Social media loves capturing women’s bodies. Women in lingerie, women working out, women in skimpy bikinis, but when the female experience is portrayed realistically the Internet has a hard time accepting that our bodies are not always clean, hairless and thin.
Last week, photographer Rupi Kaur uploaded a fully-clothed image of herself lying on her bed with a period stain on her behind and sheets — a familiar circumstance so many women wake up to each month. Yet Instagram removed the photo twice because apparently having a period violates its community guidelines.
“They allow porn on Instagram, but not periods?” http://t.co/kGKVqpSZkg— iBabe (@Pamski82) March 30, 2015
Kaur responded perfectly to Instagram:
“I will not apologize for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in an underwear but not be ok with a small leak when your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified, pornified, and treated less than human.”
The backlash Instagram faced for removing Kaur’s picture caused the site to apologize for the “error” in deleting the photo and restore the content. Kaur shared the email from Instagram which read,
“A member of our team accidentally removed something you posted on Instagram. This was a mistake and we sincerely apologize for this error. We’ve since restored the content, and you should now be able to see it.”
This is not the first time Instagram removed photos of women displaying their natural, real selves. Instagram deleted fashion agency Stick and Stones’ account after the site posted two models in their bikinis with a little pubic hair showing. And a size 24 woman believes she was deleted off of Instagram for her underwear selfies. The message is pretty clear: women’s bodies can be plastered all over social media as long as they are confined to the mainstream male assumption of what women’s bodies are supposed to look like.
Instagram’s actions are a reflection of our society and what we are and are not comfortable with. We have no problem with images of rape, violence, female nudity or even young teenage girls in sexualized poses, but something natural for a woman like hair , fat, breastfeeding or menstruation society is so repulsed by that it becomes an offensive topic we have to ban. The status quo forces women to shave, drives us to endless, nearly unhealthy diets and shamefully keeps our periods private and our breastfeeding covered. And refusing to show what a woman’s experience is really made up of continues to brainwash men into believing that a woman’s existence is meant to serve him — that she is not a person whose circumstances are individualistic and unique, that she does not have to fit into what the narrow stereotype of what is beautiful and okay.
Yet while social media continues to dominate this narrative of what women are “supposed to look like”, we have the enlightening power to change how we are viewed. The feminist firestorm that hailed after Instagram removed Kaur’s picture got the social network to change its mind on its policing of women’s bodies. Facebook even changed its community standards to allow photos of “women actively engaged in breastfeeding or showing breasts with post-mastectomy scarring.” Kaur’s photo series was meant as a way to “demystify the period and make something that is innate ‘normal’ again.”
"It was interesting the way people were belittling the experience and the struggle of the period."
"You won't go on vacation because of your period, you change your wedding date, it goes everywhere with you and you are in so much pain. Women are hospitalised."
Photos like Kaur's normalize (rather than sexualize) the female experience in the public eye, they remind the world that yes, women are actually human. And these are exactly the kind of images we need more of.