Instagram changes breast holding policy after #IWantToSeeNyome campaign

Instagram is changing its nudity policy to combat the censorship of plus-size Black women on the platform.

The change comes after the tireless campaigning of Nyomi Nicholas-Williams (@curvynyome on Instagram), a plus-size Black model based in the UK. In July, Nicholas-Williams posted photos of herself holding her breasts, which had been taken by photographer Alexandra Cameron. Those images — which showed a common pose seen in Instagram photos and that aimed to show self-love and body acceptance — were removed by Instagram, deemed in violation of the platform’s pornography and nudity guidelines.

This removal prompted the start of the #IWantToSeeNyome campaign, during which it was highlighted that Instagram was allowing similarly posed photos of thin white women to remain on the feed while censoring images of Black women in the same or similar poses. As part of this campaign, Nicholas-Williams, Cameron, and upskirting activist Gina Martin successfully lobbied Instagram and its parent company Facebook to make changes to the policy on breast squeezing to ensure all body types are treated fairly. 

Instagram’s policy change will come into effect globally from Wednesday, after which breast hugging, cupping, or holding will be permitted in photos.

Nicholas-Williams told Mashable she’s very happy to have contributed to change to the policy. “It’s been three hard months, all three of us working together and strategizing,” she said. The campaign started in late July after she and Cameron noticed the images had been removed. “Alex was like, ‘OK, I’m confused as to what’s going on because I’ve photographed naked plus-size women before and women that don’t have many clothes on, and this has never happened,'” said Nicholas-Williams. “So she enlisted the help of Gina Martin, and Gina started the hashtag.” 

Since July, the campaign saw Instagram users post the images of Nicholas-Williams on their Stories and grids alongside the hashtag #IWantToSeeNyome. During this campaign, people sharing those images also experienced censorship and had those images removed. A Change.org petition urging Instagram to stop censoring fat Black women gained 22K signatures. 

Meanwhile, Nicholas-Williams spoke to two members of the UK Instagram team, who apologized to her and took action to try and understand why the removal of her image had happened. She had Zoom calls with the Instagram team, including CEO Adam Mosseri, to discuss what went wrong on this occasion and how they could change the rules. Following the call, Instagram vowed to review its policy, but Nicholas-Williams wanted to keep the momentum going to ensure the tangible change was brought about. In September, along with Cameron and Martin, she wrote an open letter addressed to Mosseri, which was signed by celebrities including Munroe Bergdorf, Jameela Jamil, Nathalie Emmanuel, and many plus-size influencers stating that “censorship is happening constantly to plus-sized Black women” on the platform. The letter got Mosseri’s attention. “They were able to actually change stipulations of breast squeezing. And what that means is so they can differentiate between breast holding and breast squeezing — one being an art form and the other being pornographic,” said Nicholas-Williams. 

Cameron, the photographer behind the censored images, told Mashable the policy change seems encouraging. “It’s been a heavy and stressful few months since my and Nyomi’s images were first taken down, seemingly for no reason,” Cameron said. “To be able to discuss this directly with Instagram and explore the reasons why in order to tackle them so this doesn’t happen to anyone else — particularly plus size black creators — has been really positive.”

“I think the most empowering part of this experience has been coming together with Nyomi and Gina, two incredibly inspiring women, and raising our voices on the back of our experience and expertise to try to encourage positive change,” Cameron added. “And you know what? It worked, and has reminded me of the movement that can be made when women speak up and empower each other.”

On Sunday, Nicholas-Williams posted a jubilant Instagram post announcing the policy change as a result of her campaign. “We changed an Instagram policy! Look what happens when three women set out to change the world!” she wrote. “We have put our hearts and souls into this campaign and to see it come to fruition is insane! 

Several headlines have misreported how Instagram’s policy change came about, and have credited Australian comedian Celeste Barber as the person behind the policy change. This is incorrect. While Barber reported a similar issue in mid-October, the change in policy was already planned after being developed in collaboration with Nicholas-Williams. 

Nicholas-Williams told Mashable she was annoyed to see her work being erased in this way. “It’s been whitewashed yet again,” she said, adding that it’s frustrating and draining to feel people are “trying to silence the hard work that I’ve done as a Black woman. 

In a statement emailed to Mashable, Philip Chua, head of Instagram public policy, APAC expressed gratitude for the issue being brought to the platform’s attention. “We know people feel more empowered to express themselves and create communities of support — like the body positivity community — if they feel that their bodies and images are accepted,” he said. 

“We are grateful to our global community for speaking openly and honestly about their experiences and hope this policy change will help more people to confidently express themselves. It may take some time to ensure we’re correctly enforcing these new updates but we’re committed to getting this right.”

Nicholas-Williams wants people to take away some important messages from her campaign. 

“When women work together, we can create change, because it was very much a team effort,” she said. “I think that this policy is great, but there is always still work to do.” 

“Just to keep shouting. Keep shouting about what you are passionate about, because we’ve made a lot of noise. That’s why the change came. So it can be done.”

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