Thursday, September 26, 2013

my eyes are up here: censorship, body positivity and social media

I'm not sure what I was planning this morning: I need to write another post; I need to run to the store and get some nutritional yeast, and one or two other things; There are several unread chapters of the Gita calling my name.

But instead I'm here, writing about this, because our world is a broken, unfair place and I can't stay quiet about it. I'm a writer, and when something happens that I think is wrong, my first instinct is to write about it.

[Insert Photo of my breasts Here]

My inbox was full of unhappy emails from my fellow editors this morning. (Some of you who read here regularly know I'm on the editorial staff for this magazine. I couldn't be prouder of it.) Evidently, all of us had our personal online accounts (of a rather large social networking site, you know the one) flagged or seized or starred--or whatever you do to someone's digital profile in this final frontier of the Internet--because of a link the magazine's account had posted to its followers.

I'd love for you to become subscribers of Ms.Fit, but for now I'll just say that a large part of our agenda is publishing content that helps women of all shapes, sizes, shades, genders, identities and walks of life make choices that are healthy for us. The editors and contributors of MsFit work to make fitness and wellness a basic human rights for all women, something we can engage in without being shamed by the media, erased by the patriarchy, and subjugated by voices and forces--some external, some internal--who would demand we love and cherish ourselves less. It's important work, and it's important to us. We have a sense of humor, but we are not messing around about this, you can believe that.

Evidently, some time in the last day or so, we at MsFit posted a link to a blog called The Militant Baker. The link contains images from a photo shoot that are (presumably) being used for a book about body positivity. I don't know the writer at The Militant Baker, or her work, super-well, but I like what I see so far. This post, the one that got us all booted, is replete with images of all kinds of women, in various semi-nude states, who seem full of love for their bodies.

Go on, have a look. I'll wait until you come back.

So, after reading the dismayed emails about being frozen by said social network, I tried to get on this morning, and instead got a stern lecture--albeit in text--from the social network, about "Community Standards". I've read them carefully, and here's where I bet they'd claim we went afoul.

This first phrase falls under the "Graphic Content" section:

We understand that graphic imagery is a regular component of current events, but must balance the needs of a diverse community. Sharing any graphic content for sadistic pleasure is prohibited.

Now, what exactly are the needs of a diverse community? Maybe a diverse community needs to hear a challenging truth, and to take a breath even as they feel their values or aesthetics being challenged. Or maybe a diverse community needs to be anesthetized by pretty, easy pictures and simple games that won't cause a stir. I think it's pretty clear that the photos here aren't sadistic in any way. These women look like willing, even jubilant, participants, so consent seems really clear. Here's where things get a little sticky. See "Nudity and Pornography":

We also impose limitations on the display of nudity. We aspire to respect people’s right to share content of personal importance, whether those are photos of a sculpture like Michelangelo's David or family photos of a child breastfeeding.

 Okay. "Impose[ing] limitations" I think I understand, though I wish there was language about what those limitations are. It seems to me imposing them is arbitrary, maybe even hypocritical. I didn't do any kind of search for objectionable nudity--which would generally be less pro-woman, more misogynistic and likely more prurient--than the photos attached to the link, but they're out there. I know they're out there because one of the other editors did do that search, and showed us some stuff. Ick. Now, I don't want to get into the "if they can, why can't we?" game, because I don't know how relevant or productive it would be. What's really unclear to me is this whole, "aspire[ing] to respect" shared content. Does that mean, we wish we could respect your content, but we don't, or we're trying to respect your content, but we suck at it? Or is it just an insincere nod, the kind of thing that says, we get that breastfeeding is a natural, completely non-sexual part of life, but still, there's a woman's boob in the shot so for God's sake pull that heinous content down before you start a riot.

how do ya like them breasts, baby?

Yes, I will absolutely concede that these are not photos of women breastfeeding. They're photos of women in love with their bodies. They seem proud, diverse, joyful and unashamed (god forbid a woman ever be unashamed). Quite frankly, they remind me the most of that Dove soap commercial, only with more nipples. The women here are (as far as it seems to me, clearly) not minors, and there's nothing prurient or sexual in nature of these photos. There's just a lot of boobs. For the record, it's nothing like the boobs that people mean or imagine when they talk about pornographic. These bodies are natural; they have miles on them, they tell stories and communicate a level of self-acceptance that I wish every woman I know possessed. These are your sister's bodies, your mother's bodies, your ancestor's bodies.

But there is a lot of boob.

(One small critique: there are a lot of white bodies in the photos sampled. I know, I know, there are some brown bodies, too, and a fair amount. I'm always on the look out for my own reflection, even in this kind of work, and I would have enjoyed seeing more diversity throughout the photos, rather than single brown body or the "brown body group shot". I didn't see any of my ancestors' bodies. Having said that, what I saw was a sample, I think, so I don't know what the finished product looks like.)

Hang with me, I'm almost there. How do I feel about this? I feel victimized. It would seem that the weight of the text--and of its importance, HUGE--is completely irrelevant compared to the included images. As a writer and as a human, I find this deeply distressing. I could write a brilliant post about how each of us is lovable and can exercise compassion and how we should listen without prejudice and disagree with grace and consideration, and whatever; and if I include a sexy, art-designed image of some dessert, or some hottie with his shirt off, it'll get more hits. Really? Has our world so degraded in its ability to share ideas that the images are more important than the words?

I'm not saying images have no power. I've read enough crappy magazines, watched enough bad TV and seen enough fucking video game footage to know better. I believe in media literacy. But words are alive. They have meaning. We are still arguing about the n-word. Hip-hop is so potentially damaging not just for the way women are treated in its videos, but in its lyrics. Hashtag, for crying out loud, we make things trend with words! We communicate in words. When I open my mouth to challenge someone, emoticons don't fall out, nor do images or paintings. Words fall out, and on a good day, they're thoughtful words. If the faceless people in charge of "community standards" had taken five minutes to consider the text and import of what MsFit was sharing, would they still have found the images so objectionable? If so, why? Is it because the bodies are un-airbrushed, un-Photoshopped bodies? Or is it just because the bodies are bare breasted?

So I don't like that our work is being flagged by The Man, or that we're being labeled as questionable because of some feminist, body-positive content we shared. I guess this means we're doing something right. Nobody ever said that challenging the system from within was easy work. It's not an easy blow, I'll tell you. But this is the work we do, and it matters so we keep doing it.