How Facebook Sexualises And Polices The Female Body

13/09/2016 17:43
Jürgen François via Getty Images

Facebook ads have become ingrained in the user experience; you may click on them, you may not even notice them. Do you often see lingerie adverts? Well, according to Facebook, you shouldn't be exposed to such heinous imagery. Time and time again we (and many other lingerie brands) have had our adverts rejected based on "sexual content", raising serious questions over how Facebook views and polices the female body.


There is, of course, plenty of raunchy imagery within the lingerie world; some brands may choose to show more of an explicit sexuality in their images, which we love (sex-positive feminists over here). The images that received these responses do not feature sexually explicit poses, nor does the lingerie show off any more skin or cleavage than a bikini would (one photo is even a line drawing of a corseted woman!). The message these policies give off is that lingerie is inherently sexual, and that women's bodies are inherently sexual. It may seem like stating the obvious, but lingerie is an every-day essential for many women and men - whatever style you prefer.

Stating that women wearing lingerie "promotes sexual acts" and mention of "strip clubs" and "adult shows" is problematic, equating the act of selling lingerie as sex work, devaluing and trivialising the importance of supporting sex workers. On the other hand, is it really so heinous to "promote" sex to over 18 year olds? As they say, sex sells - we are bombarded with often-voyeuristic imagery of women, yet showing diverse and body-confident women in lingerie is considered too shocking for Facebook. It implies that women's bodies can inspire negative actions.

Suppressing women's sexuality is misogyny. The implication that an 'impure' female body will lead to unsafe sex is misogyny and feeds into victim blaming. The message that sex is bad is problematic in itself, leading to a lack of discussion and education.

We spoke to two different representatives at Facebook about the rejected ads and received various different and often conflicting reasoning. Discussing the negative implications above with a gentleman that needed to stick to a script was clearly not on the cards, however we gleamed some more information behind the ad process. According to the reps, even if the adverts are locked down to only target users in the UK and the US, and only those over 18, even only those that have already liked our page (and thus given consent to see the content), they cannot control who sees the adverts.

"Cultural values" was mentioned, which is understandable to some degree - we wouldn't be targeting those countries that still struggle with the most basic of women's rights. So, what "cultural values" do those in the UK and US hold that would be offended by the female body and female sexuality? Despite constant achievements in feminism, we still have some way to go. Consider how the female body is discussed as a vessel in US abortion and birth control rights, or how women are told what not to wear to discourage rape.

It could be understandable that Facebook don't want to be associated with anything remotely provocative, if only they stuck to their own guidelines. So often we have come across, or been direct recipients of, an offensive and/or violent comment. A daily occurrence to many women on the internet, so much so that "don't read the comments" is a grim joke. So often we have reported said comments and received a response from Facebook claiming the post does not go against their community guidelines.

From personal experience (and I wish I had the sense to screenshot this at the time) was one comment on a public post saying "I want to rape white women" - quite clearly threatening. Facebook said they reviewed it and found it wasn't in violation of their Community Standards. It was only after I compiled a lengthy response about why it was offensive (I can't believe this had to be explained), the post got taken down. Other examples (on a police report of a sexual assault incident at a festival) include:



Not only this, but some have reported seeing extremely violent images. Facebook even has a warning in place to confirm the user would like to see graphic content - why is it okay to have violence so easily viewable and unrestricted by age, but not women's lingerie?

The rule seems only to apply to solely female bodies however. The below ad was seen which includes as much skin on it as we include on our ads, yet was still accepted by Facebook. There are some female bodies included on here, but they are mostly obscured. The advert also includes the word "sexiest", which suggests that Facebook don't mind "sexy" images or language in this case, but do when it comes to women in lingerie.


I spoke to other lingerie brands about their experiences with Facebook advertising. Tilly from Nearer the Moon found that her adverts were often automatically rejected, and only once she appealed did Facebook allow the ads. It seems that this is an ongoing problem with lingerie brands -Facebook appear to have a blacklist to automatically reject ads. Tilly even had a video of her wearing a black jumper, sewing some underwear rejected!



Another brand, ParaNoire, had issues with boosting posts on Facebook. The below ad was rejected because boosted posts "can't include images that are sexually suggestive or provocative":


Because women's bodies, even if they show the smallest bit of skin and look remotely confident, they're being "sexually suggestive".

I spoke with lingerie boutique, A Sophisticated Pair about their experiences with Facebook. Erica said on the matter; "I've seen ads pop up in my stream with shirtless men or with women in bathing suits, but a model showcasing the fit of bra somehow carries a lewder connotation. It's body policing. Simple as that." Their experience illustrated just how unclear Facebook's policies are, when firstly they were told the advert showed too much skin, and once they were called out on why this was ridiculous, they back-pedaled and claimed it was because of too much text:



Currently, Facebook is under fire for removing the infamous photograph, The Terror of War - featuring children running away from a Napalm attack in Vietnam. And it wasn't for the reasons you might expect; depictions of violence, upsetting images. It was removed due to the 9-year-old, naked Kim Phuc. Apparently Facebook also can't differentiate an important, historical photograph portraying the horrors that Vietnam faced, with child pornography. Facebook explained that "Any photographs of people displaying fully nude genitalia or buttocks, or fully nude female breast, will be removed". They also said to The Guardian regarding the removal; "While we recognize that this photo is iconic, it's difficult to create a distinction between allowing a photograph of a nude child in one instance and not others" - actually, it's not all that difficult. This is an example of projecting sexuality onto nudity, regardless of the situation.

And finally, here's a look at the adverts our brand has had rejected recently:


Here is the beautiful Gia Genevieve in the Portia set! I think most of us would agree that this image is pretty innocuous - the lingerie covers a lot of her body and no less than say, a bikini would cover. Her pose is relaxed and her legs are closed. So when that failed, we tried this:


An illustration! Clearly, the people of Facebook believe that a drawing of a woman is going to send users into a wild, sex-crazed frenzy. One of the reasons why we thought it would be a good idea to use an illustration is because this is something Agent Provocateur seem to get away with on their advertising. Apparently, it's one rule for some but not for all. Finally, (and you can tell we are truly frustrated at the point), we tried this:


A picture of a bra. Not even one of our more risqué bras, but a fairly inoffensive bra. It's not on a person, or a mannequin - not even a sexy stick person. This time, it was rejected because the URL contained sexual imagery.