but that is something that is so much more important to me and if there were most discussions about tone than aesthetics then it would be a very different game and I think that’s where my problem with things like free the nipple and just very all encompassing movements that are based on aesthetics. Because not just any nipple should be freed, I don’t think [laughs].

So then how do you feel about the fact that women’s nipples have become very fashionable? Like Kim Kardashian has been photographed wearing see-through shirts through the streets.

In my humble opinion…I think it’s cool. And when it becomes emblemized in a picture  then you’re saying, “what are we talking about in the fashion of doing this? Like is she making a statement at all or is it a comfort thing? And if she is making a statement, what kind of statement is she making? And what kind of statement does her audience think that she is making?”

Which is something that I thought a lot about with “Busts” and I do always with my series, which is why I plan them for such a long time, is that you can be trying to make something one way, but if you don’t think about how someone, with no information, would read the situation. Then, you might not be actually telling the story that you’re trying to tell. So I think as a fashion it’s cool because you do need to shake things up a little bit. You need to have some controversy.

Have some bold women, especially those that are protected by their existence in the public sphere, their beauty. If you’re a really hot model in LA wearing a sheer top and you’re around friends, that’s how you’re presented, then you can challenge a system without being at risk. But I think if you’re in a dodgy alley, and you’re a young girl and it’s night and you’re wearing a sheer top and you’re alone, that’s really dangerous. And I think a lot of these movements don’t acknowledge that the transition is dangerous in some sense and that you have to be aware of that to be political, you have to be conscious. Not just politically conscious, but conscious of your present atmosphere of what message you’re telling people.

I mean, I wear things that are sheer out when I’m with my friends, but if I’m on the subway and it’s like very, very sheer I’ll like bring something to put over. Because I’m not trying to get a homeless person to give me any more attention than I already get.

Yeah, it’s interesting because it still kind of goes back to that Instagram argument where if somebody has a lot of followers or is very successful they can get away with it. It translates to real life.

Completely, it does.

Yeah, definitely. So the models in the “Busts” series, with their nipples removed, they kind of look like Barbie dolls. Did that ever cross your mind?

Absolutely. I was definitely thinking about the idea of a nipple in culture. I have a minor in Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Development, so I think a lot about the early introduction to things, because I think they are so carried with us for the rest of our lives and so deeply ingrained in our subconscious that they’re not even things that we understand we’re connecting to.

I was looking into things like dolls, and there was also a time where I was imagining what a Barbie would look like if it had nipples and if that would be weird. And I was thinking about how kids are probably the least freaked out by a nipple because just a second ago they were sucking on it. And, you know, actually taking the nipples away from a Barbie doll, at the same time they are taken away from the breast saying they nipples aren’t real or nipples aren’t feminine. Whatever it is in Barbies being the idyllic woman taking her nipples away, what are we telling girls?

Also on Instagram, I had someone tell me that, “I thought that your nipples just disappeared at a certain age and came back when you were older and had kids, I was five when this had started so my knowledge of anatomy hadn’t really existed. I drew this assumption from knowing that I had nipples, Barbie did not, and my mom did. I know now that this is ridiculous but I loved that your photos illustrated what my child mind thought what happened when a girl becomes a woman.”

That’s something that I was thinking about, but I didn’t actually imagine that thought process really being realized in a girl. But I mean, that was fascinating and it was interesting for me even looking for the girls with the nipples and without the nipples when I was editing the pictures and seeing it and being able to be like, “wow, that’s really crazy.” I’ve had some people be like, “it was so much prettier with the nipples,” but I think it’s the uncanniness of not being human, because there is something un-human about it.

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