Instagram and the global village of breastfeeding

It is said that it takes a village to bring up a child.  Do you have a village?

Once upon a time community was found while foraging, working, washing, around the well, in the birthing room, through places of worship, then in salons, on front porches, over quilts, around suffrage signs.  Most never moved too far from the place where they were born.  Children grew up aware of the work their parents did, helping at times, involved.  With the exception of Victorian era stodginess, much about the reality of life was shared openly, families just lived and extended family and friends involved.

Today the global village has expanded where we find community.  No longer are the borders of our village confined to our geographical context, we find our place through social media with our past, present, and future, via our interests, concerns, and passions.  We learn about life in our context and far beyond, broadening our perspective and opening our minds to other ways of living.  By sharing the exiting, the mundane, the average, and the significant parts of life, people are finding their village again.  In a time when it is easy to be isolated and alone, the internet is drawing people together.

All this and more is what I love about social media.  I found my village.

#beautifulBfing

On June 8th, as I headed out for a date with my husband, Jeremy Beyond Moi, I quickly checked The Leaky Boob Instagram account but was already logged into my personal account which I checked first.  I noticed a comment on one of my photos asking what happened to The Leaky Boob account on Instagram.  Unsure what she meant a knowing feeling came over me and I entered the login information for the account and received this screen.

TLBigDisabled

Hoping it was a mistake but suspecting it wasn’t I tried again.  Then checked my email and saw no email from Instagram so I tried again.  After 4 tries I gave up.  The account was indeed disabled.  This part of my village was gone.

I’ve checked every few days since.  Gone.

I wasn’t sure I had the energy for this.  It’s not the first time The Leaky Boob has had issues on a social media platform and the fight was starting to feel wearisome.  With our eldest daughter preparing to leave for the summer, 5 other kids at home, and work, I was feeling swamped as it was without this issue.  But this is part of my community and not just mine but thousands of others as well.

We want our village back.

On May 23rd I received a warning from Instagram that The Leaky Boob account had been flagged but with no details as to why.  It was the third warning I received within a week.  All that was included was that I supposedly violated the terms of service, terms that are conveniently vague at best, intentionally nebulous for subjective interpretation at worst.  I emailed requesting they let me know what images I posted violated what terms of service and received no reply.

Instagram warning email

Shortly after this, inspired by Instagram’s own weekend hashtag projects and user Instagram_kids, I started a new hashtag on Instagram, #beautifulbfing to encourage more sharing of breastfeeding photos and informed users.  Posting about it I asked users to use the hashtag and I would select from those images ones to feature, or regram, just as thousands of other users and brands, including Instagram’s own account, do.  With each post, I credited the user that posted it and only used images from the #beautifulbfing hashtag.  The #regram is the only way to share other posts and functions much like the Twitter retweet, the only current option Instagram has to compete.  Every image I shared was of a breastfeeding mother and was within Instagram’s terms of service regarding nudity.  While I had forgotten the terms of service to not post images that weren’t yours, I didn’t feel this was a problem as I had permission to use those photos and had modeled this sharing of these images after Instagram’s own usage.

Instagram weekend hashtag

Instagram Kids

There were no further warnings between the May 23rd email and the account being disabled on June 8th as well as no response to my inquires about the warnings I had received.  I received no warnings after I began sharing the images from the #beautifulbfing hashtag either.  Nothing, just the account disabled.  On June 9th there was another form email that someone had flagged my account and if the terms of service were violated the account could be disabled but no details as to why or how to contact Instagram to dispute.  My account was already gone.

Many don’t understand why images of breastfeeding are shared online, I go into that in my post about my struggle with Facebook over the same issue and you can read that here.  And to go ahead and address the inevitable boorish “peeing and taking a dump are natural but nobody wants to see pictures of that” read this and remember, we’re not talking waste, we’re talking nutrition for a baby, something mothers spend a significant amount of time doing and it’s a part of her life… her life that she shares with her community.  Don’t understand?  Simply put though, moms need to see breastfeeding, it’s important.  Others need to see breastfeeding to put a stop to the dehumanization of women through the over emphasis on the sexual nature of the female body.  Sharing these images is important because we need to culturally encourage moms to breastfeed and go beyond just lip service and accept them fully in society without penalizing them by requiring them to hide feeding their children.  Society needs to walk the talk.  What I said about why share breastfeeding images on Facebook applies to Facebook owned Instagram as well:

Why  share breastfeeding photos on FB?  Some may feel it’s too private to share, I don’t.  In fact, I believe it’s crucial to share breastfeeding photos.  Gone are the days where breastfeeding is seen in the day in and day out living of our lives in a community, replaced instead with virtual communities found on Facebook, forums, and other social media platforms.  Social media and virtual communities need to be as multidimensional as the physical community or we lose ourselves as a society, relating to each other as a slick collection of data without the human and biological component that makes us alive.  We need to see breastfeeding in real life and in the virtual world that many of us relate in as our community.  This photo may seem obscene to some but to others it was inspiring and encouraging, leading some to even learn something about breastfeeding.

Women used to see breastfeeding all around them in their community, it is only fairly recently with the advent of artificial breastmilk substitutes or formula that breastfeeding was considered something to be hidden.  Not sure about that?  Check out the number of historical paintings of religious and nonreligious nature depicting breastfeeding as well as the historical photographs from even the Victorian era that include breastfeeding mothers.  We’ve lost that presence of breastfeeding in our community and today new moms see it in their online village.  Breastfeeding may be natural but it needs to be learned and it’s learned by seeing others feed their baby.

I don’t know exactly why The Leaky Boob IG account was disabled, I have received no response to my inquires from Instagram.  My best guess is that the many breastfeeding images, my own, were flagged by other users.  It is possible that Instagram decided to disable the account because of the #regram sharing, singling out The Leaky Boob to enforce this rule while blatantly ignoring it themselves and with other brands.  I don’t know.  But I do know that Instagram has shut down a resource that connected thousands of women and served as one of the avenues of the global village supporting breastfeeding.  In doing so Instagram has essentially said that breastfeeding women are not welcome and sends a conflicting message that may cause breastfeeding moms to question:

 

…if images of breastfeeding are inappropriate and not fit for her community to see, is it inappropriate for her child to breastfeed?  If she’s struggling and looking for her community for support but these images aren’t permitted, how is she going to work out that there can be a wide variety of normal in breastfeeding baby’s latches or any other variety of breastfeeding related questions?  How is she going to know that she’s not alone with how her little one behaves at the breast?  How else are moms going to get over the emphasis on the sexual nature of female breasts to just feed her baby when her very community shames and harasses her for sharing these images?  The message that is being sent is that you can have community, you can be marketed to within that community, but your personal experience with breastfeeding is shameful and not welcome in the community.  Which ultimately means the breastfeeding mother is not welcome in the community.

 

Maybe you’re uncomfortable seeing images of breastfeeding, that’s ok.  In time, with enough moms openly feeding their babies and sharing the experience with their village, you’ll get more comfortable with it.  For now though, just look away, scroll right past it, and remember that a woman feeding her baby is still a person and her child’s right to eat may just supersede your right to be comfortable.  And the law agrees with that.

Help us bring back The Leaky Boob on Instagram.  Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, has permitted breastfeeding images to be shared according to their terms of service, we need to pressure Instagram to do the same and to stop discriminating against breastfeeding mothers and the feeding children.

Instagram bring back TLB

What can you do?

Join the Facebook page: Instagram, stop discriminating against breastfeeding mothers and babies

Sign this petition.

Tweet and post on Instagram and Facebook using the hashtags #beautifulbfing #bringbackTLB #stopbfingdiscrimination #normalizebreastfeeding and tag @Instagram to let them know.

Share this post with your village.

Sharing breastfeeding images isn’t for everyone, individual comfort level may prohibit you from sharing.  But if you are comfortable sharing your breastfeeding photos, please do and we’d love to see.

Follow jmartinweber on Instagram for more updates on the situation with The Leaky Boob IG account.

______________________________

edited: In less than an hour of publishing this post and in only 20 minutes of sharing it on Facebook, I received the following email:

IG apologizes for mistake

 

While I’m grateful they acted fast to reinstate my account once I took this issue public, I’m not satisfied.  Nobody should be afraid their account will be suspended if they share breastfeeding photos.  Rather, Instagram needs to clearly outline in their terms of service that breastfeeding photos are permitted and have a system in place to be sure images and accounts are viewed after a flagging so as compliant accounts and images are not deleted.  Please continue to speak up for all breastfeeding women and let Instagram know their policy needs to change NOW.

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Comments

  1. I posted it! @SoSewMama

  2. Liz F says:

    FYI the two IG email photos are not showing up. Bummed to hear about the censorship!! :(

  3. Driveby Commenter says:

    I’m glad that you got the account back, but you’re right that Instagram – and all providers – should act to ensure that their censors fully understand their own TOS, and that this cannot happen unless there’s a legitimate violation.

    The two emails don’t show up in some browsers because they are TIFF files. You can download them to your computer and open them locally. I suggest updating the post with the images converted to PNG to make them display inline.

  4. Kristy says:

    What really gets me is that Instagram does nothing to curb the blatantly sexual pictures with in-your-face nudity, but instead chooses to single out breastfeeding as inappropriate. Last week I found several pictures of topless women (showing nipple) and even one with a naked penis in it! I reported them as inappropriate, but who knows what IG did about them…

  5. Hello!
    My account was also deleted due to breastfeeding photos, but I have been unable to contact customer service for Instagram. Each email gives me an auto-reply that “I reached that address by mistake.” Can you help me contact them?

    I recently blogged about it here:
    http://www.jessealbatrosov.com/1/post/2013/06/an-open-letter-to-instagram.html

    Thanks!
    Jesse

  6. Eden says:

    My thesis will be on the subject of mothers Breastfeeding past a year, and some of the reasons some mothers do not. There is a great article called “cautionary tales of Breastfeeding” and it gives testimonies by mothers who do and do not still Breastfeeding. Many mothers wean in order not to be “trashed” or “judged”, and some weaned because other people made them feel it was “wrong” to Breastfeed their child once the child could talk. The Breastfeeding relationship and the health of mother and baby depends on these external factors such as support from society.

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