Seven years ago, I started my first Tumblr blog. I was a hobby photographer and wanted a place to share my work and follow the work of others. I started out with lifestyle and portraiture, gravitating towards artistic nudity over time.
I was captivated by the human body, but I noticed a trend: most models looked nothing like me. I realized there was a severe lack of body diversity not only in mainstream modelling, but in the world of artistic nudes, and I set out to curate a blog that would showcase the true beauty and diversity of the human form. Thus, Diversely Nude was born. It was a hub where Tumblr users could find an assortment of artistic nude photography featuring models of all ages, sizes, genders and abilities.
While most of this blog was a collection of others’ work, I, of course, created my own art as both a model and photographer. This was all done in the spare moments between full-time university and part-time work. But after finishing my undergrad, I decided to focus more on my creative side. I made myself a professional page on Facebook and set out to share my work and expand my audience.
I familiarized myself with the site’s Terms of Service before posting nude content, and made sure I always followed them. I shoot and pose mainly for implied and partial nudes anyway, so following the rules didn’t require much compromise.
For over a year, I successfully ran my Laura Arbour Facebook page, sharing my portrait and nude work without issue. As I met more people in the nude art community, I heard more and more stories of others being banned for their work. I took note and tightened up on how much skin I showed in my photos.
But two weeks ago, one of my models had photos I took of her reported. The offending shots? Slivers of areola peeking out from behind her arm in implied nude photos. She was forced to remove them from her page and her account was suspended for 24 hours. Shortly thereafter, the same happened to other women who have modeled for me. Photos that dared show that barely visible sliver were removed and the models were banned. Each time another photo was reported, the ban length increased. I, too, became the target of these reports and had my accounts suspended: First for 24 hours, then three days, and now with the threat of seven days followed by a permanent lifelong ban if I overstep again.
But here’s the problem: I didn’t overstep. Neither did any of the models who were banned.
Facebook states they “restrict some images of female breasts if they include the nipple,” but none of us showed any nipple. Perhaps Facebook skipped their anatomy class and meant to say “nipple and areola,” but even then, some offending photos don’t even contain that. Facebook also states they “remove photographs of people displaying genitals or focusing in on fully exposed buttocks … (and) explicit images of sexual intercourse.”
Again, none of my work has ever shown genitalia, full ‘booty shots,’ nor sexual activity. So why are we being banned? Well, I’ve done some research, and it seems to go like this:
A Facebook user sees a photo they don’t like. They click the ‘report’ button, and the photo is sent to a Facebook moderator working in low-income countries. The moderators are encouraged to rule on each photo as quickly as possible. If they manage an average of 0.9 seconds per photo, they are given a bonus. If the moderator clicks ‘no’ on your photo, it is removed from Facebook and you are given a warning or a ban, depending on how many other posts of yours have gotten the ‘no’ verdict. If this happens to you, there is very little recourse. Facebook has no contact email address or phone number, and users are not permitted to book appointments at or even visit Facebook offices. You can submit online, but I have yet to hear of someone who has received a response.
Even seemingly successful movements such as #FreeTheNipple that resulted in Facebook changing its policies to “always allow photos of … breastfeeding or … post-mastectomy scarring” seem to have not affected actual enforcement at all. Women from all over the world, including London medical tattooist Margeaux Collyer, who provides areola and nipple restoration for mastectomy patients, continue to have their accounts banned. Facebook claims they “are always working to get better at evaluating content and enforcing standards,” but it seems that Facebook’s new “progressive policies” are just lip service with little meaningful change.
Given that Facebook is the largest social media network in the world, having an account is becoming a necessity for modern networking. If artists like myself, medical professionals like Margeaux, and women with breasts everywhere are permanently barred from the site even when we follow the rules, how are we to connect with those around us?
My response as an artist has been to create a photo project entitled #DontBanMyBody that draws attention to Facebook’s unjust banning practices. I am photographing women from all walks of life in a series of topless portraits with black tape over their nipples and areolas. While each woman’s pose will showcase their unique beauty, the black tape will provide the stark contrast of big blocks of censorship over their breasts.
Since launching this project a week ago, I have 50 women scheduled for #DontBanMyBody shoots in seven cities across southwestern Ontario. I’ve also received countless messages of support from people of diverse backgrounds. I am asking that Facebook answer these calls of its community to review how its nudity policies are written and enforced, to reflect modern attitudes and to reduce stigmatization and sexualization of the nude form.
Several photos have been taken for the series already and can be found on my Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook page (for now). If you’d like to be involved with this project, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura Robinson is a graduate student who studies Health Policy and Health Equity at Western. Outside of academia, she is also known as Laura Arbour, an artist, model, and photographer specializing in portraiture and implied nudes.