Dear Instagram - Part nipple rant, part sociopolitical essay.
July 18, 2016
Inequality, double standards, and sexism are all too familiar these days on the internet, not least on social media. One set of rules for retailers, another for bloggers. One set of rules for models, another for normal people. One set of rules for male anatomy, another set of rules for female anatomy. It's a ridiculous minefield of opression, and many of us want to take it down by storm, ridding the world of these ridiculous disparities.
For some help with illustrating this, I have called in TBCR ambassador Niam (H Cup Chronicles), who recently posted this picture and caption to her personal Facebook, expressing her frustration about being denied the right to advertise her extremely helpful, and not at all offensive blog posts about lingerie and correct bra fitting.
In conversation with me, Niamh said: "Part of me wonders if it's because Facebook/Instagram doesn't want to promote bodies like mine. How come lingerie ads with thin models can run? It's a body shaming issue. I just don't get how when you look into these community guidelines and they define nudity as being able to see FEMALE nipples or genitals, and yet the majority of women's photos being removed don't show any of these things. I know so many lingerie accounts who've had photos deleted even when their nipples were censored. So...why are those the guidelines, but you delete our photos, an do nothing about the men who harass us and send us dick pics? It's definitely a misogynistic thing, and it's definitely about taking the control away from us (women) again. Because how dare we celebrate our bodies as they are? It may seem trivial to people who don't run accounts like ours, but when you really think about, it is quite scary how much people don't want us to have control of our own bodies and lives and agency." #slay!
Two days ago, I myself received a notification saying that the above image, a TBCR post celebrating my stretchmarks and accepting them, had been removed from Instagram due to violation of community guidelines. Naturally, I was livid. The post was one of my most popular ones, with plenty of comments from others commending me on my body positivity, and telling of how I had inspired them and made them more comfortable about their bodies. I was proud of this post for all of the right reasons, and others were too. Removing posts such as this is a form of censorship of real life experience. Media bureaucracy prevents us from accessing information about body positivity, struggles that have been overcome, and happiness that has been gained. Words can be airbrushed as much as photographs by this kind of censorship on social media, which prevents the voices of average people, who do not have the backing of big publications, from being heard. In no way is this post sexually explicit or offensive in any way, it only expresses a positive message of acceptance. How about we evaluate Instagram's community guidelines then?
Whilst I completely disagree with Instagram's prohibition of artistic and creative nudity, and will disregard this in my posting if it ever comes up in any of my posts, I think it is pretty clear that I am not nude in this photograph. See that material? It's clothing. I may not be wearing a bra, but I am indeed clothed.
It is right that Instagram should police sexual content, for sex positive and educational material is unfortunately rare, whilst pornographic material and sexual harassment are far too common. However, it is important to see the difference between what is inappropriate and offensive, and what is educational, empowering, positive, and just.
Some paintings and sculptures can look so lifelike, there is virtually no visual difference between these and a photograph. See the double standards here? Also with male nipples vs female ones, but I'll touch upon this in more detail later.
Lastly, I commend Instagram on allowing photos of breastfeeding among all of this other absurdity, but want to point out one last issue that I find utterly perplexing and quite frankly, offensive. Nipples are a no - but mastectomy scarring is OK. Why are both not OK? Women proudly showing off their mastectomy scars, regaining confidence after a terribly harrowing experience, is one of my favourite body positive themes. However, I find it offensive that a woman should have to go through such an ordeal before her breasts are deemed acceptable for public consumption. The crux of the issue here is that women all too often seem to only be able to express their triumphs and confidence when we may also pity them, instead of just commending their incredible bravery and resilience.
Why are these images of my covered nipples unacceptable? Aren't they quite similar to pictures of a cancer survivor with mastectomy scars? I do not see how this could be interpreted as sexual in any way by somebody who looks at it for what it is intended. Instead of targeting body positive posts, Instagram should target the sexualisation often found in the comments left by rude and entitled individuals who twist our words and messages for their own perverted enjoyment.
With all of this on my mind, I decided to explore Instagram a little more. Curious, I searched the "#freethenipple" hashtag, to find that only the Top Posts were available to view, followed by a message stating that "recent posts from #freethenipple are currently hidden because the community has reported content that may not meet Instagram's community guidelines".
I hope that these reported images are really the inappropriate pornographic pictures posted to the tag by those who are exploiting the popularity of this equality movement, and find it sad that the actions of these users have brought a bad name to something that should be incredible positive and liberating.
The #freethenipple movement has been gaining momentum for a while now, with much merchandising, campaigning, demonstrating, educating and protesting going on worldwide.
The Free The Nipple campaign, founded by director Lina Esco who directed a film of the same name in 2012, focuses on laws and stigma regarding female toplessness in public as well as online and media censorship. One of the biggest issues leading to these laws is the rampant sexualisation of breasts, when they can and should be seen as just another part of our anatomy. They are only sexual when the women who's body they are on is in "sex mode", let's call it. These are life giving lumps of goodness that should be celebrated; they are completely the opposite of anything to be ashamed of. It is in no way fair that men should be able to expose any part of their body more than a woman can - the human body is beautiful in all of it's form, and is never to be reduced to only a sexual object.
The video below documents a Free The Nipple event at an American college. Some interesting questions are asked and answered, and it is generally very body and nudity positive.
Perhaps a better use of Facebook and Instagram's censorship here would be to concentrate on the undesired sexualisation of bodies (harassment, bullying etc as partly detailed in the gallery below), rather than what they make up in their heads to be sexual when it is purely positive. Further to this, perhaps I could say that Instagram is guilty of sexual harassment, for removing a photo of mine that they blatantly sexualised; not me or my peers, with the exception of those who treat me inappropriately - and thus we have come full circle.
Well done Instagram! I am offended by your behaviour. Not by nipples, not by stretchmarks, and certainly not by the skin and courage of a woman.