What Social Media Censorship Is Telling Women About Their Bodies
Regardless if what you’re hiding is good or bad, the very act of concealing something from public view makes it seem like it’s wrong.
You build up curiosity, you have people inquiring about what it is that is so shocking – you are effectively creating hype and hysteria even if what you are hiding doesn’t warrant it.
Such is the case when it comes to social media platforms censoring women’s body parts, menstrual cycles and biological capabilities.
When Instagram banned Sticks and Stones’ pube pic, when Facebook removed breastfeeding photos, when Chelsea Handler couldn’t show her nipples, when Rupi Kaur’s period images were taken down, these popular social sites sent the same tired message: Real women’s bodies are taboo, “unnatural” and should be silenced.
They’re saying natural pubic hair on a woman is “unacceptable” (but on men, it’s fine?).
They’re communicating that baring your breasts is only OK when it’s for explicit viewing pleasure (in the form of barely nude, suggestive selfies).
They’re implying these beautiful womanly parts and functions are “dirty” and, therefore, should not be seen.
They’re instead advocating for a woman who conceals her menstrual cycle, who doesn’t have nipples, who shaves every inch of her body – an idealized type of woman who almost doesn’t exist.
What’s even more hypocritical is that, at the same time, these social media sites don’t censor hypersexual photos of women posing, or people on the toilet, or pro-anorexic displays of alarmingly thin legs, or “bikini bridges.”
It’s almost comical these sites allow for depictions of women’s bodies that most women don’t actually have. It’s just another way we’re perpetuating stigmatism and irrational fear over women’s bodies.
Moreover, the mere act of “taking down” a picture drums up unnecessary stir and controversy.
You think anyone would care that a woman put a picture of her period stain on the Internet if Instagram wasn’t around to delete it?
Ironically, in trying to erase real depictions of women, Instagram has actually drawn more attention to it.
Despite the fact that more women use Instagram than men, the platform is still appealing to the male demographic by only permitting photos of women guys would want to f*ck.
As Rupi Kaur stated in her criticism of the social media site, “Their patriarchy is leaking. Their misogyny is showing.” Shouldn’t Instagram be supporting the majority of its users, instead of alienating them?
Furthermore, these social media sites claim they are a “community,” but they really are only a place for specific types of people who fit the Instagram or Facebook mold – anyone who wants to share their truths without wearing a flower-crown or be themselves without covering up their mastectomy scars need not apply.
They are shielding their male users from tits and tummies they wouldn’t feel comfortable with. They are sending the message that you are too weird, too different, too “unsafe” to be looked at.
As Jessica Valenti from The Guardian points out, however, “the very nature of social media has made it easier for women to present a more diverse set of images on what the female form can look like and mean.”
Although these platforms have somewhat “edited” what images are being shown, they still provide a space for real women (not just models or advertisements) to share photos and narratives of themselves.
We may not be able to show our nipples, but we can show our cellulite and pimples and (some) deformities – and slowly populate the space with more realistic images.
The selfie, for example, is now being thought of as a way for women to “seize the gaze” and take control over the lens. Instead of being a narcissistic or self-indulgent type of photo, academics are championing it as women finally being able to control their image and their message.
We’re “making ourselves the subject and not the object.” We're not being simply looked at, but rather, we're sparking conversation on how we're being looked at.
It is important to note that Facebook and Instagram are easing up on their policies.
They are now permitting mastectomy and breast-feeding and menstrual photos on their sites – but not until they were all contested and caused enough uproar from users.
Perhaps they have learned that in trying to censor their female users’ photos, they have actually garnered more attention and raised more awareness on the issue. Because when you try to hide something, you only pique more curiosity.
If Instagram and Facebook really are the communities they claim to be, then why does one corporation get to dictate what is “appropriate” or “harmful” and what is not?
In removing candid images of women’s bodies, they are mislabeling them as the latter (“harmful”); by contrast, in keeping suggestive images of women’s bodies, they are labeling them as acceptable.
It’s not enough to post a photo anymore, we’ve got to look at the bigger picture.