A few weeks ago, Kim Kardashian appeared on the cover of Interview magazine, her bare bottom resplendent in a jock strap under the cover line, ‘American Dream.’ Gwyneth Paltrow recently celebrated her 50th birthday by releasing a photograph of herself naked, spray painted in a golden sheen, and posted it on Goop’s Instagram and its 1.7million followers. We live in an age of being proud to bare all on social media. Unless, it seems, you’re a small breastfeeding clothing brand.
Lisa Lessware is the co-CEO and co-founder of The BShirt, a Devon-based breastfeeding brand, whose product is worn as a layer under existing clothes allowing mums to breastfeed discreetly. This means they can get away with buying fewer maternity clothes, which saves money and reduces waste. Feedback from their customers on their website is that they ‘feel more comfortable breastfeeding in front of other people as there is less on show.’
But not everybody agrees, and Meta (formerly Facebook) felt there was too much on show when it slapped TheBshirt, which has been advertising on the social media site since it launched in 2017, with its first ad ban in 2018.
Since its launch, the company’s adverts have regularly been flagged and banned by Facebook, now called Meta, because they were deemed to contain ‘Adult Content’ and were therefore in violation of the social media company’s advertising policies. They clarified their Adult Content Policy with the company, listing what they prohibit: ‘Excessive visible skin or cleavage, even if not explicitly sexual in nature,’ and ‘Images focused on individual body parts, such as abs, buttocks or chest, even if not sexually explicit in nature.’ No exceptions exist for images of breastfeeding.
The bans were open to review and often overturned, but that didn’t come without its cost, both financially and time-wise. ‘A review can take between 6 and 12 hours,’ says Lisa, ‘and that’s just for one ad – you may have 40 other adverts that are running.’ Following a six-month period this year when The BShirt’s ads were flagged for policy violations over 1,700 times, on 26th August, the company received a notification from Meta that they were ‘Permanently Banned from Advertising.’‘The “request review” button disappeared,’ says Lessware.
Lisa says that because revenue from ads make up around 50% of her company’s turnover, they’ve lost between £10,000 and £15,000 in revenue as a result of the bans. ‘It’s had a huge impact,’ she says. ‘I had to choose whether to pay my suppliers or wages. We’re working mums and we wanted to work on our own terms designing a product that was ethical and made people’s lives better. It feels so unfair. We’ve got no recourse to compensation from Meta and we’ve lost so much money.’
It was only by going through a US consultancy firm – a costly process in itself – that The BShirt managed to get the permanent ban on advertising lifted. ‘It’s quite disgusting because I should have been able to resolve this with the available communication channels, but I couldn’t,’ says Lisa. ‘So many brands are getting their ads rejected and they may not have the knowledge or the means to get them overturned. We were lucky, but you shouldn’t have to be lucky when you’ve built your business around social media.’
Since she flagged the issue on The Bshirt’s Instagram page, Lessware has had others approach her, coming up against the same issue, such as Human Milk, a clothing and accessories brand which is also involved in global education around breastfeeding. In 2018, Mama Clothing created a change.org petition to allow ads of breastfeeding mums on Facebook and in 2021, even Tommee Tippee’s breastfeeding campaign, ‘The Boob Life’ ran into similar problems. They were also banned from displaying ads of breastfeeding mums on Facebook.
A spokesperson for Meta told us: ‘A number of ads brought to our attention were removed in error. We apologise for this mistake and are working to improve our systems so that brands don’t run into these issues in the future.’ On the Meta Business Centre Help page, on the review of ads, it states, ‘We can’t promise that we’ll always get it right, even on re-review, as both humans and machines make mistakes and review isn’t perfect. We allow all posts of breastfeeding on Facebook and Instagram, but we do not allow adverts showing visible nipples.’
None of The BShirt’s ads show visible nipples, however. ‘Our whole message is about breastfeeding with confidence, and we’d like to be able to show a woman breastfeeding in a café. We’re now afraid to because it could kill our business,’ says Lisa. ‘Something has got to change because I can’t face the sleepless nights. This nearly killed our business. We’re not a big player, but we have to compete in the same space as some of the big high street brands. When something like this happens, it’s devastating.’