Media’s Censorship of Female Bodies

Bikini lines of Instagram

Bikini lines of Instagram

Petra Collins recently had her Instagram account deleted after posting an image of her bikini line; this type of content is pretty typical for the social networking site. Although the image did not break with Instagram’s terms of use (No nudity, violence, pornography, unlawful, hateful, or infringing imagery), it did apparently break with Instagram’s code of femininity, as Collins puts it. Her bikini line, unlike millions of others displayed across the social media platform, was unshaven, with pubic hair visible above and to the sides of her swimsuit. We are not used to seeing these images in the media, because everything we see has been already been retouched to conform to a conventional ideal of feminine beauty. We can assume body hair is one of those things that violate the notion of ideal beauty, even though it is something we all naturally have, whether we choose to remove it or not.

Our treatment of body hair, whether we trim it, shave it, leave it, dye it, laser it or wax it, it’s all our decision. Hair removal should not be a prescribed behavior for women in order for them to qualify as feminine or beautiful, but that’s what Instagram told women when they deleted Petra Collins’ account. Refer to the above image to see what kind of bikini line images are allowed on Instagram (Petra’s is in the top left corner, the other three remain on Instagram).

You can read Collins’ reaction here to the censorship. I think she interprets it correctly, when she argues censorship of the female bodies represents the hate and distrust we have towards female bodies. In censoring female bodies across the media, we continue to constrain women within society; it’s society’s attempt to keep “femaleness” within set definitions and ideals, as if we’re afraid that if female bodies are to escape such conventions, they pose a threat to society. This type of attitude towards the representation of female bodies is dangerous to living female bodies.

In conclusion, Petra Collins asks,

To those who reported me, to those who are disgusted by my body, to those who commented “horrible” or “disgusting” on an image of ME, I want you to thoughtfully dissect your own reaction to these things, please think about WHY you felt this way, WHY this image was so shocking, WHY you have no tolerance for it.

Collins then concludes,

Hopefully you will come to understand that it might not be you thinking these things but society telling you how to think.

I know that the media tells us what to do with our bodies through what they choose to show us, but I often forget that what is omitted is equally important, which Petra’s article reminded me. In fact, this whole thing reminded me of a couple years ago when a Lane Bryant commercial featuring a model in plus-size lingerie was banned from ABC. I remember watching the commercial and thinking, how is this different than the Victoria’s Secret commercials we see? Okay, I see what’s different, the woman is larger and her breasts are larger than what is typically on television, therefore, it’s deemed indecent. Below are two lingerie advertisements; one is the banned Lane Bryant commercial and the other is Victoria’s Secret.

After watching the two commercials, you realize just how alike they are in everything, but the physical shape of the female body, and just how arbitrary it seems, to deem one appropriate and one inappropriate. But the media does this anyways. Why are we so surprised by the prevalence of harassment such as “fat-shaming” when the media’s censorship of things like the Lane Bryant commercial grants unspoken permission? Petra Collins meditates on this scary and accurate notion that real life imitates the media and even more so, now, online censorship and harassment can lead to real life censorship and harassment. Do you all agree with this thought? What are your personal reactions to either case of censorship? Can you think of other examples of censorship of female bodies?


7 thoughts on “Media’s Censorship of Female Bodies

  1. I was absolutely shocked to read about this, and especially to see the commercials. It just seemed like such a horrible message to send all women: that being even a little bit bigger than what models are supposed to be is terrible, that having hair in the wrong places is ‘indecent’, and that all women have to adhere to a model about their beauty, a model that is completely unachievable for practically everybody.
    I would agree that this media censorship would cause terrible repercussions on all women, as people reproduce what they see in society every day. If the media says it’s OK, why not, right? :/ Terrifying thought…
    Thanks for sharing!

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  4. The message behind both of these incidents appears to be the promotion of an impossible body and a veer from (or rejection of) the Natural. These examples of the complexities of weight and hair, that is to say, the contradicting standards of women in the media, directly relates Jean Killbourne’s “Killing Us Softly 4.” The increasing standards of thinness are paralleled with increasing standards for less and less pubic hair. The Petra Collins incident is absolutely appalling, and this post made me recall something that Killbourne mentioned, that the increasing standard for less hair is directly related to porn. The dominant audience of pornography is men, and the dominant norm in pornography is for women to have zero pubic hair. I would be curious to see the gender ratio in people that commented that Petra’s bikini line was “horrible” and “disgusting,” but I predict the majority were men. Porn itself is a very tabooed topic, but its images directly affect growing perceptions of bodies, particularly for youth, and unfortunately it is the most uncontrollable, and diverse, type of media. How could a movement even try to change the images of women and their hair in porn? It seems like a rather daunting question.

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  7. Sometimes I think it’s an over-sexualisation of plus-size girls in popular media. They’re made to look like a spectacle. I mean how many adverts or magazines have you ever really seen them in where they aren’t almost naked or with words like ‘curvaceous, booty, bodacious, sexy’ etc blasted all over them? It’s as though featuring a woman outside the typical model size is so alien, that they need to make a statement, ‘look at us, we;re featuring a plus size model on our cover!!!’ It’s so sad.

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