Is it time to stop censoring birth photos on social media?

Is it time we stopped censoring birth photos on social media? [Photo: Marijke Thoen]
Is it time we stopped censoring birth photos on social media? [Photo: Marijke Thoen]

Looking a birth pictures might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But real and raw images of women bringing their babies into the world can be a vital not to mention beautiful way to celebrate and educate people about the whole birthing process.

It’s a shame, therefore, that photographs depicting the most natural thing in the world are often removed by social media sites, grouped in the same ‘offensive material’ category as pornography, violence and racism.

This baffling censorship conundrum has prompted the emergence of an entire movement of mothers, midwives and birth photographers dedicated to challenging the rules surrounding the sharing of birth images.

And the #stopcensoringbirth movement has been gathering pace of late.

One of its most vocal campaigners, LA nurse Katie Vigos, has even gone so far as to set up a petition urging Instagram to allow uncensored birth images to be posted and shared.

Katie tells Yahoo Style UK that she was prompted to start the petition after images from her Instagram account, Empowered Birth Project, were removed by the site’s controls.

“I started Empowered Birth Project on Instagram in 2014 just before giving birth to my third child via emergency caesarean,” she says.

“I had actually conceptualised the project after the birth of my second child at home in 2010; I envisioned a platform where birthing people could connect and share inspiring stories and empowering information.”

Birth isn’t ‘offensive’

Katie explains that the Instagram community became enormously important to her during her postpartum recovery and she found healing through telling her story.

“Before long, my following was growing rapidly and I realised many others were eager to share their stories as well,” she continues. “So Empowered Birth Project transformed over the years from my personal story to the universal story of birth, postpartum, and motherhood.”

Which is why she finds it so hard when that support and education is censored.

“Fast forward to 2017 and I found myself increasingly frustrated with birth censorship, which the birth community has been dealing with since the advent of social media,” Katie explains.

So Katie stopped playing by the rules.

“One evening I posted a series of uncensored vaginal birth photos and they became my most liked and engaged media literally overnight. The next morning I started the petition, ‘Allow Uncensored Birth Images on Instagram.’”

The #stopcensoringbirth movement has been gathering pace of late [Photo: Getty]
The #stopcensoringbirth movement has been gathering pace of late [Photo: Getty]

Birth photographers around the globe have also been making an incredibly important contribution to the social media birth censorship fight.

“By documenting births and sharing (with permission of the parents of course) birth stories and photographs birth photographers around the world have contributed to creating great shifts in regard of how women reflect back on birthing their babies,” explains birth photographer Marijke Thoen.

“And that is what this is all about: showing women how amazingly powerful they (and their bodies) are during the process of labour and birthing and inspiring mothers-to-be to feel empowered instead of scared to deliver their babies,” she continues.

“From that perspective I would almost say I find it very offensive birth pictures are censored and taken down from social media platforms such as Instagram, it almost feels like a modern version of suppressing and silencing women’s power.”

Educational and empowering

Katie agrees that allowing uncensored birth on social media is important for so many reasons.

“First of all, birth education is not routinely provided in educational settings. People are growing up – and even giving birth – without having ever seen what birth is like and without the knowledge and information that is required to make informed decisions,” she says.

“Since I published the petition and started regularly posting uncensored birth content, so many women have made comments like, ‘I’ve given birth twice and have never actually seen a vaginal birth!’ That really blows my mind. How can we expect people to go into the birth room feeling confident and empowered in their decision making if they literally have no idea what they’re getting themselves into?”

The problem, it seems, is a zero-tolerance policy towards genitals, regardless of context.

Instagram’s community guidelines state: “We don’t allow nudity on Instagram. This includes photos, videos and some digitally created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals and close-ups of fully nude buttocks. It also includes some photos of female nipples, but photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed. Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK, too.”

Double Standards?

Katie believes birth censorship is a glaring double standard when it comes to women’s bodies and what is allowed on social media.

“Social media sites seem to allow women’s bodies to be displayed in a blatantly sexual manner, within the context of violence and abuse, and for the benefit of consumerism,” she says.

“Telling women that their power to give birth is offensive and ought to be kept hidden is a harmful message. Women need to reclaim and celebrate this creative power. Because if women trust and believe in their ability to give birth, that empowerment can spill over into every other aspect of their lives.”

Katie says this was the main intention of starting the Empowered Birth Project, to remind women of their power. She believes that the removal of these birth images perpetuates shame and stigma around the birthing process.

“This petition is necessary to follow through with the mission, and I view it as a crucial sociocultural shift to remove the shame and stigma from birth,” she explains.

That’s something Marijke agrees with.

“I honestly can’t think of one single reason why birth images should be hidden and not shown to the world,” she says. “Sure birth can be rough and raw and messy but most of all it is natural and beautiful, just like life itself.”

In the petition, Katie urges Instagram to stop categorising birth photos as offensive material. She proposes that birth content be reconsidered as educational, and that graphic images of birth be blurred so that users can decide for themselves whether they want to click on the image and view it.

Time for change

For birth photographers that might offer the perfect compromise.

“We understand not everyone is into it, but then just don’t follow accounts or hashtags that show that particular content instead of reporting these kind of images as being offensive,” Marijke says.

She points out that women don’t always find themselves in a safe and supportive space to give birth and that finding the confidence and faith in their own bodies is often impacted because they simply haven’t had access to information on the birth process.

As such women receive the message that birth is something to fear.

“It doesn’t have to be that way, and spreading beautiful and inspiring birth stories and photographs will only contribute in raising awareness around this issue,” she says.

Birth photography is a way to celebrate and educate about the birthing process [Photo: Getty]
Birth photography is a way to celebrate and educate about the birthing process [Photo: Getty]

So far the petition has received over 22,000 signatures in support of the movement for change.

“I’m absolutely thrilled with the response to the petition and the project as a whole,” Katie says. “I’ve now had two conference calls with employees of Instagram who have confirmed the petition is being internally reviewed. This is great progress. I feel strongly we are on the cusp of something very exciting with this movement.”

Yahoo Style UK has contacted Instagram for comment and will update the article if we hear back.

For more information about the Katie’s project visit Empowered Birth Project

To view some of Marijke’s beautiful birth photos visit her Facebook and Instagram pages.

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Read more from Yahoo Style UK:

Why this woman chose to live stream her birth on Facebook

A lesson in editing birth photos before sharing them online

‘Accurate’ birth video using balloon and ping pong ball goes viral