“Free the Nipple” advocates have been putting pressure on Instagram to get rid of its policy that prohibits people from posting images of women with exposed nipples. But this latest bout of Instagram censorship seriously makes us think that the social media outlet really needs an overhaul of its policies.
Rupi Kaur, a poet from the University of Waterloo, posted a series of images she took for a class exploring menstruation and the experiences women have during their respective periods. One of the pictures she posted showed a fully-clothed woman lying in bed on her side with a red stain typical of a leak marking the back of her sweatpants that seeped onto the sheets. Instagram removed the photo, saying it was in violation of its Community Guidelines.
Rupi attempted to repost the image (which was again removed), adding a message to Instagram’s moderators, labeling its initial removal as a sexist act.
“Thank you @instagram for providing me with the exact response my work was created to critique,” she wrote. “You deleted a photo of a woman who is fully covered and menstruating stating that it goes against community guidelines when your guidelines outline that it is nothing but acceptable. The girl is fully clothed. The photo is mine. It is not attacking a certain group. Nor is it spam. And because it does not break those guidelines, I will repost it again. I will not apologize for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in an underwear but not be okay with a small leak. When your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified. Pornified. And treated less than human.”
Of course, Ms. Kaur has a point. If Amber Rose is free to post images of her bare booty (which we are totally NOT complaining about…at all), why should a covered woman pictured with a tiny menstrual leak be deemed inappropriate? This entire situation just reinforces Instagram’s history of discriminating against women’s bodies, at least when they are not depicted in a state that may be attractive to straight men. Back in July, plus-sized Ohio teenager Samm Newman’s Instagram account was deleted over a few innocuous images of her posing in her underwear. Newman suspected that the site took action because of her size. Victoria’s Secret models and women with conventionally “hot” bodies were free to post as many bikini photos as they pleased, but she was singled out. Instagram later apologized for the misstep.
We can add this latest offense to a long list of questionable and downright wrong moves Instagram has made in the name of upholding its policies. Fortunately, after the backlash against censoring Kapur’s pictures, Instagram reposted the image, saying that it was mistakenly removed (twice?). It is just sad that it took a whole uproar for the site to get it right.
Instagram is in desperate need of an overhaul of its Community Guidelines. Time and time again, it has been caught participating in these random acts of sexism and hiding behind arbitrary community rules to justify them. Even if the removal was a mistake, Instagram should at the very least be making it clear to its employees that this sort of discrimination is unacceptable, rather than allowing it to go on and providing little more than an “oops” once its errors garner enough controversy.