Instagram and its parent company Facebook are due to update their policies on nudity. The reason? To help end discrimination against plus-size bodies on its platforms and to ensure all body types are treated fairly.
The photo-sharing app has recently been accused of hypocrisy and racism. Whilst allowing an abundance of images of semi-naked skinny white women on its feeds, Instagram has been deleting those posted by black women in similar poses. The photos in question showed plus-size model Nicholas-Williams with her eyes closed and wrapping an arm around her breasts. This pose may be common across social media but, in this instance, it was deemed to violate Instagram’s guidance on pornography.
Social media platforms are intricately molded to the rigid codes of white beauty. This particular instance speaks volumes about the double standards that people of colour and fat people are subject to. The Instagram algorithm favours thin, white, cis-gendered people and effectively censors the rest of us. We live in a world that is constantly dieting and validating bodies for their adherence to warped beauty ideals.
We need to stop policing other people’s health habits and behaviours in the same visceral and violent way we police fatness. We must stop using scientific arguments to validate our hatred. We continually see people use health arguments to divert from the fact that they are uncomfortable with fat bodies. Viewing fatness as a health problem alone, obscures uncomfortable truths about poverty, racism and misogyny.
Esther Rothblum, a professor of women’s studies at San Diego State University, says the links between weight, income inequality and poverty are plain to see. There’s profit to be made in a fat phobic world. The features of fat-hatred are entwined with the features of capitalism which is premised on creating new needs: needs that can never be met. We see motivations to keep people unhappy with their bodies. This incessant quest to be skinnier fuels a multi-billion dollar industry focused on dieting.
Sabrina Strings, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, argues that fat-phobia is closely tied to economic systems, racism and misogyny. Women naturally have a higher percentage of body fat than men so fat has been associated with femininity, weakness and moral failure that historically have been attributed to women.
In her book “Fearing the Black Body” Strings explores the historical development of pro-thin, anti-fat ideologies deployed in support of Western, patriarchal white supremacy. Beginning from the aesthetic ideals circulated by Renaissance thinkers and artists, Strings charts how white Europeans and Anglo-Americans developed ideals of race and beauty that both explicitly and figuratively juxtaposed slim, desirable white women against seemingly monstrous black women.
The reform of social media guidelines on body image is long overdue. No one should be ridiculed or censored for their race, body shape or weight. Body diversity is inevitable, it is necessary. We need to cleanse our apps and our minds of the warped ideals of thin, ‘feminine’ white bodies. Only then can we move towards eradicating this pervasive discrimination and the harm it causes people who lie outside of this narrow notion of beauty.