Why Women Are Calling Out Instagram for Censoring Photos of Plus-Size Bodies

‘It’s sad to see someone who loves themselves be shut down in such a way.’

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Instagram censoring photos of fat people- writer Lora Grady in her best fatkini post

The writer in her best #fatkini pose (Photo, Roberto Caruso.)

Most people who know me won’t believe this (hi, attention-loving Leo here!), but it took me a long time to become truly comfortable with sharing selfies on Instagram. That’s because I’m a size 20, and on the occasions when I have worked up the nerve to post full-body shots in a swimsuit, lingerie or even fully-clothed, I’ve gotten comments like “What’s it like to be pregnant with 7 babies?” and “You’re promoting obesity and are at risk of heart failure!” from random strangers. And let’s be real, those negative comments can rattle even the most confident among us. So, imagine working up the courage to post a #fatkini pic only to have it removed by Instagram for violating community guidelines — even though you can find *plenty* of (kinda NSFW) swimsuit shots and topless pics posted by non-plus folks on your Explore page all the damn time.
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That’s what happened to model Katana Fatale when she posted a photo of herself in an outdoor shower. After Instagram removed it (within hours) Katana tried to repost, but it was taken down again. Next, Katana posted a side-by-side of the photo in question and one of Kim Kardashian that was even more revealing (but had received 2 million likes) in her Stories to inform her followers about what had happened.

It caught the attention of Sarah Hostetler Rosen and Lou Xavier, two women from Portland who had been noticing a disturbing trend of fat people having their photos and sometimes entire accounts taken down by Instagram. “It’s sad to see someone who loves themselves be shut down in such a way,” Xavier says.

In response to the BS policing, they decided to “bombard IG with fat and large bodies,” and that’s when the account and hashtag #FatIsNotAViolation were born. “The goal [was] to gather, post and support photos in any state of undress — as long as [they were] not actually violating guidelines — to flood Instagram with fat bodies, which are just as worthy as everyone else’s and should not be deleted,” says Xavier. (They also welcome you to post clothed shots in support.)

Instagram censoring photos of fat people-Sarah Hostetler Rosen and Lou Xavier

Sarah Hostetler Rosen (left) and Lou Xavier started #FatIsNotAViolation to combat Instagram’s unfair censorship of fat bodies (Photo of Rosen, Suma Jane Dark.)

Since the movement launched on October 5, thousands of posts have used the hashtag — click on it, and hundreds of images of fat bodies in various poses and stages of undress (some fully clothed, too) appear — it’s magical for someone like me, who’s not used to seeing so many of these images together all at once on my feed.

If it weren’t for social media, I can’t imagine how long it would have taken me to discover so many body image advocates, such as Gabi Gregg and Nadia Aboulhosn. As the media still struggles to capture what body positivity really means, it’s incredibly meaningful to see images of bodies that are traditionally marginalized — fat bodies, disabled bodies, Black and brown bodies — appear on our social feeds. And, frankly, this challenge to Instagram’s policing of larger bodies is overdue.

Back in 2014, YouTuber Meghan Tonjes posted a photo of her clothed size-16 bum and Instagram removed it, citing community guidelines regarding nudity. “There has been a long history of Instagram deleting photos of fat bodies that don’t actually violate any guidelines,” Sarah says.
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Instagram apologized in this case, but has clearly not made any changes to its policy: It’s cool when Emily Ratajowski posts shots like this one, but artists like Shooglet (who photographs fat bodies) constantly have to repost content after it’s removed. The double standards are real.

“It feels like in the deletion of these photos, fat people, not the nudity, are the violation,” says Xavier, explaining that every time a plus-size person’s photo gets deleted, the photo doesn’t appear to actually violate any rules.

“For me, the ultimate goal of [the #FatIsNotAViolation] movement is for Instagram to acknowledge the flaws in their system and update it so that fat bodies won’t be censored any more than any other body,” says Rosen.

Xavier agrees: “If we could somehow see what really causes a shadow ban [when someone’s posts don’t appear under the hashtags used] or what is actually reviewed when a photo is reported, I’d love to know. Because it’s obviously either bias or flaw. There’s an algorithm in there that is silencing people.”

After seeing so many people posting selfies with the hashtag the day they launched, Rosen and Xavier were inspired to keep going with a weekly callout, using the hashtag #FatIsNotAViolationFridays. “To have received so much support blew me away. It really says that a lot of us feel like we’re being silenced. And it won’t be tolerated anymore,” says Rosen. “Erasure and censorship are documented tools of oppression, and we can’t allow this blatant discrimination of fat bodies to continue.”