The photographer Alexandra Cameron knew she had captured the perfect image just fifteen minutes after her splendid shooting with model Nyome Nicholas-Williams: an absentminded and dreamy photo with Nicholas-Williams bathed under natural light, her eyes closed, and arms wrapped around her breasts.
The response on Instagram was euphoric and unexpected: “stunning … beautiful … this should be in a gallery!” people posts. But after a few hours of excitement, the Instagram platform decided to delete the photo, and Nicholas-Williams had been warned her account could be shut down too.
“Millions of pictures of very naked, skinny white women can be found on Instagram every day,” claimed Nicholas-Williams. “But a fat black woman celebrating her body is banned? It was shocking to me. I feel like I’m being silenced.”
Her followers on the social media supported the model protesting for the social network’s move. Hundreds of users asked the platform to share the censored photos of Nicholas-Williams under the hashtag #IwanttoseeNyome, while Cameron, the photographer who took the pictures of the stunning model, accused Instagram of a severe incoherence between its positive declarations over Black Lives Matter movement and the unfair targeting of its black content creators.
Cameron, 34, who has worked as a photographer for more than a decade and posted thousands of photos on her account, was furious at the disagreement between what Instagram said and what it was actually doing.
She alleged: “I have posted photos of many more women – white women – who had [fewer] clothes on than Nyome that never got reported or deleted. This was the first time it happened to me, and it kept happening because I kept reposting the pictures and they kept getting deleted” and you need to ask why this is happening in this deeply incoherent society.
“What is it about a plus-size black woman’s body that is so offensive and so sexualised? The Playboy feed is filled with naked white models and it’s all for the male gaze, which is the opposite of what I do, and they’re allowed to stay.”
Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri has admitted that the platform needs to look at ‘algorithmic bias’. Photograph: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for WIThe platform, with over a billion users and 15,000 people working around the accused of discriminating against black people.
Not much has changed from when CEO of Instagram Adam Mosseri recognised in June the need for the company to look at “algorithmic bias”, explaining that he was acknowledging increasing “concerns about whether we suppress black voices and whether our products and policies treat everyone equally”.
In a post he claimed: “Words are not enough. That’s why we’re committed to looking at the ways our policies, tools and processes impact black people and other under-represented groups on Instagram.”
Only a few days later, Vishal Shah, the company’s vice-president of product, announced that an internal equity team would be digging “any bias in our systems and policies”, and the platform launched its #ShareBlackStories campaign to promote black voices.
Under Instagram community guidelines, nudity or sexual activity is restricted but is monitored on a case by case basis. Female nipples, unlike male ones, have long been banned and photographers have used inventive ways to sneakily cover them up, using leaves, emojis, black censorship blocks and often, as in Cameron’s case, the gorgeous model’s arms or a sprig of lavender.
“Ironically, it was supposed to be a confidence shoot,” explained Cameron, describing the style of shoots she does specifically to boost female self-esteem, as in the case of Nyome. “Where is Nyome’s confidence level supposed to be now?”
Nicholas-Williams, 28, who has modelled for Adidas, Boots and Dove, took part in the debate, admitting that she had struggled with an eating disorder as a teenager and she had worked hard at loving her own body. “It’s a process, but I’m unapologetic now and I want to promote self-love and inclusivity because that’s how I feel and how I want other women like me to feel,” she claimed.
“It does make a difference to be out there as a fat, black woman and be proud. More black women have been getting in touch with me to say the same has happened to them. So, I know I’m not alone.” – and you absolutely are not, everyone is in this together!
Gina Martin, the notorious writer who successfully campaigned to change the law in 2018 to make up skirting a criminal offence, took up Nicholas-Williams’s cause with Instagram as well. Nicholas-Williams and Cameron eventually had all of their original posts from the shoot reinstated on the platform after the massive virtual protests that threatened the appearance and very considered face of Instagram.
“When people exist in bigger bodies, and black women and people of colour talk about this censorship, the response is just ‘oh yeah, that happens’,” pointed out Martin.
“It’s embarrassing that it takes a verified white woman to talk about it for Instagram to do something. And this is just one case. It’s been happening for years.”