Ever since the beginning of social media, platforms have struggled with censorship. What type of content is allowed on which platform? What role do the platforms have in the content their users display? These questions are particularly relevant to the topic of nudity. In this case, the question can lead to hypocrisy. Instagram has different guidelines for nudity when it comes to men versus women. Why is this and is it a problem?
Why Is Nudity Censored On Instagram?
To start at the beginning, why is nudity censored on Instagram? It seems that, in essence, Instagram does not allow nudity on the platform. However, the app offers some exceptions, such as post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding. The social media app also states that nude paintings and sculptures are acceptable. The platform acknowledges that people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature. However, nudity is simply not allowed. This also includes most photos of female nipples. Only when female nipples are shown in the context of breastfeeding, birth-giving and after-birth moments, health-related situations (for example, post-mastectomy, breast cancer awareness or gender confirmation surgery), or an act of protest, are the pictures allowed.
Apart from this, nudity in a context with children is never allowed. For Instagram, the policy around nudity is especially important since the platform is picture-based. The line between pictures that are art, and pictures that are pornographic can be a hard distinction. But this is not the only thing Instagram struggles with when it comes to nudity on the platform.
Instagram explains that they want to protect their community and therefore lean on the community guidelines they created. This all seems fair, but when it comes to the different actions they take when male nudity is shown versus when female nudity is shown, some hypocrisy makes itself known.
Instagram’s nudity hypocrisy mostly comes down to nipples; by allowing male nipples on the platform while accounts that show female nipples get banned. A guideline that needs further explanation. It seems that female nipples are seen as sexual or inappropriate content, while male nipples are completely fine. How big is the difference between those nipples? Isn’t the way you perceive the nipples in your own head, or created within a society? All nipples look the same, but we treat them differently. Something that cannot be explained by the nature of the nipple itself, so the difference has to be found within our own perception.
What is Instagram trying to protect?
To demonstrate this difference, many people on Instagram have been walking a slippery line between the guidelines. For example, there is an Instagram account which is named genderless nipples. You can find it via @Genderless_Niplles. It zooms in on just the nipples in pictures. When they post just the nipple, you are not able to see whether this nipple belongs to a man or a woman. This way, none of their posts get deleted. It also makes a point to show that nipples are the same for everyone when it comes down to it. Female pictures that show boobs without showing the nipples are allowed on the platform. So why is it that there is a difference in policy if both female and male nipples look the same?
People have also been playing with photoshopping male nipples on their pictures. It has been made into a game. How far can you go before your account gets banned? These examples show the difficult rules of Instagram. If you show a female breast with male nipples, while in fact male and female nipples look the same, what is the difference exactly? What is Instagram trying to protect?
After a specific event, Instagram has been more aware of their slippery slope within their guidelines. In 2020, Instagram took down black model and body positivity advocate Nyome Nicholas-Williams’ photo. A picture in which she was hugging herself, her breasts covered by her arms. You could argue that it just had to do with their community guidelines, but something peculiar occurred. Her photographer posted the same picture, and on his account, the picture did not get deleted. This encouraged Instagram-users to test their policy.
Different accounts started to repost the exact same picture. In what cases did the pictures get deleted? This action showed that Instagram does not only base their ban on the picture, but also on the account that posts the picture. This makes it difficult to believe that Instagram is completely free of sexism and racism.
In response, Instagram reinstated all of the deleted photos. After this event, they changed their policy a bit. The new policy makes a distinction between types of “breast-holding” (hugging/cupping vs. squeezing/grabbing), effectively governing the way women interact with their own bodies. It claims to use a combination of the subject’s stance, finger curvature, and change in breast shape to distinguish between a sexual grab-hoist situation and women posing for, say, a confidence shoot, topless protest, or breastfeeding awareness campaign.
An update that many people are not happy with. Because why should Instagram decide which females can show their nipples for? The line between the two types of pictures can be very thin. You can also wonder when a picture is used as topless protest, and when a picture goes too far for this specific platform. To what extent can Instagram decide when and where a female person can show her body?
It seems that for Instagram, it is difficult to find a balance. When is it needed to be strict with your guidelines to protect your users? When are you creating a guideline that includes racism or sexism? There is probably no correct answer to what kind of guidelines Instagram should have. However, it is something the platform and the users can think about. This way, we might get closer to a platform that is safe and also has the same standards for male and female bodies.
Cover Image: Laker/Pexels
Editor: Aidan O’Reilly