Earlier this month, Facebook quietly changed its guidelines on nudity and obscenity to ensure that photos of breastfeeding mothers won’t be flagged for review and removed from the site, even if a nipple is exposed. Feminist activists, who have been pushing the social media giant to address what they say is a double standard in the way that Facebook regulates explicit content, are celebrating the move.
Although Facebook’s Community Guidelines never included an explicit ban on breastfeeding photos, the site does have a strict policy against images of female nipples. Images of women breastfeeding, as well as photos of breast cancer survivors displaying their mastectomy scars, frequently end up getting pulled from the site. Instagram, the photo sharing site that’s owned by Facebook, has been plagued with similar controversies, as women’s accounts have been suspended for posting photos of feeding their children.
Now, Facebook’s and Instagram’s policies both specify that photos of breastfeeding don’t violate their terms of content, and note that users are free to post those images. “We agree that breastfeeding is natural and beautiful and we’re glad to know that it’s important for mothers to share their experiences with others,” both sites now state.
“What we have done is modified the way we review reports of nudity to help us better examine the context of the photo or image,” a Facebook spokesperson explained to the Daily Dot. “As a result of this, photos that show a nursing mothers’ other breast will be allowed even if it is fully exposed, as will mastectomy photos showing a fully exposed other breast.”
The change was first reported by feminist activist and writer Soraya Chemaly, who has been a central player in the ongoing fight to overhaul Facebook’s policy. Last year, Chemaly was one of the activists who pointed out that Facebook was allowing users to post graphic content related to rape and domestic violence while censoring innocuous images related to women’s health. Chemaly argues that companies’ bans on explicit content often end up policing female nudity for no good reason.
“From Facebook, to the Motion Picture Association of America ratings systems, to the Federal Communications Commission ‘nipplegate’ indecency rules, ideas about ‘obscenity’ continue to be calibrated to heterosexual male erotic consumption,” Chemaly writes. “The rules around the way society sees women’s bodies continue to mean that women are not in control of their own bodies or how people think about us.”
Breastfeeding in particular continues to be somewhat contentious when it’s done in public, despite the fact that major medical groups agree it’s important for women to breastfeed if they’re able to do so. Women have been asked to stop feeding their children in church, at the pool, during jury duty, and at the mall. Last month, a young woman graduating from college received backlash for snapping a photo of herself proudly breastfeeding her daughter in her cap and gown.
It’s still unclear how well Facebook’s new policy will work in practice. After one parenting blogger posted a photo of herself breastfeeding to test the new content guidelines, Facebook initially took down the photo and she went back and forth with the site’s administrators for several days before it was restored. And a Colorado mother says that her account was temporarily suspended after she changed her profile picture to an image of breastfeeding last week.