On September 25, model and photographer Arvida Byström took to Instagram to voice her frustration over the public outcry she’d received for something pretty benign — her body hair.
“My photo from the @adidasoriginals superstar campaign got a lot of nasty comments last week. Me being such an abled, white, cis body with its only nonconforming feature being a lil leg hair. Literally I’ve been getting rape threats in my DM inbox,” Byström wrote on Instagram.
While Byström’s experience is certainly disturbing, it’s definitely not her first experience with confronting a toxic online culture surrounding beauty. Along with internet personality Molly Soda, Byström has actually curated an entire book devoted to images that have been censored by Instagram. Pics or It Didn’t Happen is a 300-page book of submitted images that run the gamut from period stains to nudity and a lot more.
Instagram’s guidelines set out to keep the online space safe from hate speech, the offering of sexual services, and anything that can be seen as promoting criminal activity. Okay, that sounds pretty legit. But when it comes to what imagery is too sexual or explicit for Instagram, female bodies seem to get caught in the crossfire of the debate over what’s appropriate online. Female nipples are not okay, for example, but male nipples are. Nudity aside, women-identifying folks have experienced a lot of nuanced instances of not appearing to meet Instagram’s community guidelines, even when they aren’t seemingly breaking any of its defined rules. Here are a few of the weirdest — and most infamous — examples:
A photo from Pics or It Didn’t Happen by Lee Phillips (@c.har.lee). This time, hairy legs alone seemed to be enough of a reason for Instagram to ban this image.
Another photo included in the book is this portrait by artist Isaac Kariuki (@isaackariuki.jpg) from his series “Weaponise The Internet.”
In 2014, a then 19-year-old Samm Newman posted two body positive photos to Instagram of herself in a bra and underwear. Shortly thereafter, her account was shut down for violating Instagram’s community standards. Newman said publicly that the deletion felt like fat-shaming, as we’re all aware that there are plenty of thin celebrities in their underwear all over Instagram. After Newman’s story began to make headlines, Instagram re-instated her account and apologized, saying they’d made a mistake.
Fitness guru Brittany Perille Yobe (@brittanyperilleee) has 1 million followers on Instagram and regularly posts photos of her body in various states of skimpy athletic attire. But when she posted a video in 2016 of herself working out while pregnant, her account was disabled. After appealing to Instagram about the decision, her Instagram was eventually reinstated.
Photographer Petra Collins’ self-portrait, posted to Instagram in 2014, got the then 21-year-old’s account deleted — and the internet went off. “My Instagram account was removed because the general public wanted to censor my body,” she told the Village Voice after it happened. “That was insane to me. And that’s when I realized there really is a problem.”
An Instagram account called Feminist_Tinder, which focused on screenshots from Tinder conversations about feminism, was deleted out of nowhere — twice — in 2015. The owner, Laura Nowak said that Instagram’s choice to believe her account was violating its terms showed a “selective enforcement of policies.”
Possibly one of the most infamous images to ever get deleted off of Instagram was Rupi Kaur’s portrait with period blood. The Canadian poet uploaded the photo after submitting it as part of a school project at the University of Waterloo in 2015. It was deleted twice off of Instagram, after which Kaur moved the photo to Facebook, publishing this statement:
thank you Instagram for providing me with the exact response my work was created to critique. you deleted my photo twice stating that it goes against community guidelines. 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 okay 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. thank you. ⠀⠀
Kaur tagged Instagram in her post, and it went viral. Following the backlash, Instagram republished her photo. “When our team processes reports from other members of the Instagram community, we occasionally make a mistake. In this case, we wrongly removed content and worked to rectify the error as soon as we were notified. We apologize for any inconvenience,” an Instagram spokesperson told Mashable back in 2015.