Instagram Has A Problem With Censoring Plus-Sized Black Women’s Bodies

'If thin, white models can post nearly-naked on Instagram, why can't I?' asks plus-size model Nyome Nicholas-Williams.

Nyome Nicholas

I have been a plus-size model for four years. I got into the industry to take up space as a Black woman with a bigger body, sharing my art to normalise ALL body types. However within the last month Instagram seems to be trying to limit me from doing so, they have continuously removed two specific modelling images of me even getting to the point where my entire Instagram account was at risk of being deleted because I refused to let them censor my body.

In the pictures I’m topless, covering my nipples and wearing cycling shorts. They’re beautiful, tasteful pictures captured by the incredible Alexandra Cameron. They’re more than suitable for the space I’ve cultivated on my account - where a number of other tasteful nude pictures of myself are still up - yet Instagram appears to have deemed these particular images as unsuitable for viewing.

Nyome Nicholas
©Alexandra Cameron

When I posted about this on my Instagram, I was lucky enough to have Gina Martin, a fellow influencer activist and friend of Cameron’s share my story with her followers starting the hashtag #IwanttoseeNyome. Her actions have launched a movement that has seen countless people share my images from the shoot with Alex yet instagram still removes them.

Martin quite aptly compared my pictures to other models, like Emily Ratajkowski and Bella Hadid, who post similar images wearing a considerable amount less all the time yet do not appear to face the same problems. The obvious difference is, they’re slim and white.

It is clear to me that there is a racial bias against Black women on Instagram, especially those that are visibly plus sized and confident in that fact. When they censor my images, they tell me – and everyone else - that there is one size that is correct and worthy, a narrative that has been repeated to women our entire lives and this exact way of thinking is what I am trying to change.

I have anxiety and all of this is extremely triggering

Having to be subject to this repeatedly, is quite frankly tiring. I have anxiety and all of this is extremely triggering for me. This is the second time in less than a month I’ve had to deal with injustice in this industry. Just two weeks ago, a white illustrator took one of my photographs without my consent and was monetizing off of my likeness and was selling merchandise with my image on it for her gain.

Now this has happened, and I’m tired. I’m a very strong person, when I believe in a cause or in speaking up about injustices I am relentless with it, but talking about issues like this all the time leaves me drained. I never tire of speaking up about things I’m passionate about but I am tired of this always happening when we’re in 2020.

There is a heaviness that accompanies dealing with these issues. There is a trope that Black women are always so strong even when we have been wronged, and that we must act in a way that is becoming so that we are not labeled as aggressive or as the aggressor. We should be allowed to be soft, and to process our feelings in whichever manner we choose to without any form of label being placed upon us.

Nyome Nicholas
©Alexandra Cameron

I feel lucky in that I’ve had so much support from the model and influencer community since I shared this story. There is an inherent systematic racial bias that is going on and because Gina spoke up, people are talking about it now, but it shouldn’t have to come to a slim white woman having to speak up for me to be heard and listened to .

Ultimately, Instagram as a company need to change and I intend on speaking to them to make that happen. Their staff – and everyone in general – need to be looking inward and checking on their own biases. If your job is to approve images posted online and you’re looking at content creators and policing one but not the other, should you have that job? If you can’t take your own bias or what you see as correct out of the equation (when it most likely isn’t correct given how many stories there are like mine) then that’s a problem.

We also need more transparency from Instagram about how they approve of images. Is there a machine-led system that checks all our images to see if they’re appropriate? If so, who wrote the coding for that system? We know that the people who wrote these codes (who are most often white men) bring their own biases into their work regardless – to the point there is evidence of racism in artificial intelligence.

On the other side, is there a human on the other end approving these images? If so, what biases do they have? What guidelines are they following and who wrote them? It could be that people were reporting my image, but we need to know who approves those processes and under what standard.

Instagram need to answer why women like me are being censored so routinely

My hope is that Instagram will have an answer as to why women like me are being censored so routinely and expose their approval process in doing so. They need to set out a strategy to ensure their staff - or their coding and algorithms - aren't, as it seems to me, racist, sexist and stigmatizing Black plus-size bodies.

They need to answer for their apparent racial bias and why it’s Black women that are always bearing the brunt of peoples prejudice when it comes to reporting images. There is an issue here, that’s undebatable, they need to be open about accepting that and figuring out what they can do to move forward.

I’d like to think things will change thanks to all the people that are behind this movement now, but they have to want to change. Until they answer to this movement and stop censoring bigger Black women’s bodies, it is evident that they don’t.

You can follow Nyome on Instagram here__.

To check out more of Alexandra Cameron's work, click here.

Grazia reached out to Instagram for a comment on this story and a Facebook spokesperson said the following:

'We’re constantly inspired by the millions of people who use Instagram to promote body positivity. We do not censor specific communities. Our teams review thousands of pieces of content every day and sometimes make mistakes. As soon as we realised 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.'

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