Instagram finally joined its parent company Facebook in allowing photos featuring women breastfeeding. The photo-sharing site quietly updated its Community Guidelines last week to explicitly state that images of "women actively breastfeeding" and "post-mastectomy scarring" are welcome on the social media platform.
Previously, moms who shared their breastfeeding photos (also known as "brelfies") on Instagram were at risk of having the "offending" images removed, and in some cases their accounts were disabled. Why? Because the photos violated Instagram’s strict no-nudity guidelines.
Actress Alyssa Milano expressed her surprise at the backlash she received for posting a photo of herself breastfeeding on Instagram. When she appeared on The Talk last year, she said she was saddened by the reaction, especially when other celebrities like Kim Kardashian are called brave for posing nude on magazine covers and on social media.
While the change to the guidelines is a welcome move for women who enjoy sharing these tender moments online, Instagram didn't provide a clear definition of what “actively breastfeeding” means, leaving the guidelines open to interpretation.
On the plus side, breastfeeding and mastectomy photos are now excepted from the female nipple ban. (Instagram has come under fire for its gender-specific spolicies about showing the nipple. The #FreeTheNipple campaign, which has the support of celebrities Miley Cyrus, Cara Delevigne and Rumer Willis, points out the hypocrisy of policing women’s bodies on social media, while not issuing the same strict guidelines for men's bodies.)
With more than 300 million users, many of them teens, Instagram has the unenviable task of finding the right language about guidelines that will satisfy everyone. They're trying to prevent porn and sexual harassment from creeping in, but they've also been lax (not to mention hypocritical) when it comes to allowing very sexualized photos of young women while removing breastfeeding shots. They should consider each photo in the context in which it was taken, and accept that breastfeeding images—with or without some nipple showing—are simply women providing food for their babies.
Now that the guidelines have changed, we'll have to wait and see how this plays out. Hopefully people will accept that breastfeeding is a beautiful part of everyday life for many women and ignore complaints from those who feel that nursing moms should be hidden from the public eye. As with any social media platform, there's an easy fix for people who are offended by photos of breastfeeding—they can just keep scrolling through their feeds and ignore the images, or they can just unfollow.
Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of them are fit to print. Read more of her articles here and follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman.