Edmonton

'Social media hates motherhood': Facebook, Instagram delete portraits of moms, photographers say

Aimee and Jenna Hobbs are tired of having their photographs of Alberta mothers censored on social media.

'Why is it OK to degrade and objectify women, but not OK to show the real bodies of moms?'

A Mother's Beauty presents unedited photographs of Alberta mothers. (Hobbs Photography)

Aimee and Jenna Hobbs are tired of having their photographs of Alberta mothers censored on social media.

Every year, the sisters-in-law from Stony Plain, Alta., capture a new series of raw, unedited images of pregnant women and new mothers. And every year, a number of their photographs are flagged and removed from Facebook and Instagram.

This photograph was one of the images deleted by Facebook. (Hobbs Photography)

"Social media hates motherhood," Aimee Hobbs said in an interview Wednesday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"They're always removing our photos," she said. "This year, we had multiple photos removed. I was locked out of our business account and my personal account for three days."

The sisters-in-law are the creators of A Mother's Beauty, a project dedicated to capturing photos of mothers. The images feature women posing either in their underwear or in nothing at all.

One deleted image showed a woman in bra and underwear lifting her son in the air. A photograph of a woman in panties, turned away from the camera, was also removed. Photographs showing breastfeeding have also been deleted. 

Hobbs isn't sure whether complaints, a human administrator or some sort of algorithm is putting them on the radar, but said their work is being unfairly classified as pornographic.

The photographers say they have received numerous warnings from Facebook and Instagram administrators over the years that their business and personal accounts are at risk of being permanently shut down.  

'Nuanced' policies on nudity

A spokesperson said Facebook has been in contact with the photographs and have "reinstated" some of the deleted photographs.

He said moderation of content on the site is almost exclusively complaints-driven, relying on users to flag potentially inappropriate content.

The site's policy on nudity is "nuanced" and tries to find "the right balance between enabling people to express themselves while maintaining a comfortable experience for our global and culturally diverse community of many different ages," the spokesperson said.

Facebook's community standards restrict some images of female breasts if they include nipples, but allows photos of women breastfeeding and showing breasts with post-mastectomy scars.

Images that contain child nudity may be removed to avoid "the possibility of other people reusing them in inappropriate ways," the standards state.

Nudity is generally not allowed on Instagram. The ban includes photos, videos and some digitally created content that shows sexual intercourse, genitals and close-ups of fully nude buttocks.

It also includes some photos of female nipples, but photos of post-mastectomy scars and women breastfeeding are allowed.

"We know that there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons we don't allow nudity on Instagram," a website spokesperson said in a statement emailed to CBC News.

"People like to share photos or videos of their children. For safety reasons, there are times when we may remove images that show nude or partially nude children. Even when this content is shared with good intentions, it could be used by others in unanticipated ways." 

'Tough pill to swallow'

Hobbes maintains social media sites are enforcing a double standard.

Countless images of women in degrading, sexually-charged poses exist on social media, she said

Their photographs are designed to make women feel comfortable in their own skin — and deleting them sends the wrong message, Hobbes said.

"If you search, many pornographic hashtags, those posts are not being censored," she said. "That's the really tough pill to swallow.

"If this is your rule, it's your business. Run it as you see fit, but be consistent in your enforcement of the rules.

"Why is it OK to degrade and objectify women but not OK to show the real bodies of moms?"

Aimee Hobbs said she wanted to empower women by putting real mothers in front of the lens. (Hobbs Photography)

A Mother's Beauty began six years ago when the photographers began to notice that new mothers, insecure about their post-pregnancy bodies, were bowing out of family photos.

They decided to empower women by putting them back in the picture. 

Any headline you see, it's about how quickly someone has bounced back after having a baby, but that is not the reality for most women.- Aimee Hobbs

"Most mothers are the centres of their kids' whole worlds and some day those photographs are going to be all that's left," Aimee Hobbs said. "It's important that we exist in the visual narrative of our family life."

In a culture obsessed with perfection, photographs of real mothers, with stretch marks and scars, are hard to find in mainstream media, she said.

"Any headline you see, it's about how quickly someone has bounced back after having a baby, but that is not the reality for most women," Hobbs said.

"It changes who you are inside and outside. Even if you don't have the physical changes, there are emotional and psychological changes."

Every year, the photographers invite 20 women to shed their clothes, baring it all for the camera and to share their experiences of motherhood.

The project now gets hundreds of applications every year from women keen to participate in the photo shoots. 

Hobbs said she was floored by how many women feel alienated by their postpartum bodies and isolated by the way women's bodies are judged online.

"Our goal was to help this little handful of women that we were photographing and we just didn't realize how far reaching it was going to be .

"There are women the world-round who say, 'Thank you, it is so good to see myself represented in your work and in the women's stories.'

"It's amazing how many women feel alone." 

Hobbs said she is floored by how many women feel isolated by motherhood. (Hobbs Photography)

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