*This article includes sensitive content* As Facebook reviews it's policy on breastfeeding photos, Milli Hill asks, just which pictures of women's bodies are acceptable?
It's said that one man's meat is another's poison, and certainly, when it comes to human flesh, it seems that the sight of it is capable of provoking extreme reactions, from total awe all the way to absolute disgust. Especially, perhaps, if that flesh happens to be attached to the body of a woman, and even more so, you could argue, if it's doing something active and useful and clever, that only women's flesh can do, like giving birth or feeding a baby.
Facebook has recently announced a big change to its policy on shared photos of women breastfeeding, long the subject of hot debate. The social media giant has removed the clause that disallows 'a fully exposed breast if the child is not actively engaged in nursing', which would seem to suggest they are at least moving towards being more supportive of mothers who want to share this important part of their life with their online friends.
However, there are already several reports of breastfeeding images continuing to be taken down
, and only this week I found myself at the centre of a related storm when I shared this image taken by birth photographer Jane McCrae
on Facebook, and had my account suspended until I removed it.
Like the breastfeeding images, the photo 'violates community standards' because it contains nudity, but interestingly, although several people reported me when I posted this photo of Rihanna in her 'nearly naked dress', they were told that the image would not be removed as it did not contravene Facebook regulations.
Rihanna herself may well have worn the dress in response to her own Instagram account being frozen
after she shared a topless picture, and she's not the only protester with nudity on her mind - feminist campaigners are taking this issue on like never before, with hashtags like #freethenipple, #nomorepagethree, and #breastfeedingselfie gathering momentum, Scout Willis walking topless through New York
, and Aussie singers 'ruining our day with tits
'. Now more than ever, women are using social media to protest against their naked bodies only being acceptable when they are objectified for someone else's pleasure.
It's interesting that Jane McCrae's photo in particular seems to invite a wave of complaints – and I say this as someone who often shares images of birth, some containing nudity, but which don't seem to bother folk as much. I think the picture is really shocking to people, because, as McCrae herself puts it, "it blows the common fear that birth is something painful and to be feared out the window!"
We just don't normally get to see images like this. The woman, whose name is Natalia, is smiling and watching with awe as her baby emerges into her own hands. She looks strong, confident, powerful, and the picture of health. And there is poo in the water. Poo! That most feared element of the birth process for the modern woman, the ultimate symbol of the loss of control involved in bringing forth new life – and Natalia, quite rightly, is oblivious - or just doesn't give a…monkey's.
Looking so fearless and radiant and even – dare I say it – sexy, as her baby slips from her body, Natalia is a far cry from the usual soap opera or OBEM birthing mother; helpless and distressed, her agonised face the centre of a room filled with medical panic.
Such a radical photo might shock us, or upset us, but we desperately need to see images of women giving birth like Natalia, before we forget that birth like this is even possible. Just as breastfeeding images help to normalise nursing in public, and empower women to make choices free from cultural constraints, pictures like McCrae's speak to a generation of women who have become distanced from their bodies and what they can do.
We like to think we're liberated and enlightened, we girls who began to be women as Madonna published her Sex Book, the Spice Girls told us what they really wanted, and screen women from Basic Instinct to Sex and the City portrayed us as 'on top' and even predatory. But in reality, many of us have never even seen our own vulvas
, and find childbirth intimidating for the very reason that it brings us up close and personal with a side of ourselves – mammalian, vulnerable, sexual, uncontrolled – that we are usually encouraged to gloss over.
In a world in which US mums are buying designer hospital gowns
for labour, and new mothers in the UK are being offered disposable nursing covers
on the NHS, we desperately need social media to break barriers and challenge ridiculous and self-limiting cultural norms. If you don't like what you see, either be your own censor and switch off, or perhaps just take a moment to question how your own personal history has brought you to the point where you find that particular thing offensive.
Because if we let the world see Natalia, we make it possible for more women to birth in this way, and in doing so, to feel the amazing strength of their bodies, the resilience of their heart and soul, and to begin motherhood feeling as if there could not be a single challenge in the world that they would not be capable of. We empower individual women and we celebrate womanhood itself.
Now why would anyone want to do anything to prevent that?
BestDaily columnist Milli Hill is the founder of The Positive Birth Movement
. You can read more from Milli here:How social media is changing childbirthA healthy baby is not ALL that matters