Recently, the social media app Instagram has been under major scrutiny. As the site attempts to maintain a comfortable environment for its users, it ends up deleting profiles it had no right to remove in the first place. Breastfeeding mothers have had their accounts deleted, along with women who are fighting for equal topless rights (such as celebrities Rihanna and Scout Willis). The recent controversy centers around Ohio teen Samm Newman, who insists her account’s removal was an act of fat shaming.
In Newman’s particular case, her photo isn’t any more revealing than what we see on lingerie billboards. In fact, her photo is more modest. And yet, someone reported her photo, which was promptly removed along with the rest of her profile. But Newman wouldn’t accept defeat. She started an aggressive campaign, accusing Instagram of fat shaming her. As she told NBC4, the social media site had provided a safe place for her to feel comfortable with her body. It was a place where she didn’t feel the need to hide, especially when she discovered the body positive community @pizzasister4lyfe. Newman shares: “Fat is not a bad word. How confident can you be if you keep censoring yourself because people don’t want to look at you?”
Newman goes on to explain that many photos like hers exist on Instagram with no complaints; the only difference is that those photos feature slender women. This inconsistency is Newman’s main issue. If her photos are deemed inappropriate, then the other ones should be, too. Instagram responded to NBC4 explaining that the app acted upon a report of inappropriate conduct. “When our team processes reports from other members of the Instagram community, we occasionally make a mistake. In this case we wrongly removed content and worked to rectify the error as soon as we were notified. We apologize for any inconvenience.” Instagram remained true to its word and reinstated Newman’s account.
However, there is still a very good chance that this kind of incident will happen again (if it hasn’t already). The Instagram users who were uncomfortable with Newman’s photos in the first place will most likely strike again. But my question is, why were they uncomfortable in the first place? Why is our society so comfortable with lingerie adds, and yet uneasy with pictures such as Newman’s? As I went through multiple internet sources to get Newman’s full story, I realized there were multiple versions of the infamous photo. Most of them cut Newman off at her belly, while others just featured her head and shoulders. While these sites may restrict content with people of all sizes, the discrepancy is apparent.
In our society, we are used to seeing models and celebrities (of all genders) in minimal clothing, but usually with a respectful layer of airbrushing. We expect slim stomachs and thighs in these pictures – we have become so used to these attributes that they are practically part of the wardrobe ensemble. Thus bodies with more fat on them come across as actually nude, at least more so than many billboards. A softer stomach is too familiar, too similar to our own naked bodies. Toned stomachs are deemed pleasing to the eye, and thus accepted as an ideal image that we can put on display. Other body types are then misconstrued as “inappropriate.” With people such as Newman, we might be able to change these misconceptions.
This piece is now featured on Feminspire.