A British model is accusing Instagram of censoring Black plus-size bodies — and inspiring a campaign demanding action from the social media platform — after images of her posing with her arms covering her bare chest were repeatedly removed.
Nyome Nicholas-Williams, who has posed for Vogue Italia and Dove, was photographed by Alexandra Cameron in late July. One image in particular stood out: a shot of the 28-year-old Londoner caught in a peaceful self-embrace — head tilted, eyes closed —with her arms wrapped around her topless form.
Both Nicholas-Williams and Cameron were quick to share the image online, watching compliments roll in. But the celebration was short-lived. Nicholas-Williams tells Yahoo Life that the photo was “taken down within five minutes,” with a notification that it violated Instagram’s community guidelines regarding nudity and content of a sexual nature; she says she was also warned that her page was at risk of being deleted altogether. (Cameron’s own Instagram post featuring the same image stayed up longer, Nicholas-Williams says, but was also eventually deleted, and her attempts to repost photos were unsuccessful.)
But Nicholas-Williams, who also co-runs an Instagram page devoted to body positivity and mental health, didn’t back down, alerting her more than 40,000 followers to the ban and accusing Instagram of policing Black bodies while letting provocative images of white women stay up. The double standard, she says, is at odds with the company’s efforts to promote racial justice (see: the pledge from Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri to invest $100 million in Black-owned businesses) and undermines Black content creators such as herself.
“Why are white plus-sized bodies seen as ‘acceptable’ and accepted and Black plus-sized bodies not?” she wrote in one passionate Instagram post sharing another topless image from her shoot with Cameron. “Let’s shift the narrative that the media and fashion has upheld for too long that depicts our bodies as somehow being wrong when that couldn’t be further from the truth! I will continue to challenge and break down those societal and fashion ‘body standards’ that have been upheld for too long.”
With the help of Gina Martin, an activist who spearheaded the campaign to make upskirting illegal in the U.K., the #IWantToSeeNyome movement was born, with more than 1,000 posts on Instagram alone condemning the ban and pointing out the abundance of images featuring nude white women.
The campaign worked; last week the photos were restored by Instagram. Nicholas-Williams tells Yahoo Life that she had a Zoom call with two representatives from the company, who she says apologized and acknowledged that the images shouldn’t have been removed. Still, she feels that she didn’t get a “clear answer” as to why her image — which she says supporters are still struggling to share on the platform — was flagged.
“It shouldn’t have been taken down,” she tells Yahoo Life. “There are literally thousands of images of white, thin women revealing more of their bodies but [those] images aren’t being taken down. I did get an apology, but the apology was just kind of ridiculous because people are still telling me that their images [of me] are being taken down when they repost them ... There’s still something that’s fundamentally wrong.”
It’s not the only recent incident in which she’s felt that allyship during the Black Lives Matter movement has felt performative. Last week, she wrote an essay for Harper’s Bazaar U.K. detailing her discovery this summer that a white artist running a size-inclusive clothing brand had used a photo of Nicholas-Williams as inspiration for artwork and merchandise without her permission or compensation. The artist has since paused her Instagram account after issuing a public statement admitting she was “profiting off of Black bodies and labeling it as ‘inclusive’” by drawing BIPOC women like Nicholas-Williams without their consent.
Nicholas-Williams says she’s frustrated by companies “riding the coattails” of the Black Lives Matter movement without making meaningful change.
Meanwhile, an Instagram spokeswoman says the social media platform is committed to “addressing potential biases in our systems,” work the company acknowledges is “ongoing and will take time.” This will include opportunities for creators to appeal and ask for a second review of a post flagged for removal for violating community guidelines; initiatives to support the body-positive movement; and a review of algorithms to identify bias. She adds that the removal of Nicholas-Williams’s photo was a “mistake,” but not indicative of any effort to target certain content.
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“We do not censor specific communities,” Liza Crenshaw of Instagram Communications tells Yahoo Life. “We’re encouraged by the many people who use Instagram to share and connect with others around body positivity. Our teams review thousands of pieces of content every day and sometimes make mistakes. As soon as we realized that @curvynyome’s content had been removed in error we restored it and we have been working to restore related content and prevent any more from being removed. We’re sorry for the error and the distress caused.”
Moving forward, Nicholas-Williams says she’s not tempted to post more risqué photos simply to “prove a point” — but neither will she hold back, or settle for being treated differently because of her size or skin color.
“I’m honestly tired of having to keep speaking about things that shouldn’t be happening, like my pictures being taken down because I am Black, because I am fat, because I love myself,” she says. “We’re in 2020 and these things are still happening. Nothing is an even playing field and the lack of transparency on platforms like Instagram is quite telling. If anything, I’ve learned that we’ve not moved, which is nothing new. But this is just so glaringly obvious.”
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