I like exposed nipples as much as the next guy, but the red-carpet reveal is a trend that’s run its course.Janice Dickinson has been a model for 38 years. In that time she has worn countless thousands of outfits. Yet until recently she has never, as far as I can determine, worn an outfit that has allowed the tip of her breast to pop out unexpectedly. Dickinson’s exposure at last month’s Young Hot Hollywood [sic, sic, sic] Style Awards was an attempt to hop onto the nip-slip bandwagon. But it was so transparent, so pathetic, and so unwanted, it may be what finally causes that bandwagon to crash in a ditch on the side of the road.
At least, we can hope so. I like nipples as much as the next guy, but the celebrity nipple slip is a trend that is ready to die. The rhyming phrase has been around since at least 1997 (earlier citations may be sent here), when it was largely a professional hazard of female wrestlers, but it started to get a workout only after Janet Jackson’s 2004 Super Bowl slip. In the year that followed, nipples were slipping out all over. A short list includes Kirsten Dunst, Jennifer Lopez, Bijou Philips, Naomi Campbell, and, most significantly, Lindsay Lohan, whose slippage came at the peak of speculation about her growth spurt and cemented the phenomenon as a PR must. If you’re counting partial slips — and most nip bloggers do — you’d have to add Michelle Trachtenberg, Lauren Bush, Jennifer Garner, and innumerable others.
It’s hard to say for certain whether celebrity nipple slips are more common now or if it’s just that blogs devoted to tracking them are. But what’s telling is that celebrity nipple slip is actually redundant, since what is decidedly uncommon is the noncelebrity nipple slip. Despite that 1992 Seinfeld episode in which Elaine accidentally bares her nipple on her Christmas card, such things rarely happen to ordinary civilians. It’s true that most women don’t generally wear the same kind of flimsy dresses movie stars do, and aren’t stalked by photographers, but you’d think that if the nipple slip were the kind of accident that could happen to just anyone, there’d be a lot more photos like this around.
Instead, I couldn’t find a single website featuring galleries of amateur nip slips. There are hundreds devoted to downblouse pictures (the coinage is a clunky adaptation of the more euphonious and more popular upskirt), but that only emphasizes the rarity of nonceleb slippage. Even when sleazy guys go out looking for civilian nipple, the best they can do is quick glimpses from unnatural vantage points.
The difference between downblouse shots and nip slips is revealing (so to speak) in another way too. The former, like upskirts, are erotically charged. They are sexy because they show something you’re not supposed to see. Celebrity nip slips may be exciting or funny, but they are not sexy. They don’t show something we’re not supposed to see. Celebrities willingly show their nipples all the time on film or in Playboy. What makes the nip slip popular is that it shows us something that wasn’t supposed to happen. The thrill comes not from the body part but from the fact that a flawlessly prepped and polished celeb was involved in something, anything, unexpected and spontaneous.
Which is why the phenomenon can’t sustain itself anymore. Whether or not celebrities literally plan their nipple slips in advance, they are certainly aware that such things are possible, that certain outfits make slips more likely, that nip slips will be photographed, and that they can be embraced as part of a coherent publicity strategy. In hindsight, the beginning of the end came when Tara Reid stood grinning for, like, 20 minutes while photographers snapped her monstrous, scarred breast — not just the nipple but the entire overstuffed mass — on the red carpet at P. Diddy’s birthday party last year. Even if you buy Reid’s contention that she was unaware that her breast was exposed that whole time, the incident was completely devoid of that unintentionality denoted by the word slip. When a celebrity couldn’t care less that her nipple is showing, when she practically pulls it out and primps it for the cameras herself, what’s the point?