Instagram’s New Infamy: Stars Who are Fed up with Instagram Censorship

As of September 2015, Instagram has a staggering 400 million users. It’s no surprise that one of the world’s most popular apps would come with its own string of controversies, but there’s one controversy in particular that is causing photographers and celebrities to speak out about against the app’s policies – censorship.

© Nick Knight

So without further ado, here are six famous Instagram users who’ve spoken out against Instagram’s censorship policies.

1. Petra Collins

In one of the most infamous instances of Instagram censorship, artist and curator Petra Collins posted this picture to Instagram in 2013. Her entire account was subsequently removed.

© Petra Collins

In the picture, there is a tiny bit of pubic hair peeking out from under Collins’ bikini line, which is why it was taken down. It’s well-known that Instagram has strict guidelines about nudity and mature content, but here’s the thing: that doesn’t apply to all mature content. In fact, it pretty much only applies to women’s bodies.

Justin Bieber for Calvin Klein

This picture of Justin Bieber has been left uncensored on Instagram, despite a small trail of pubic hair being visible.

Collins wrote a short but powerful essay about the issue. She explained that:

“Through this removal I really felt how strong of a distrust and hate we have towards female bodies. The deletion of my account felt like a physical act, like the public coming at me with a razor, sticking their finger down my throat, forcing me to cover up, forcing me to succumb to society’s image of beauty. That these very real pressures we face everyday can turn into literal censorship.”

She went on to point out:

“If the Internet mimics real life then there is no doubt that real life can mimic it. That if we allow ourselves to be silenced or censored it can happen in real life too. That if an online society of people can censor your body, what stops them from doing so in real life? This is already happening, you experience this every day. When someone catcalls at you, yells “SLUT”, comments on all your Facebook photos calling you “disgusting”, tries to physically violate you, spreads private nude images of you to a mass amount of people via text, calls you ugly, tells you to change your body, tells you [that you] are not perfect[…] this cannot continue to be our reality. To all the young girls and women, do not let this discourage you. Do not let anyone tell you what you should look like, tell you how to be, tell you that you do not own your body. Even if society tries to silence you keep on going, keep moving forward, keep creating revolutionary work, and keep this discourse alive.”

2. Matt McGorry

mattmcgoryActor Matt McGorry brought attention to Instagram’s censorship double standards in a hilarious way. He posted a photograph of himself topless on Instagram, but covered his own nipples with the bare nipples of Miley Cyrus and Chrissy Teigen.

Like Petra Collins, he also had a lot to say about Instagram’s censorship of the female body.

“The banning of women’s nipples may sound normal or even inconsequential as you think, ‘well, women’s nipples are more sexual than men’s nipples’. But that’s not some scientific fact. It’s because of how our society so heavily sexualizes women. And it should be up to the individual woman to decide if she wants to show them, just like men have the choice. Part of the stand of #FreeTheNipple is about the right of women to claim what their breasts and nipples mean to THEM, and not have that be defined by how men and much of society decides what their boobies mean.”

He continued:

“You might be thinking to yourself, there are way more important issues out there than women being able to expose their bumpy buttons whenever men can. But it’s not just about getting an even tan; it’s one piece of the puzzle of creating deep change in the way our society objectifies women and creates these different standards for men and women (and other genders).”

3. Nick Knight

Esteemed fashion photographer Nick Knight has strongly criticised Instagram for its censorship of the female body – which at times has extended to censoring breastfeeding, mastectomy scars, menstruation stains and even fat women in underwear.

This month, Knight spoke out against Instagram censorship after Instagram user @erotic_n_texas, who posts artistic nudes (all of which are Photoshopped to comply with Instagram’s policies), commented: “Reported a second time.”

© erotic_n_texas

Knight replied to her:

“You have my sympathy @erotic_n_texas, why anybody would want to censor a woman’s breasts is beyond me. What is wrong with people?? It is demonizing women’s bodies. People should be proud of their bodies not feel ashamed.”

He continued the discourse on his own page:

“This is for you @erotic_n_texas and for everybody who gets their accounts censored. I am not sure how much I want to be on a platform that behaves like this. Stop censorship of women’s bodies, it sends the worst message to women about their bodies. We are supposed to be an enlightened and intelligent society. This is almost medieval in its attitude. Sex is not sinful and both women and men should be encouraged to feel proud of their bodies not ashamed.”

4. Ainsley Hutchence

Ainsley Hutchence, director of the Australian online magazine and agency Sticks and Stones, was shocked this year when the entire Sticks and Stones account was removed from Instagram after they posted this picture, which shows some untrimmed pubic hair and a slightly revealed nipple:


The account had had four photographs removed in the previous month, despite none of them being sexual in nature. In fact, the agency was only sent a very generic message each time, leaving Hutchence unsure of which photographs were removed and why.

One thing Hutchence was sure of, though, is that Instagram isn’t applying the same standards to images of men. In an interview with Hutchence spoke plainly about Instagram’s censorship policies.

“Unfortunately Instagram has ruled out natural hair that appears on all bodies of women that don’t trim their bikini lines. This hair occasionally does spill out of the sides of swimwear as it does on men in their underwear. But Instagram seem to be ok with man pubes. Clearly this is absolutely sexist.”

Instagram has restored the Sticks and Stones account and released this general statement:

“We try hard to find a good balance between allowing people to express themselves creatively and having policies in place to maintain a comfortable experience for our global and culturally diverse community. This is one reason why our guidelines put limitations on nudity, but we recognize that we don’t always get it right. In this case, we made a mistake and have since restored the account.”

5. Meghan Tonjes

Butt selfies (a.k.a. ‘belfies’) are all over the internet – and indeed, they’re all over Instagram. In fact, fitness model Jennifer Selter has built an enormous following on Instagram, largely thanks to her butt selfies.

But when singer-songwriter and video blogger Meghan Tonjes posted a picture of her bottom (in underwear) on Instagram in 2014, it was quickly removed from the site. Why? According to Meghan Tonjes, it was because of her size.


Tonjes originally posted the butt selfie on Instagram to document her weight loss journey. She’s a keen advocate for body positivity, and had no problem speaking out about the incident. In a witty and hilarious video to her subscribers, Tonjes commented:

“Instagram, I’m going to need you to define ‘nudity and mature content’ for me. [Laughs] Now, nudity is defined as having no clothing, permitting or featuring full exposure of the body. When someone is in their underwear or in a bathing suit, we don’t call that ‘nudity’. If we did, every beach would be a nude beach.”

“Mature content is a little [vaguer] in its definition, because we live in a society where we call ‘mature content’… things that we’re uncomfortable with. We assume that if our reaction to a body is sexual, then the person who owns that body had the intention of creating those sexual feelings. I want you to think of how many big girls you see on the internet, on television, in magazines… wearing bathing suits, lingerie, shorts, dresses [or] tight fitting clothing who aren’t openly mocked. Being uncomfortable is different from viewing nudity or pornography.”

She concludes the video with a call-to-action to Instagram:

“I would hope that it’s a goal of yours as a platform to make sure that close-minded, ignorant and hateful people don’t abuse your report feature.”

Instagram has since apologised and restored the photograph to its site.

6. …Apparently, Instagram’s Very Own CEO

Yes, that’s right. Kevin Systrom, Instagram’s CEO, has come out and said plainly that Instagram’s policies regarding censorship of the female body are in place because those are the policies of the Apple App Store. Violating those policies would mean that Instagram could risk being removed from the App Store, or having their rating changed from 12+ to 17+ (and thus losing one of their largest demographics).

At an event hosted by Dazed Media, Systrom stated that Instagram is committed to “artistic freedom”, despite the censorship policies, and that “tough calls” sometimes had to be made. The statement seemed to imply that even folk who work at Instagram might not approve of the current state of affairs.


But even if “tough calls” are being made, the problem is that Instagram isn’t making those calls consistently. There’s clearly an enormous double standard being applied to male and female bodies on Instagram – as well as fat and thin bodies, and hairy and non-hairy bodies. Instagram’s Terms of Use state that “nude,” “partially nude,” and “sexually suggestive,” images are prohibited on their site. But by allowing male nipples to go uncensored, they’re sending a message that bare-chested women are nuder and more sexually suggestive than bare-chested men. By allowing a Photoshopped image of Justin Bieber with pubic hair to remain on the site but removing images of women with untrimmed pubic hair, they’re sending a message that women’s hair is less PG than men’ hair.

Another flaw in Systrom’s explanation is Twitter. Twitter has no nipple censorship, and yet on the App Store its rating is 4+.

The stars speaking out against unequal censorship are not the only ones calling for change. Maybe it’s time for Instagram (and the world) to move ahead.