The other day I came across a photo of Facebook’s community guidelines.
Now, I already knew that these social media platforms do not allow so-called “female nipples.” I knew that many of my friends have had posts taken down for simply mentioning the word “sex.”
I was blocked from making new posts on Instagram for 3 weeks with no explanation when I went viral in February for putting menstrual blood on my face.
What I did not know was that Facebook makes very specific exceptions, apparently, for when women’s nipples are acceptable and when they are not.
And I did not know that one of those exceptions, as you can clearly read in the photo above, is for an act of protest.
I decided to test it.
I made this post (essentially the same photo you see above, without my nipples covered) and accompanied it with words explaining what I am protesting (you can see the original text here. )
It was a challenge — I wanted to see if Facebook would stick to their own, clearly stated policy, or if my nipples were going to be policed after all.
They took it down immediately. I clicked for them to review it, and much to my surprise, they put it right back up.
“We’re sorry we got this wrong,” they said. “This photo does meet our community guidelines.”
When I woke up the next morning, the photo had around 100 shares. By the end of the day, it had around 1000. By the time the post was finally taken down, 4 days later, it had around 30k comments (on the photos combined), and around 8k shares.
This time, Facebook removed it without any opportunity for my response. “This photo does not meet our community standards,” they said. “If you post it again, your account may be banned or temporarily blocked.”
The only option they gave me was to delete the post.
Facebook not following their own guidelines aside, let’s talk about these guidelines for a moment.
Breasts are allowed. The sexualization of breasts is allowed — there are lots of photos in girls in lingerie and tiny bikinis all over these platforms.
My breasts are allowed until my nipples are shown.
My nipples are allowed to be shown if I am feeding a baby. My nipples are allowed to be shown if I have breast cancer and am undergoing treatment. My nipples are theoretically allowed to be shown as an act of protest, but as we see here, not really.
My nipples, apparently, are appropriate for society only if I am sick or if I am nurturing a child.
Otherwise, the addition of my nipple to my breasts makes them way too sexual, and I am not allowed to show them.
There are so many nuances to this absurd guideline: who gets to judge what nipples are female? What if a trans man shows their nipples? What about a trans woman? What about a woman without breasts? What is so sexual about my nipple itself that makes it inappropriate?
Why are some posts banned and deleted, while some posts are not? Why can a man make an Instagram account all about nice asses, while a woman empowered in her sexuality, dancing clothed around a pole, cannot post?*
Though it would be nice to experience the wind hitting my bare breasts on a daily basis (and omg, have you ever swam topless?), that’s not the sole reason I’m concerned about the inequality of nudity laws.
When some bodies are forced to be hidden, when some bodies are told that their inherent nature is too sexual for society to see, when some people are told that their bodies need to be covered to not attract attention…..
… that is when we have a culture where rapists aren’t prosecuted, abortion bans come into law, and everyone lives drowning in shame.
I experienced the most disgusting internet comments I have ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot) from this post going viral. If you want to skim through them, go to the post I linked above. I won’t mention them here, except for two gentler comments which made me sad:
One woman wrote to me: “You should be disgusted with yourself. Your body is no longer special, the whole world has seen it. You’re just another lost porn star now.”
So many people wrote: “I bet your boyfriend is happy now that everybody else has seen your body.”
I don’t think my body’s inherent value comes from whether or not people have seen it, touched it, or fucked it.
I would not date a man who thought that my body’s worth decreases the more it is seen.
I do not think I am less deserving of love, safety, or belonging just because hundreds of thousands of people have seen my naked breasts.
I am tired of other people policing my body. I am tired of being told what outfits are appropriate for me to wear. I am tired of being told that my body must give life. I am tired of being in physical danger because of what my body looks like.* I am tired of people telling me that patriarchy is not a thing because they don’t see the evidence of it in their lives.
I think that if Facebook and Instagram want to stay relevant, they need to stop instituting sexist policies. (And this article did not even touch on the fact that they regularly support racist white people but ban black people for talking about race**).
As I said in my now-deleted post, I think that abortion bans are toward the top of a pyramid whose base is made up with cat-calling and my nipples being deemed too sexual to show in public.
And at the very least, I want to see Facebook and Instagram clearly state their blatantly sexist policies, instead of writing one thing and silencing anything that challenges it.
*Many sex coaches, pole dancers, and sex workers are continually banned from these platforms, even when not posting sexual images or soliciting sex. This happens because people have such hatred toward empowered women that they continually report their posts. See Lux Atl’s post here, for example.
**I understand that the bodies of LGBTQA+ people and people of color are policed far more than mine. To read about how Facebook and IG silence people of color from talking about race, this article is good.