Looks like Instagram did not learn the lessons of Facebook when it comes to angering breastfeeding moms.
A Toronto mother had her Instagram account deactivated after posting a black and white selfie of her daughter breastfeeding. Ironically, this happened just before Mother’s Day.
Heather Bays received some negative comments after posting the artful shot of her 20-month-old nursing. Hours later, she received some emails from Instagram informing her that her photo had been flagged as inappropriate and her account was taken down. Heather is a photographer specializing in pregnancy and kids, and her Instagram feed was a showcase for her work.
Instagram’s Community Guidelines state that accounts may be disabled if they “overstep the boundaries.” Their policy on nudity reads: 1. Don’t share photos or videos that show nudity or mature content. If you wouldn’t show the photo or video you are thinking about uploading to a child, or your boss, or your parents, you probably shouldn’t share it on Instagram. The same rule applies to your profile photo. Accounts found sharing nudity or mature content will be disabled and your access to Instagram may be discontinued.
We are going to assume here, that Kim Kardashian’s many photos of her bare assets do not contravene Instagram’s boundaries. Nor do the scores of barely there bikini shots by many other attention-seeking users.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, has had a long history of banning accounts because of breastfeeding photos. After many bizarre decisions about what is appropriate content, both Facebook and Instagram now say that breastfeeding pictures are fine to post—that is, as long as the child is breastfeeding and the breast is covered.
Considering the junk we see on Facebook, the suggestion that a nursing mom may be posting photos just to put herself on display is both demeaning and ridiculous.
“This is discrimination not only against mothers, but against women,” Heather Bays says. She was so angry about losing her account that she rallied her Facebook fans and spread the word through social media. Her story has been covered on the local and national news, and online. Model and ’80s icon Monika Schnarre even got in on the debate, posting a breastfeeding photo of her own and daring Instagram to deactivate her account.
In the face of the media attention, Instagram has told Heather that they will be reinstating her account. A representative from Instagram that Heather spoke to said that the breastfeeding picture wasn’t the one that caused the deactivation, even though it happened minutes after seven photos were flagged as inappropriate.
Instagram told her the account was flagged because of a photo of a child without a shirt on. They considered the photo “child pornography” and have removed all photos from her account that show a child’s torso. (This is all according to an email that Heather sent me personally.) This response from Instagram is even more confusing, and begs the question of how they are going to deal with diaper ads in the future. Heather is incensed by their response to the debacle and still believes that it was the breastfeeding photo that sidelined her account. She has received emails from other women who say their accounts were also suspended because of nursing photos.
She writes on her Facebook page:
“But this isn’t over. This happens to people every day and Instagram leaves no information anywhere on how to contact them, so if your account is removed, you will not know why and you will not be able to state your case. I, along with my family and friends, have been literally consumed for the last two days of our lives trying to deal with this. If you aren’t one to make a public outcry like myself, then you are left in an unjust situation.”
This isn’t the first time that this has happened, and it probably won’t be the last. And in a way it’s not just about Instagram and Facebook. It isn’t until we, as a culture, are more comfortable with public breastfeeding that women will stop being harassed for doing it.
Read more: 10 tips for breastfeeding in public >
We are so accustomed to seeing breasts as sexual objects that we don’t judge those photos, but we still have problems seeing breasts used for feeding babies. That’s why we still need ads like these and people like Heather Bays who are willing to get on TV and talk about breastfeeding.
Meanwhile, people aren’t comfortable with seeing a woman feeding her baby have one major of option open to them—they can just not look.