Polar and Polarizing: The Public’s Response to SKIMS’ Nipple Bra

According to Kim Kardashian, “Some days are hard. But these nipples are harder. And unlike the icebergs, these aren't going anywhere.”

Nipples have always been controversial, and SKIMS’ new bra is no exception. The brand was founded by fashion and beauty tycoon Kim Kardashian in 2019. The name “SKIMS” is derived from “skimming;” it markets supportive, comfortable shapewear that enhances natural body shapes and provides a wide range of “nude” skin tones. Kardashian is known for her shock-value product releases and marketing campaigns, and she definitely caused a stir with her recent launch. The SKIMS “Ultimate Nipple Bra” is marketed as a push-up bra with an added “built-in raised nipple detail for a perky, braless look that makes a bold statement.” In her release video, the sarcastic SNL-esque production showcases Kardashian introducing us to her new bra, and get this, talking about the climate crisis? At first watch, I was convinced that the campaign was an April fool’s stunt. Needless to say, I was wrong. In her campaign, Kardashian proclaims she is “no scientist,” but with the earth’s temperature rising, you can always look “cold” with her bra. The video is most definitely not a joke (even though it is directed by comedian Michelle Wolf), and 10% of the sales are going to “One Percent for the Planet,” an international environmental organization that encourages businesses to donate 1% of their proceeds to climate-action causes.

“SKIMS” Shapewear brand created by fashion mogul Kim Kardashian. “SKIMS” by Skims Body, Inc. Public Domain Image has been edited.

If you’re confused by this product launch, you are not alone. Some feel that it is a ridiculous, unnecessary bra capitalizing on women’s insecurities and using the “free the nipple” movement as a marketing ploy to make money. Others feel that the boldness of the product itself makes it liberating, that an artificial nipple is really not that deep, and that it’s a great tool to stop the policing of women’s bodies. Whether you wear a bra or like to have your nipples out or covered, why should women be ogled or shamed for deciding what bodily autonomy means to them? This is not the first time the nipple is trending – nearly 20 years ago, HBO’s Sex and the City aired an episode where Samantha handed Miranda fake nipples to wear under her shirt, and Miranda was pleasantly surprised by the increase in male attention she received. Many women argue that the excitement behind this bra goes beyond wanting male attention; this bra is “also about taking back control and autonomy.” Upasana Das from DAZED analyzes Kardashian’s shock value release and highlights the positive feedback that the bra has gotten so far, noting that “some might say Kim is angling for the male gaze, but it’s us who have the power.” Women who choose to breastfeed in public often feel shamed for doing so, and social media posts showing the female nipple are often taken down. To stop sexualizing women’s nipples, they must be normalized in all forms.

Others have noted that the bra is a product that could be wonderful for trans women and people who have had a mastectomy. Breast cancer survivors have praised the new product — because breast reconstruction surgery does not necessarily involve the reconstruction of the nipple. The bra’s artificial nipple is a tool of empowerment that can make many people feel confident in their skin and SKIMS. Some women might also want to support “free the nipple movement” but are physically unable to due to back pain, discomfort, and overall need for bra support. Bra or not, nipples out or not, who cares? That’s the point. For people who want to do both, their dream has become a reality now. 

But, of course, the new style has proved to be polarizing for a variety of reasons. The reality is breasts are still considered to be highly sexual, with nipple-showing attire deemed to be extremely unprofessional in most work settings. While Kardashian’s bra seems to be a step in the right direction toward the normalization of the nipple, many argue that it may be counter-intuitive. The whole point of the free nipple movement is to, of course, de-stigmatize female nipples, but it is also to normalize women’s bodies and breasts, regardless of their shape or size. A perfectly curated push-up bra with artificial dainty symmetrical nipples doesn’t really scream “accepting women’s bodies in all shapes and sizes,” if you ask me. It screams, “Here is yet another product that will make your imperfect breasts look perfect.”

We can also tie this into what I like to call the Kardashianification of women’s bodies. We have witnessed the Kardashians popularize BBL’s (Brazilian butt lifts), breast augmentations, as well as Kim’s recent 2022 Met Gala weight loss transformation that relied on a “tomato diet” to achieve a thin, wasp-waist physique. The Kardashians have carefully and strategically constructed their brand around creating trends out of women’s bodies. In 2023, the nipple is trending, and the Kardashians plan to capitalize. After all, if we go back to the Sex and the City clip of Samantha wearing the fake nipple, she says, “Nipples are huge right now, open any magazine.” We can’t ignore how the trendy aspect of the nipple is inherently tied to our profit-driven society. A commenter on an op-ed from The Guardian gives his take: “Too feminist? Not feminist enough? Why is it anyone’s business to tell Kim Kardashian what to do? I love that she keeps finding new ways to stay relevant and make money. That’s exactly what capitalism insists you do, right?” While Kim has shattered many glass ceilings, it is hard to ignore the fact that we are witnessing yet another instance of the commodification of women’s bodies.

Vogue article written by Hannah Jackson highlights that “while the nipple bra remains as controversial as ever, maybe we’ll see more people adopting it. For the sake of the planet, of course.” Ah yes, the best way to save the climate is to purchase polyester-based-fast-fashion clothing. With SKIMS making its products predominantly out of fossil fuel-based polyester, consumers are falling for another greenwashing campaign. After all, it is specifically fast fashion, like this nipple bra, that ends up in landfills. The 10% going to “One percent for the Planet” is great on the surface, but does it do anything to offset SKIMS’ carbon emissions? With UNEP reporting that fast fashion contributes to almost 10% of the world’s carbon emissions and skims being valued at over 4 Billion dollars, the campaign’s environmental angle is extremely misleading. In 2022, SKIMS faced allegations of ‘greenwashing’ after its packaging practices were found to potentially contradict its stated commitment to environmental consciousness, especially concerning plastic usage. When celebrities who own private jets and companies valued over $4 billion USD create skits around climate consciousness, saying, “I believe everyone can use their skill set to do their part; that’s why I’m introducing the Nipple Bra,” it does feel like a slap in the face to climate activists, who are demanding concrete environmental change within fashion corporations. Promoting this product under the guise of a sustainable initiative is surface-level climate advocacy. “One Percent for the Planet’s” mission states they want to prevent greenwashing; however, the nipple bra’s philanthropic claim is the very definition of a greenwashing campaign and not definitely an example of “doing your part” when it comes to the climate crisis.

“Landfill showcasing human overconsumption of material goods, including fast fashion waste”. “Landfill Waste” by Creative Commons under CC0 1.0 DEED.

Women are raised in a society that is designed to make them feel inherently pressured to overconsume beauty and fashion products, made worse with campaigns capitalizing on their insecurities. The link between our collective lack of climate action and our thriving capitalist society that values innovation and over-production is clearer than ever. The launch of the nipple bra is the perfect embodiment of this dichotomy. Is pushing unnecessary products onto women liberating for them or the planet? Is the celebration of women’s liberation and choices, when it comes to both their bodies and purchases, just a profit-centric illusion? This nipple bra may not resonate with you, and most of us will laugh about it and forget about it in a year or two. However, as our bodies become increasingly commodified and as our planet continues to deteriorate, we must acknowledge not all feminist or environmentally marketed products truly help women or the planet. The emergence of the “nipple bra” highlights that while female-driven innovation is thriving, the fashion industry acts as a battleground for competing visions as feminism, as well as a systematic promoter of exploitation and over-production.

Edited by Sarenna McKellar

Featured Image: “Kim Kardashian, owner of ‘SKIMS'”. “Kim Kardashian in an interview for Vogue in 2021” by VOGUE Taiwan. Licensed under CC by 3.0