You will probably have heard by now of the recent hashtag bans Instagram quietly put into place when no one was looking. With #Curvy, at least, there was some sort of explanation, stating that the hashtag was being used for posts that violated guidelines about nudity. For the #Goddess ban however, no reason was given.
(Instagram has since lifted the ban on #Curvy, but I still wanted to address it in this article as the initial banning and implications are just as important).
Fair enough about the nudity policies; I think most of us understand and appreciate the efforts to curb an unhealthy, potentially harmful, proliferation of porn and its demeaning portrayals of women.
But hey, shouldn't that be Instagram's problem to solve, and not ours? Shouldn't Instagram realise that the bigger issue here is how to deal with NSFW images rather than to totally block a hashtag so many other people use for so many other reasons? And anyway, there far more explicit hashtags being used for pornographic posts; why aren't those being banned? (Many, many hashtag versions of #tits #cock #ass #horny are still in play. But #goddess remains a no-go).
And yes, we get it, porn got hold of these hashtags and misappropriated them, but in trying to ban this one thing - the porn - the powers-that-be also deny all the other significant meanings these words hold for huge populations around the world. These bans aren't just bans on a few words; they erase entire movements and entire avenues for people to express their identities.
Let's consider for a moment what the words can mean for us:
Used to describe pornographic images of women's bodies. But also: a very important word for the ever-flourishing body-positive movement. It is a word that is helping girls and women across cultures find acceptance and beauty in their bodies - whatever size they may be.
It is part of an increasingly prominent movement to educate people about weight myths, drawing attention to the fact that being fat and curvy is not always synonymous with bad health. It is a word that is central to the fat acceptance movement, bringing empowerment to the way we talk about our bodies, instead of denigrating them.
Words like "curvy" bring strength and body acceptance back into young girls' vocabularies at a time when they're so widely exposed to more damaging social media movements and hashtags like #thinspo, #ana and thigh gaps. Taking away a word like this is to say, again, to these girls that being curvy is somehow not okay.
I can see how this word can be corrupted and used in NSFW ways, but can we also just stop for a moment to remember its original meaning and what it stands for?
The word Goddess, first and foremost, is about prayer, spirituality, connecting to something powerful, divine and healing. It is about recognising innate sacred qualities within us - not just for women, but men too.
The figure of the Goddess is recognised in almost every ancient spiritual tradition and religion in the world. She is history, she is culture, she is an intrinsic part of the beliefs and faith that people have held for centuries.
As new (or revived) spiritual movements flourish in all corners of the earth, there is a renewed interest in the old religions of these Goddesses and a heightened celebration of divine feminine energy, prayer, ritual and tradition. Goddess is about finding healing, love, wisdom and hope.
#Goddess may be used to tag a photo of some half-naked girl, but it is also being used to tag the Hindu goddesses Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga, the female Buddhas Tara and Kwan Yin, as well as hundreds of other Celtic, Nordic, African, Native American, Asian, Australian Aboriginal and Maori goddesses who have existed long before the sharing digital images was even a thing.
In both cases, the banning of these hashtags are troubling for what they deny of women's expressions of the self - one, the physical celebration of our bodies, and the other a spiritual and emotional recognition of our being. Isn't it quite ironic that in trying (presumably) to stop the exploitation of women through these pornographic images, whole other movements to (self)empower women are also erased?
But the problem isn't at all the women - whether they're the ones in the photos or the ones posting the photos. The problem firstly, is the way Instagram obviously doesn't have sound enough technology to filter through the porn (if that's really their concern) nor more effective ways of dealing with user violations.
The real problem is that women, again, are the first ones to be made smaller, to be disappeared from the discussion. As a response to the Insta-abuse of these hashtags, women are suddenly denied the same words being used today in powerful ways to validate and value their place in the world. Here we go again with women bearing the brunt of a problem we didn't even start in the first place.
This is about language - the words we use, the way we express our identities and beings, our voices. You might argue that it's only happening within the small sphere of Instagram and is therefore not that big a deal. But Instagram, whatever size it is, has become a significant, central place for people to capture moments in their lives, rejoice in their selves and relationships, and mark out a place for themselves, no matter how small.
The hashtags are also about community. They are the key ways in which we connect to and have discussions with people who share in the same things we find value and meaning in, and who can offer us inspiration, healing, solace and empowerment as we struggle along.
The hashtags #Curvy and #Goddess are about raising up the voices of individuals who, for a very long time, did not have the space or support to speak or celebrate or find love in their own bodies and spiritual beliefs.
To take these away is to take away connections and community. And when you take away that, you silence individual beings, you make them fade and you tell them - just as they're finding places they can thrive - they are not important.
So, here is an urgent call to support the continued fight to #BringBackTheGoddess and all the righteous outrage online which protested the #Curvy ban - they are important and they are necessary because they are about every single one of us who has ever enjoyed the freedom to define who we are and honour it.