In August, Nyome Nicholas-Williams, a plus-size model and activist in the UK, noticed that images of herself holding her breasts on Instagram were being removed. The photos were intended to demonstrate self-love and body positivity—in them she is seated topless, eyes closed, tenderly embracing her body—but instead, they were being marked in violation of Instagram’s community guidelines, which didn’t allow “breast squeezing.” Nicolas-Williams had been posting on Instagram for six years and this was the first time her content had ever been censored.“I was pretty disheartened when I was silenced,” she says.
As a general rule, Instagram doesn’t allow nudity. “This includes photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks,” their official policy states. It’s not always an exact science: Instagram removes (some) content that shows women’s nipples, but allows photos of post-mastectomy scarring and breastfeeding, for example.
But while Instagram is full of thin women who artfully pose nude, fat influencers are often forced to go to greater lengths to work around Instagram’s inherent body size bias.
The censorship of fat bodies—especially fat Black bodies—on social media isn’t new. “As a woman with bigger breasts, it’s impossible to reach from one side to the other and hold your breasts without squeezing them in some way,” says Kelly Augustine, a New York based plus size influencer and model. “Having been in the content creation space for so long it’s something I’m cognizant of and have to work around—because I know things will get censored.”
It’s not just nudity guidelines that disproportionately impact plus size users. Instagram is full of models—mostly thin—in lingerie but when Augustine works with lingerie brands, “I have to be very careful of how I create content for the space because I know that at any given moment someone will flag it or Instagram will just take it down,” she says. “I have a special cup size and I want to share with my audience that options exist but this is the unfortunate reality.”
That reality prompted Nicholas-Wiliams’s response to the removal of her image. She teamed up with activist Gina Martin and photographer Alexandra Cameron to start the #IWantToSeeNyome campaign and wrote an open letter to Instagram’s head Adam Mosseri. Her campaign mobilized her community and immediately gained the support of other powerful women like Jameela Jamil, Munroe Bergdorf and many others, who signed on in support.
Today, Instagram is updating their policies on nudity, to “help ensure all body types are treated fairly.” Nicholas-Williams’s letter caught the attention of Mosseri resulting in a call to discuss her experience. “As we looked into this more closely, we realized it was an instance where our policy on breast squeezing wasn’t being correctly applied,” according to a statement from Instagram. “Hearing her feedback helped us understand where this policy was falling short, and how we could refine it.”
The new update means Instagram will now allow content “where someone is simply hugging, cupping or holding their breasts.” But as Augustine points out, that’s still a gray area for people with larger breasts. Instagram will still ban content where “people squeeze their breasts in a grabbing motion with bent fingers or if there is a clear change in the shape of the breasts.” If there’s any doubt about an image, Instagram says they’ll ask reviewers to leave it up.
Not automatically removing a post based on reports is a step in the right direction, but the new update still doesn’t address how their process often automatically shadow bans Instagram users who get reported, and doesn’t acknowledge the reality of what happens when a plus size person with large breasts holds themselves.
“I don’t think it solves the problem, but it is a step in the right direction, and a step in the direction of change is what I want,” says Nicholas-Williams. “All we want is equality; in 2020, that really shouldn’t be too much to ask.”
Anastasia Garcia is a photographer and body-positive activist in New York City. Follow her on Instagram @anastasiagphoto.