The Toronto-via-Winnipeg photographer‘s Instagram account, @heatherbays, was shut down without warning over the weekend.
The reason? The (WILDLY OFFENSIVE) photo above. (ETA: For clarity’s sake, this info came from Heather as she received several complaints about that specific image in her comment thread. Instagram is now claiming they shut her account down because of different photos. See Update Pt. 2 below. FWIW, Heather doesn’t buy it.)
Apparently Insta is not down with a mom feeding/bonding with her daughter because EWWW OMG BREASTFEEDING. Shame on a photographer for wanting to document a moment in her — and her daughter’s — life. SHAME.
Wrote Heather in a Facebook message to me this morning:
I am so heartbroken. Heartbroken because I lost three years of my motherhood that I documented without warning (and just before Mother’s Day too), and heartbroken for our society. I just can’t believe we STILL live in a world that doesn’t respect women! It’s mind boggling!
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE RULEZ, you ask?
Except, of course, people post sexually suggestive/nude/partially nude photos on the ‘Gram ALL THE TIME. One need only to check out Insta’s ‘Explore’ page for proof. (“Woman’s Torso in Valencia” proves to be an enduring classic.)
Those rules are pretty broad strokes; what constitutes “sexually suggestive” and “partially nude” is open to interpretation.
Technically, if I post a photo of myself in a bikini, I am partially nude. A pouty-lipped selfie could be “sexually suggestive.”
But the suspension of Bays’ account speaks to a larger societal issue. We still have a big problem with breastfeeding.
This is thanks, in no small part, to the fact that in our culture, breasts are sexual. They are considered to be private parts, to be covered up by bras, T-shirts and blouses in public — even though, paradoxically, they are often treated like public property to be judged, commented upon or worse.
They figure prominently in erotica and porn. They give and receive sexual pleasure. And hey, breasts are sexy.
But when breasts are employed in other ways — i.e. feeding a baby — people get squicked out by it because we’ve internalized the message (a message that is constantly sent to us, by the way) that breasts are exclusively for sexy times.
Remember the chorus of horrified gasps that met this 2012 Time Magazine cover that featured Jamie Lynne Grumet breastfeeding her three-year-old son? Breastfeeding an infant in our culture is BARELY tolerated, so you can imagine how people felt about this image.
People are usually so very happy to see bare breasts in this, our Girls Gone Wild culture of ‘SHOW US YOUR TITS!’ But as soon as a hungry baby/kid is involved, it’s all like, “UGH PUT THAT SHIT AWAY.”
Breastfeeding moms are often made to feel uncomfortable to nurse in public spaces; many more aren’t even allowed to.
People say breastfeeding “makes them uncomfortable.” You know what’s uncomfortable? Enduring looks of scorn/derision/disgust. Having to eat your lunch in a bathroom stall with your head covered by a hot blanket. That’s uncomfortable.
Also, here’s an idea: if YOU are uncomfortable, YOU can look away.
Here’s the thing: photos like Heather’s can help normalize breastfeeding. They can help us see breasts from a different angle. They can go a long way in showing that there’s nothing sexual or shameful or disgusting or offensive about breastfeeding. Rather, it’s a pretty normal thing that women all over the world do every day.
For that to happen, though, photos like Heather’s need to be allowed on social media sites such as Instagram.
Heather has no recourse; Instagram doesn’t make it easy to contact it for an appeal. So she’s asking for some help. Find her on Instagram under the name @save_heatherbays.
Share and re-post the photo she shared on Instagram with the hashtag #saveheatherbays and tag Instagram in the picture. Hopefully she can get her account back.
UPDATE: It worked! This is a post from Heather’s Facebook page on Monday night:
INSTAGRAM JUST CALLED ME!! They are restoring my account. This certainly would not be happening without your help!! The only reason they contacted me and are restoring my account is because of the publicity this got. I seriously can not thank you enough!! THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! But this isn’t over. This happens to people everyday and Instagram leaves no information anywhere on how to contact them, so if you’re account is removed, you will not know why and you will not be able to state your case. I along with my family and friends have been literally consumed for the last two days of of our lives trying to deal with this. If you aren’t one to make a public outcry like myself, then you are left in an unjust situation. @instagram, it’s not asking too much that you be more responsive to your users needs!! You are owned by @facebook! You guys are social giants with a lot of money! Try hiring people! In this economic world, there are people begging for jobs and it sounds like you need more customer support. It would definitely show that you care a little more. Again, THANK YOU everyone!! From the bottom of my heart!!
UPDATE PT. 2. According to Heather, Instagram is claiming that the breastfeeding photo wasn’t the photo in question, but rather shots of her daughters in which their bare torsos are showing. From Heather:
You guys, it’s not even over! They tried claiming that it wasn’t about breastfeeding and told me that a picture of a child of walking age in a diaper or has it’s torso showing, is classified as child pornography!!!!! I was SO SO MAD! So, Huggies and Pampers are child pornographers? All those cloth diaper ads!! Heck, so many commercials of naked baby bottoms!!
Instagram is restoring Heather’s account, but is removing all the photos of her children with their torsos showing.