Op-Ed

Instagram’s pursuit of propriety is sexist and senseless

Banning hashtags like #curvy that relate to the female body isn’t only sexist, it doesn’t seem to be working

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@taralynn/Instagram

We can now add #curvy to the list of hashtags no longer searchable on the popular image-sharing app Instagram. The hashtag fell among the ranks with other banned tags like #sexy, and #boobs, when according to Instagram, it became overwhelmed with pornographic images.

Banning #curvy and other tags is Instagram’s attempt to keep the app’s content in line with its community guidelines, which state, “We don’t allow nudity on Instagram. This includes … sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks. It also includes some photos of female nipples…” According to Instagram, it’s not the tag itself, but the way it’s used, that merits censorship. “We blocked the hashtag a few weeks back because it was being used to share porn,” a spokesperson for Instagram replied in a comment to Women in the World. “The decision to block this hashtag has nothing to do with the term ‘curvy’ itself.”

Unfortunately, it seems Instagram’s pursuit of propriety is both gendered and wildly ineffective.

Instagram declined to provide Women in the World with its exact definition of “porn,” but in keeping with its guidelines, it seems #curvy isn’t the only tag lending itself to suggestive photos, with some showing genitals. Men-centric tags like #ripped and #nakedguys show an alarming number of photos leaving little to the imagination. If #curvy was problematic, it’s difficult to understand why these tags aren’t also raising red flags. Perhaps it has to do with the tag’s popularity, or the number of images reported by users. When asked by WITW the factors that warrant a ban, Instagram declined to comment.

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A screenshot of the hashtag search results for #nakedguys on July 16, 2015.

On an app that averages 70 million images uploaded per day, the task of keeping track of the constant flow of photos is a daunting one. Banning one hashtag doesn’t prevent a slew of variations from serving as gathering places for unseemly photos. While the hashtag #sexy is banned, the tag #sexybeast yields over 400,000 results, some of them far from kid-friendly. And now in lieu of #curvy, a search for #curvygirl brings up plenty of photos that would presumably violate the app’s guidelines. Clearly, pornographic images will continue to show up on the app, so long as they fly under Instagram’s radar.

 

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A screen shot of search results for the banned tag “#curvy” on July 16, 2015 shows the similar hashtags being populated

As Instagram attempts to preserve a family-friendly space for cat photos and brunch pics, the photo sharing app’s methods have come across as sexist and discriminatory to some users.

Most notably, the Free The Nipple movement, which fights for women to be allowed to go topless in public, gained incredible momentum this year when it took to Instagram with the tag #freethenipple. Celebrities like Miley Cyrus and thousands of others are calling out Instagram’s ban on female nipples. Male nipples remain fair game. Menstruation has also been a taboo subject on the app, even though a quick search for #blood, when we checked, revealed photos that appeared to show, among other things, real blood.

A photo doesn’t need to show an actual body part to be banned, either. The photo of crown molding below, posted by activist Sam Roddick, earned her expulsion from the app back in April. Though objects suggestive of female genitalia aren’t welcome, a search for #dildo proves that phalluses are just fine. It seems, when it comes to the female body, there’s a fine line between what Instagram deems pornographic, and what others might consider artful, or even banal.

https://twitter.com/samroddick/status/587921044264062976/photo/1

It’s also illogical that while #lingerie and #thongs are banned, #tightiewhities and #gstrings are allowed. The tag #boobs is banned, but #pecks isn’t.

As the #curvy ban puts Instagram in the spotlight, users, especially activists in the body positive community, aren’t pleased. Roddick weighed in, telling Huffington Post UK Lifestyle, “They have banned images of breast feeding, stretch marks, domestic images of menstruation and classical art works that respectfully portray nude women and now they ban the hashtag #curvy. While they allow bitch, fat slag, hookers, thin — this is not a safe platform for women and especially young girls.” Others have cried out on social media and on body positive sites like Plus Model Mag, where editor-in-chief Madeline Jones wrote, “Instagram has decided to suppress the hashtag #Curvy, as porn companies were using it. While many questionable hashtags are still searchable, we wonder about the logic of this bold move.”

But Instagram’s refusal to rewrite its guidelines (though it does allow photos of photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding) has proven the app is willing to bend but not break its stance on nudity. Regardless, we keep on ‘gramming. 300 million people post to Instagram monthly, all having agreed to its community guidelines.

Instagram needs to fairly and evenly enforce its guidelines when it comes to hashtags and photos showing both the female and male body. At the very least, the site should offer an explanation for why it’s turning a blind eye to images clearly violating the rules. If not, it seems women are left with two options: use new hashtags, or, despite how much we love scrolling through our feeds, take our business and our brunch pics elsewhere.

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