You Should Definitely Breastfeed, But I Would Rather Not Have to See It.
Motherhood in advertising
Back in 2018 we did something that’s considered a bit radical in our little corner of the market by swapping out all the imagery on our site for new, unretouched images and videos featuring exclusively real pregnant and nursing mamas (to clarify, Storq has only ever used actual pregnant women as models, but they were almost always professionals). Our goal was to transform the experience of shopping for maternity clothes, widely understood to be a big bummer, into something more welcoming and relatable. The clothes were modeled by women of different sizes, heights, stages of pregnancy and postpartum, with babes nursing or picking their noses or dancing. Since our products are designed to solve problems without sacrificing style, it was important to us that we could show how everything would look and function on real mothers in real life.
This probably doesn’t sound all that revolutionary, but the reality is that lots of maternity brands hire models who wear a fake belly to sell their clothes. While it’s certainly a lot easier to do than finding and booking pregnant models, a woman’s body undergoes so many other changes in addition to a growing belly, that showing a non-pregnant woman with a fake bump wearing maternity clothes is really not a 1:1 match. You can read more about that here, here, and here.
We are confident that this was a step in the right direction for our brand, but this change was not universally well-received. On Facebook and Instagram the images were immediately labeled “sexually suggestive or provocative” or “overly focusing on one body part” in violation of their policies, and we were barred from using them in ads and in our product feed. Since all links in ads must also be compliant with their policies and our ads link back to our website, they are not just controlling what appears on their platform, but also what we can show on our own site. We have appealed the disapprovals, which are then reviewed by a human being, with mixed results. On a call, Facebook suggested we could problem-solve by using flat lay images of the products on a white background instead.
The message has been made clear to us: images that feature pregnant bodies or women nursing their children are considered inappropriate for wide audiences, regardless of whether it’s an algorithm or a human being making that call.
No doubt, it is a complicated thing to determine what is appropriate for mass consumption on the internet. But the algorithms behind our global social media platforms don’t exist in a vacuum either. This situation is ultimately a reflection of our own cultural biases and it’s no coincidence that debates over how the media portrays women and their bodies are taking place here. The real problem is not that our ads feature boobs, bellies and butts. We see this stuff everywhere to sell anything from beer to car insurance. It is how they are featured, because the context is that our company makes products for pregnancy and postpartum. These images are not ok because the women in them are mothers.
The public is simultaneously fascinated with and deeply critical of modern motherhood. The media is celebrating four January Vogue covers featuring mothers in the same week that new mom Shay Mitchell is being shamed for breastfeeding on a photoshoot. There is a lot wrapped up in the idea of what a mother looks like and how she should behave.
From a business perspective, this certainly presents us with an interesting challenge. And Storq is hardly alone in this respect. Facebook is one of the most dominant marketing platforms in the country that virtually every American online retail business depends on as a primary source of customers. Their ad policies force entrepreneurs into a choice: accept their definition of what is or isn’t appropriate, or go out of business. Other companies in our space have tried creative workarounds to avoid censorship, but there are no easy answers here. Attitudes aren’t going to change overnight.
For our part, we believe there is nothing sexually explicit about motherhood and these images should be welcome in the public sphere. As women and as mothers, we know that it’s important to show and speak about motherhood in an honest way even if that means having to sacrifice some of our business goals along the way. We will keep putting these images out there and we will keep pushing back, because there is nothing wrong with showing a pregnant belly or a woman nursing her child. Women need to know that this is how these products work in real life.
They also need to know that there is no aspect of motherhood that we should be made to feel ashamed of. Ever.