Instagram Has a Problem With Female Bodies That Aren't Skinny

Instagram Has a Problem With Female Bodies That Aren't Skinny

Instagram’s censorship policy has been called into question after warnings were placed on a post by Celeste Barber, a comedian who parodies images of glamorous models. Replicating the amount of flesh shown in a Victoria's Secret advert, Instagram’s algorithms demonstrated some interesting double standards.

Barber’s parodies poke fun at the perfect bodies that saturate our media, and her pastiche of a photo of naked Candice Swanepoel concealing her breast with her hand prompted a strange response from Instagram. Fans wishing to share Barber’s post in their stories were denied. “Your post goes against our community guidelines on nudity or sexual activity,” users were told.

Instagram’s battle with levels of flesh — particularly female flesh — are complex. As this Guardian article points out, this is certainly not the first time that Instagram’s censorship has been called into question. Model Nyome Nicholas-Williams repeatedly saw one of her photographs censored by Instagram despite the fact that her breasts were concealed and the photograph was not indecent, especially compared to many of the far more risqué images posted by models who conform to mainstream beauty standards. As points out, Instagram’s censorship seems to discriminate against anyone “bodies that are not thin and white.”

Instagram has apologized to both Barber and Nicholas-Williams.

Log in or register to post comments


Adriano Brigante's picture

"Instagram’s censorship seems to discriminate against anyone bodies that are not thin and white."

The plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data'. You can make anecdotes fit any narrative you want. On Instagram,
you can also find pictures of bodies that are not thin and white not being censored, and pictures of bodies that are thin and white being censored. What does it prove? Absolutely nothing.

I'm not saying there is no bias in Instagram's censorship. Maybe there is, maybe there isn't. I'm saying the only way to know is by doing a rigorous statistical analysis of the problem. And so far, I haven't seen such analysis. All I see is outrage based on anecdotes and clickbait titles...

Adriano Brigante's picture

Also, I see she has 7.4 million followers and her pictures all have hundreds of thousand of likes. Instagram doesn't seem to do a very good job at censoring her.

Christian Lainesse's picture

Good luck getting Instagram's raw data on its censorship activities.

Adriano Brigante's picture

If censorship is objectively real, it should be possible to objectively measure it in the resulting outcome. It might be technically difficult to gather this data, but not impossible.

Christian Lainesse's picture

I wouldn't say it's "technically" difficult. More like "legally" difficult.

Adriano Brigante's picture

Absolutely not. I'm talking about some kind of black-box testing that measures the effect of censorship in the output, ie. what is publically displayed (content of pictures, number of followers, likes, comments, etc.) If there is indeed censorship inside the black box of IG, it must have a measurable effect outside of it.

Andy Day's picture

Today Instagram acknowledged the flaw in its algorithm.

Adriano Brigante's picture

A change in policy is not an admission of guilt. It could well be just a PR move to appease a vocal minority by virtue signaling.

Furthermore, "The company denied Nicholas-Williams had been racially discriminated against, but confirmed that its former policy on 'boob squeezing' had caused her photos to be removed." So what I said above still totally stands.

Chris Rogers's picture

It's not news that almost all forms of media/social media favors sexy images over the less sexy images. Sexy images are more likely to get attention than non sexy images soooooo people post ridiculous amounts of sexy imagery to get the views, likes or advert bux.Honestly I'm really tired of it. When looking at photos on the web the majority of imagery is just people posing half naked or full nude. Every time I see one of these images the first thought in my head is "Oh here's another naked person." Some nude photos are genuinely good but the rest is just sticking a pretty person in front of camera with pretty light. It's a formula as old as time. Sex sells.

Tony Clark's picture

If you don't care enough about yourself to have some level of fitness, I do not care to see images of it.

Marc Perino's picture

Says the photographer who earns a living by photographing pizza, thickly stuffed sandwiches, burgers and alcohol. 🤓

Tony Clark's picture

Who worked as a model for a dozen years before beginning his photo career shooting models.

Marc Perino's picture

I commend you for looking after your body and fitness. I really do.
But since we both don't know the individual life stories of those women that were shadow banned by Instagram I myself refrain from those comments about their health or lack of regimen since I perceive it as body shaming.

Robert Nurse's picture

Those thickly stuffed corned beef sandwiches man!!! It's only 7am here and I want one!!!

Billy Paul's picture

If I ever used instagram I might care. Since they started requiring you to be logged in I don't even look at it. Never have and never will be one of Zuck's ("they trust me") dumb f**ks.

Paul Jay's picture

I don't like the fat one. Sorry not sorry.

Karim Hosein's picture

Let's see….

Wisping her hair back violently in low light, while naked, outside, with a coat with what appears to be an uncomfortable knit against her skin, without panties, but jewellery, and a facial expression which says, “I am having a deep, existential moment, right now,” while, although she is mostly naked, seems embarrassed about her breasts, when the really embarrassing thing is the tension on her stomach muscles, as she poses in a style which no man has ever seen a woman in her natural habitat,…


sitting inside a well-lit building, in nothing but her panties, a watch, & a smooth coat to cover herself, in a totally relaxed pose, laughing at the thought that, just as she begins to relax for some, “me time,” her infant demands milk, which she is not of the mindset to offer.

One of these images tells a story very well. One of these images is an image I have seen more than once in real life. One of these is not a sexual fantasy. One of these women, I would not mind introducing to my friends.

One of these images is right, the other is left.

Is that just me??? Because I find that it is too often, whenever I see nude, figure study, implied nude, whatever-you-call-it, in today's world, that what I see looks like a contrived and failed effort at sensuous seduction.

Technically, the image on the left is better lit, (although overly warm for my liking), but the image on the right is better composed, and far more interesting.

Paul Jay's picture


derek j's picture

You seriously overanalyzed that

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

At first glance, without reading the caption, the one on the right looks like she's groping herself.

The irony I think, had she not covered up with her hand but instead censored (star, circle, scribble, etc) her nipple, IG probably would not have an issue with it.

Steven de Vet's picture

Removing one for "nudity" and not the other seems a bit odd. I'm not sure how instagram's censorship works. however... it's their platform... they can do it if they want to... deal with it...

Wether or not instagrams algorithms are biased, I don't know.. you won't know until you actually look at the algorithm (good luck with that one)... But... I'd say it's also far more likely that, whenever the algorithm does flag posts, these are the delicate, cancel culture, flowers that get onto their high horse the quickest and immediately start shouting the loudest and drawing the most attention to their plus-size status..... That's why it would probably appear to be "biased"

Either way, I don't feel that promoting a healthy lifestyle is a such bad thing, and social media could play a big part in that. And no, not everyone needs to be walking around like supermodels, just.. healthy... but for some reason.. that's taboo to mention.. everyone is more than happy to call a Victoria secret model "skinny" or "anorexic" or "twig" or whatever other name, but as soon as you call someone, who's clearly gone beyond the point of being healthy, "fat" or "big" everyone loses their mind...

I read that tiktok is now even banning ads that promote workouts, diet pills, and others that would discuss losing weight to create a "safe environment for its users" because mentioning weight loss or encouraging a healthy lifestyle clearly isn't "safe"... But I highly doubt that they're removing ads for softdrinks or fast food at the same rate...

Either way, the images of Celeste are somewhat made to "poke fun" at skinny models. So, as it should work both ways, I wouldn't have been surprised if they would be flagged for "body shaming" or "bullying" someone who is skinny.. (not necessarily flagged for "nudity")

Fritz Gessler's picture

instagram's censorship algorithms are full of bigottry and double standards.
nevermind, people should eat less and do more sports and boycott instagram (the biggest enemy of all decent photo-sites/communities, btw). and women should be less attention whores - making profit of their meat. :)

Elliot Sander's picture

It's not double standard, it's just that the algorithm is not yet perfect. I'm guessing that her photo was censored because the algorithm thought that she was showing "more" skin than the threshold allowed. By more, I mean the total amount of skin shown in relation to the size of the image. Since Candice was skinnier, she occupied less of the image than Celeste did. As such, Candice's wasn't censored but Celeste's was.

derek j's picture

the larger girl's skin takes up half the frame, vs 1/4 for the skinny girl.

Ryan Davis's picture

The algorithm isn't able to identify rail-thin supermodels as being naked females. Is that because it can't figure out if they are naked, or if they are female?

Just me's picture

Maybe it's not about being skinny or not, but about copyright ;-)
The second one obviously copied the fist one!
Ok, I'm out

Karim Hosein's picture

Still not copyright infringement. Concepts cannot be copyrighted.

Saying, “your image was removed for © infringement,” is a totally different thing.

Martin Peterdamm's picture

I'm sure the IG Nude censorship is often a result of a crappy AI identifying "nude" pictures. I have seen several times that pictures got a "strike" which had no nudity, just the colors and shapes were in nude tones, legs with pantyhose on stuff nobody would call nude but if you squinch you eyes and have an idea how recognition software works you get the idea why.

David Pavlich's picture

Doesn't matter a whit to me if IG posts obese nudes or in shape nudes. What is concerning is how many people embrace an unhealthy lifestyle. It comes down to not wanting to make the effort to maintain a decent weight. Being overweight is not good.

There are political entities that want to and have regulated fat foods. Make up your mind! Overweight is okay or it isn't.

Paul Jay's picture

Exactly my thoughts and I didn't feel the need to confect it by pretending an unhealthy lifestyle is any way a good thing. I don't have a problem calling it is what is - fat. I was censored! That's actually the medical/biolgical term for the substance that makes someone obese. We are now somehow sheltering people from their own destructive habits and censoring people that call it for what it is. That is not only bad for them, but bad for an already overloaded health system, and a bad thing for our younger generations to learn. For god sake, just stop eating so much and then blaming their problems on other people! And this is not saying that larger bodied people who aren't fat need to change in anyway - there are all sorts of body shapes. But fat is what it is, fat. And an excess of it is bad and condoning it is a dangerous place to put our younger generations in.

Ryan Cooper's picture

I suspect this is much less about any IG algorithm targeting obesity as much as it is due to IG user's and their use of the "report feature".

As far as I know, IG has an automated system that looks at the "report" rate of an image before taking automated action against infringement. I expect that virtually no one reports the images of skinny models but the reports (even if unjustified) of obese or elderly models can quickly become numerous. As a result, images that violate IG's nudity policy featuring these sorts of models are wildly more visible to those enforcing that policy.

In a nutshell, this is evidence that IG users are discriminatory more than anything.

Core Barn's picture

Let’s face it. We all know thin and tight is the best. Not all of us are. I’m not not. But nobody wants to see some sloppy p.o.s jumping around on the beach. It’s gross. If you want to love yourself fine, dance naked in front of a mirror and whisper sweet nothings to yourself. But for the love of God stop posting your fat asses all over the internet. Let’s just go back to a time when we all had some self awareness and common sense. WE CANT ALL BE BEAUTIFUL and it’s ok.

Michelle Maani's picture

You have to look at the whole photo. Nyome Nicholas-Williams had a photo censored, not because of her breasts, but because of what she was sitting on. It really looked like something was being stuck into her. And the other woman, Celeste Barber, not only has part of her nipple showing, but also looks like she's having an orgasm or is in excruciating pain. This was not in the image she parodied. I don't think color or weight was an issue in either photo.