Auckland beachgoers turn out to 'Free the Nipple'

Free the Nipple protesters on the sand at Mission Bay
Protesters gathered to 'Free the Nipple' at Mission Bay (Newshub)

Disclaimer: This story contains images of nudity that may offend some readers.

Aucklanders turned out in droves to enjoy the sun shining on Mission Bay beach on Saturday afternoon. Included was a small group on the sand who caused a big stir - a group of young, topless protesters, part of the "Free the Nipple" movement.

The Free the Nipple (FTN) campaign was founded in the US by filmmaker Lina Esco, as part of her documentary of the same name. While the movement has a snappy name, it's been making some serious waves online and around the world. FTN is aimed at giving women the same rights in baring their chests as men.

On social media, an image of women's nipples is immediately flagged as "inappropriate", while pictures of topless men can be posted fuss-free. In 2014 Facebook lifted its ban on images of women breastfeeding, but women's nipples in other contexts are still banned.

"Why can you show public beheadings on Facebook but not a nipple?" asks Ms Esco.

Celebrities have jumped on board, with Miley Cyrus being one of the strongest campaigners for the FTN movement.

Scout Willis walked through the streets of New York City topless in 2014 after Instagram removed one of her photos.

New Zealand-based supporters of the movement Jenelle Chitty, Grace Blundell and Andrew Rose organised the "Free the Nipple: Beach Day" event on Facebook for Saturday afternoon.  Around 5000 had clicked "interested" and 1500 were "attending" the event.

While they didn't quite get that turn-out on Saturday afternoon, a smaller but committed and topless group gathered to protest the sexual stigma around women's bodies.

Free the Nipple protesters on Mission Bay beach
The starting group of protesters which grew later in the day (Newshub)

Organiser Andrew Rose says the aim of the movement is to let women be comfortable topless.

"We just want people to be free and equal, and women to be treated as human beings rather than by their bodies."

He said that as a man, he was treated differently to women when he went topless.

"We want women to be able to walk out the house and take their top off and it be completely normal. I can walk out of the house and take my top off and be comfortable in almost every environment.

"Women should have control over how their body is sexualised, when it's sexualised and who it's sexualised by."

Fellow organiser Grace Blundell agrees.

"On a really hot day I want the freedom to have my chest, shoulders and legs out because I'm sweaty as f**k.  I want to wear something I'm comfortable in without being sexualised."

Free the Nipple protesters on Mission Bay beach
'Free the Nipple' advocates Shelley, 21 and Grace, 22.

Their point was summed up perfectly by the public reaction to their presence on the beach. A large group of tourists, particularly surprised by the naked breasts, gathered to stare and photograph the event.

Tourists photographing the Free the Nipple protesters
Tourists gathered to photograph the event.

The women were even asked to take photos with one female visitor. 

tourist taking photo with free the nipple protesters

Tom Ma, a 26-year-old visitor to Auckland said he thought the topless women were "very brave", but it was a little beyond his comfort zone.

"I'm quite a traditional guy," he said.

"Traditionally in my mind-set it's not something women should be doing. I think it's something women shouldn't show to just anyone."

"This is a global issue that will take years to rectify, but we believe this is step in the right direction," says a flyer written by the group.

Newshub has decided to publish photos from the event without blurring due to the nature of the protest.