In Facebook Jail Again - Over Female Nipples

Female breasts, depicted in a non-sexual way, by a female artist, are not allowed. In other words, if women's breasts and nipples are not in service to babies or men, or have not suffered cancer, if they simply exist on a woman's body, they must be covered.

I should be bored by the number of times I've been thrown in Facebook jail, made to sit on the Facebook naughty step, had to send off my ID for 'investigation' and been threatened with being 'unpublished' permanently. But I'm not bored, I'm angry.

I'm currently half way through a three day 'sentence', again, unable to like, post or comment. My crime? I shared the front cover of my book, Bare Reality: 100 women, their breasts, their stories.

I like hanging out on Facebook, I'm on there a bit too much, truth be told. (So don't tell me if I don't like it, to leave. I do like it.) Ironically, despite the fact that I cannot share the artwork on Facebook, I've created a platform to talk about Bare Reality and attracted an enthusiastic, polite and lovely group of people. As the Bare Reality book has just been published, I really want to be on Facebook, talking about the exciting news, the exhibition, the book launch, interviews in press, TV and radio. Facebook may have a problem with nipples, but other media seem to be coping. To be honest, in this particular case, I forgot I shouldn't share the book cover - a non-salacious art project about women's breasts, bodies and lives. The rules are so nonsensical and unfair that if I don't check myself, sometimes, I genuinely forget them.

Facebook has been evolving its policies in response to sustained, proactive feedback and protest from its users. Breastfeeding and mastectomy photographs are now permitted - progress! But what does this progress really mean? Yes, Facebook allows mastectomy photographs, but in order for one, healthy nipple to show, the other must be removed. Breastfeeding photographs are allowed, and the nipple not in use may be visible, but this permission rests upon one nipple being in active service to a baby. Allowing photographs of mastectomies and breastfeeding represents progress for Facebook and is important for both communities of women as well as of interest to the wider Facebook world. But why do the rights of these two communities of women trump other groups of women? Photographers like me can't share their work, even painters like Aleah Chapin have run into problems on Facebook, naturists, political protestors such as Femen, and women who might think a shot of sitting around topless on a beach, for instance, is no big deal, have to edit their holiday snaps. The Ministry of Culture in Brazil recently threatened Facebook with legal action after a photograph of a topless indigenous woman was taken down. It is now re-instated.

I searched for boobs on Facebook this morning to see what comes up, wondering if Bare Reality's problems may indicate a new, tough crackdown on 'nudity'. Well, when I searched for boobs, what came up were... boobs. Lots of pages of boobs. Boobs with nipples, no less! The very first page that comes up in the search results is 'Boobs Sex Videos'. This links to videos of people having sex. With boobs on their bodies. The hypocrisy of the 'female nipple policy' is staggering. Despite the policy, female nipples do fly under the radar on Facebook. It would seem that as long as women's nipples are in service to the 'male gaze' they are tolerated.

Female breasts, depicted in a non-sexual way, by a female artist, are not allowed. In other words, if women's breasts and nipples are not in service to babies or men, or have not suffered cancer, if they simply exist on a woman's body, they must be covered. It's not what we want to reveal of our bodies, but who gets to decide what may be revealed, in what way and where, that is ultimately revealing of women's place in the world.

It's long past time for Facebook to move on and update its rules. Facebook has over 1bn users, and it has legitimate concerns, but it shouldn't be this hard to distinguish between porn and art. Porn is not defined by the body parts on display, it is about context and intent. I'd like to invite the Facebook execs to take a quick peek down their tops - you all have nipples. Stop applying arbitrary rules that discriminate on the basis of gender. Cross cultural information tells us that women's breasts are not inherently sexual and do not require covering. Their primary biological purpose is to feed babies. In fact, a regressive rule which forces women to cover part of their body clearly does nothing to prevent the proliferation of porn, it simply serves to reinforce the fetishisation of breasts. What's more, the unequal application of the rule betrays sexist double standards which will ultimately drive away swathes of Facebook users.

This is by no means the only instance of censorship. The process of creating and sharing Bare Reality could be described as a series of roadblocks. Perhaps there is another blogpost in that. Censorship on Facebook and elsewhere just proves that the time for this book is right. It is a collection of 100 un-airbrushed photographs and women's stories, but it is also a radical counter-narrative to a popular culture and media that exploit and control women's bodies.

100 women's beautiful, funny, moving, honest, brave stories deserve to be heard. Their photographs should be seen. These bodies and stories are ours, and it is for us to choose how and where they are revealed. This is reality. This is how we look. This is how we feel.

Bare Reality: 100 women, their breasts, their stories is published by Pinter & Martin

This article was originally published on the Bare Reality blog.