The picture that caused all this ruckus.
To the person who flagged this picture as inappropriate (and to Instagram who condoned its removal):
Why were you so offended? What exactly did you see when you look at this picture? What exactly did you think was happening in it?
I’ll tell you.
I just had just gotten out of the shower. It was a hot afternoon, and I was laying on my bed staring at my phone, wearing only underwear and a tank top. My phone distracted me from getting completely dressed, and I was browsing Facebook with my legs partly in the air, my knees to my chest. You could say I was lounging.
Moments later my husband, passing our bedroom on his way to his office, saw me lying there and came over to me quietly with a certain look on his face. He slowly lowered himself on the bed, propped himself up on one elbow, wedged his chest slightly between my legs, and began to lightly caress my vulva through my underwear.
In that moment, I could tell that his initial intentions were not platonic (I knew he wanted me), but you could only tell that if you felt the energy in the room, if you could see the lower half of his body. To my own eyes, all I could see was the look he was giving me—a look of a man in love, a look of a man mesmerized, a look of a man awestruck by a part of my body that used to be shamed, ignored, disrespected.
I loved the way he was looking at me, a look that I long to give my own body. . . so I snapped a picture.
And that is exactly what you’ll see in the picture—my lover (shirtless because of the hot afternoon) looking at my (clothed) yoni with love, with desire, with respect.
I loved this moment so much that I decided to share it. It was a beautiful moment of intimacy between us, a moment that attests to the love my husband has for me and the honor he gives my body. So I posted it on Instagram, with the caption “I love the way he looks at me. #sexuallyliberatedwoman #pussypower #wellfuckedwoman #mybodyisnotoffensive”, making especially sure that that last hashtag was very visible.
After posting it on Instagram, I didn’t even consider that it would be flagged—why would it? There was nothing vulgar about it, nothing anymore pornographic than the things I already post and see being posted on Instagram.
I felt confident that I understood what is considered inappropriate to share on Instagram. But less than six hours after I published it, I signed in to Instagram again.
And before I could even get to my feed, this is what I saw on my screen:
Screen-shot of my Instagram account after my photo got removed.
Instagram doesn’t tell you which photo it was that got flagged and removed, so I still didn’t think that was the picture that was taken down. I thought it would’ve been this one or this one or even this one. I thought surely those would’ve been the pictures to incite you to flag them for removal. They show so much more of me. They’re so in your face. They leave nothing to the imagination. I braced myself for that.
But no. The photograph of my husband admiring my clothed body was what was flagged for removal. A photograph depicting no vulgarity, no lewdness, no nudity, not even an intelligible outline of my vulva—just shadows hinting to that part of my body. . . that was the one that was taken down.
Actually, maybe that’s why you flagged it for removal—because of what the photograph hinted at. I mean, I could maybe see that. I could see that if you allowed yourself to venture in that direction, you could maybe say that a sexual act was taking place. But that’s only if you use your imagination. That’s only if you fill in the blank spaces with assumptions.
That could not be the case at all, but if it is: Why should I be punished for what your imagination presumptuously pieced together?
For the record, when I look at this picture, my mind doesn’t immediately go to sex because that’s not what was happening here. I know that, I was there. I am biased though, and I also have context that keeps me from filling in those blanks with assumptions. Perhaps I could’ve been better at conveying that context. Maybe that would’ve kept you from venturing to lewdness with your imagination.
As you can see, I’m trying to understand. I’m trying to put myself in your shoes, to use objective eyeballs to see it the way you might’ve seen it. And I’m sorry, I just can’t make sense of it.
Can I tell you what I do make sense of?
I make sense of that fact that the only reason this picture was flagged for removal and deemed “unsafe” was because it is was depicting a form of female pleasure.
I mean, I don’t want to assume, but you’ve left me with no choice. Especially when pictures of my own bare body have been allowed to stay up without a problem. Which leads me to believe that the reason those photos aren’t getting flagged for removal is because they go perfectly along with the standard cultural narrative surrounding women’s sexuality: that my femme body is naturally supposed to be consumed by the eyes of the male gaze.
And somehow that makes it OK because we as a culture are conditioned to seeing depictions of female sexuality through the lens of the male gaze. We no longer bat an eye when we see a hamburger is being sold by thin, busty women in string bikinis in a commercial. That’s just the way it is. Sex sells.
But when something doesn’t appease the male gaze, when it doesn’t serve to further that standard narrative of female sexuality, when a woman’s autonomy and sexual sovereignty is involved, that’s when these kinds of images become inappropriate. That’s when these images become dangerous.
Or so I’m putting together.
Look, before we go any further, I want you to look that I know how the world works. I know that women’s sexuality and depictions of female pleasure are heavily policed and frowned upon. It’s unfortunate, and it’s something I’ve had to do my best to work around as I do the work that I do and post selfies of me loving and appreciating my sexual body.
So I’m careful. Every time I go to post a picture, I think to myself, “What is the possibility of this getting flagged and removed, and if that possibility is high, do I have the energy to deal with the emotional repercussions if and when it does get removed?” Most of the pictures I take, I think, are safe. I play within the bounds already laid out before me. And even then, I err on the side of caution.
A lot of scrutiny goes into whatever I post, too. When I post nude selfies, I know that I will be automatically seen as a sexual object—not because of my pose, but because of my body. So I have to be very careful about making sure not to unintentionally objectify myself.
I always ask myself what the intention is whenever I post a nude-ish selfie. I search deep within myself to find an answer that isn’t just “Because I look beautiful today”—which should be enough. But in a world that admonishes and disrespects the unapologetic display of the female form, I need to be sure that it means more than that, that people will see its meaning beyond my overt sexuality.
Because while I can’t control your imagination, I can do my damnedest to control the narrative around it by creating my own, by using captions that speak of celebration and space-taking, by focusing on self-love and adoration first and foremost.
But those are only with pictures I take where I am the prime subject, where my sexuality and body is very obviously being put on display.
I didn’t think of creating a narrative with the picture of me and my husband to somehow steer your mind into a place of non-sexuality because it was very obvious to me. I thought it would’ve been obvious to you.
So again, I want to turn it over to you: What about this picture is inappropriate to you? What about it is unsafe? Why did you pick this one and not the others?
Honestly, this whole things exhausts me—the double standards, the respectability politics of this, having to navigate through all of these invisible rules and stipulations. And it’s only going to get worse as more eyes find my work.
With every nude and sexuality celebrating photo I post, I run the risk of having it taken down for some arbitrary reason.
And that’s not going to stop me.
I’m still going to take pictures of my body. I’m still going to share snapshots of intimate, desire-filled moments between me and my partner as a celebration of our love. And I’m still going to use discretion and err on the side of caution.
I will not allow your sex-negativity and censorship to keep me from sexual self-realization and celebration. I will not allow your fear to deter me from my mission which is to demystify and unshame women’s sexuality and bodies.
So in a way, I am grateful to you. By senselessly flagging my photo, you’ve renewed my passion for subverting the male gaze. You’ve reminded me of why I do what I do, why it’s so necessary.
It’s sad what you did, maddening even, but I have compassion for you because it’s clear that you need sexual liberation just like the rest of us. I myself was not far from where you are now, seeing brazen femininity and sexuality and immediately finding it inappropriate and offensive.
I empathize with you. But I will not cater to you.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it once more: I love my body and I’m deeply at peace with my sexuality.
If you’re offended by that, if if that makes you uncomfortable, don’t look at it.