There’s a predictable social media formula for what women’s pictures online should look like. Breasts in barely-there bikinis are good (thumbs-up emoji, even), but breasts with babies attached them are questionable. Women wearing next to nothing is commonplace, but if you’re over a size 10 your account may be banned. Close-up shots of women’s asses and hardly-covered vaginas are fine, so long as said body parts are hairless.
But show a tampon or the smallest amount of a women’s menstrual blood and you will be violating the site’s Terms of service for sure.
The message to women couldn’t be clearer: Sexy images are appropriate, but images of women’s bodies doing normal women body things are not. Or, to put a more crass point on it: Only pictures of women who men want to fuck, please.
This misogynist society that would allow my naked body all over the internet but not be okay with a small leak.
Because, truly, it’s difficult to imagine women being offended by pictures of breastfeeding, unkempt bikini lines or period blood – that’s a standard Monday for a lot of us. It’s men that social media giants are “protecting” – men who have grown up on sanitized and sexualized images of female bodies. Men who have been taught to believe by pop culture, advertising and beyond that women’s bodies are there for them. And if they have to see a woman that is anything other than thin, hairless and ready for sex – well, bring out the smelling salts.
The upside, of course, is that the very nature of social media has made it easier for women to present a more diverse set of images on what the female form can look like and mean. Selfies, for example – thought by some to be the epitome of frivolity and self-conceit – are now being touted by feminist academics and artists as a way for women to “seize the gaze” and offer a new sense of control to women as subjects rather than objects.
When we have the power to create our own images en masse, we have the power to create a new narrative – one that flies in the face of what the mainstream would like us to look and act like.
Much as Facebook changed their standards to allow pictures of “women actively engaged in breastfeeding or showing breasts with post-mastectomy scarring.” Technology companies are starting to understand that if they want to put the power of pictures in their users’ hands, they’re going to have to be okay with women being fully human – not just mirror images of what pop culture wants us to be.
As for the people who are scandalized by women’s bodies and their natural functions: You don’t have to “like” it, but you will have to live with it.