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It Goes Beyond #Curvy: Instagram's X-Rated Content Battle

It Goes Beyond #Curvy: Instagram's X-Rated Content Battle

By Beejoli Shah

The tricky game that the photo app is constantly fighting is also affecting body-positive messaging.

Instagram has gone after what seems to be the most innocent of hashtags: #curvy. While users can still choose to tag their photos with hashtag, a search for it yields "No posts found" – Instagram's way of letting users know that the phrase has been banned.

Outcry was near immediate, with many Instagram users taking to Twitter to vent their frustrations at what they perceived to be body-shaming, from a company that’s been in hot water often quite recently for their policing of women’s bodies. A #FreeTheNipple campaign sprung up on Instagram last spring after women began to protest the fact that topless female photos were resulting in their photos being deleted for violating Instagram’s terms of service, while males were allowed to bare their chests at will – a campaign that gained significant traction thanks to the fact that singer Rihanna had recently been suspended for sharing an Italian magazine cover where she was topless on her account. They incurred similar ire when banning women for sharing photos of vaginally shaped objects, as well as menstruation photos in later months.

According to Instagram, the ban had nothing to do with body policing women. It had to do with porn. "It was being used to share content that violates our guidelines around nudity. Please note that the block has nothing to do with the term 'curvy' itself," a spokesperson for the site told tech blog Mashable. And to be sure, before #curvy was banned, a search for the hashtag did yield an innumerably high number of naked genitalia photos and videos, despite the hashtag originally being used as an inspiration for full-figured people.

Instagram’s problem with porn is no secret, but their banning of hashtags in order to combat the issue has been more than arbitrary. When reporting on this same subject a few months ago, I found that hundreds of hashtags had been banned by Instagram (though thousands more existed in their wake) that shared more porn in their wake. And while banning the more explicit hashtags is at least understandable on the surface, there were still a large number of more seemingly benign hashtags also banned simply because they’d been co-opted by porn.

Social networking sites have overtaken porn as the number one search on the internet, so it's no surprise that porn has found a way to live on social media. But applying blanket bans, as Instagram has been doing, is a tricky way to solve the problem – and one that often ends up marginalizing body-positivity among women, as it often is the more body-positive hashtags that lend themselves best to porn-y double entendres. But with all the criticism Instagram has received about how they handle such issues, one thing is clear: since 30 percent of all female Internet users are using Instagram, they should think about how they handle women’s bodies.

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Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Champion studio