The Big Instagram Boot


LA-based stylist and makeup artist Stacey Nishimoto, who you might remember from this or this, had one of our favorite Instagram accounts, until, one day, it disappeared on account of a nude photo. Like many of us, she hadn't taken the time to read the rules—hey, us, too. (In August, a photo of a sheer-shirted Jane Birkin was deleted and our account was flagged.) All of which got her thinking: is Instagram wrong to draw the line at visible areola or nether-regions, but let slide ostensibly law-abiding—covered-up—but often more sexually charged images, à la Maxim magazine? And if she did break the rules, didn't she at least deserve a warning? 

Let’s rewind back to last fall: it’s New York Fashion Week and my best friend Sophia is sharing the back seat of a cab with me. She suggests I get an Instagram account. You over-post images on Facebook!, she rightly observes, You'll love Instagram! I protest: Eh, I don't know. FB is enough. (I’m an old lady). Sophia takes my phone and downloads it for me.

It was love at first post. I amassed many followers (over 3,000) and made amazing new friends and important contacts. Instagram allowed me to share my little world—my baby boy, Gussie, what I do at work, and what I love. But it was a joy that was taken from me in a fleeting moment of sharing an image in hopes of inspiring others.

As a stylist and makeup artist, bombarding my brain with a crazy amount of visuals is part of the job; I’m a junkie for inspiration and try to keep a cache of razor-fresh ideas at the ready. Understandably, I get extremely excited when I come across an image that totally releases the floodgates. I have to share it, like, immediately. I LOVE to share, perhaps too willingly.

So, one afternoon while hunting for muses online I happened upon a photo of Mariacarla Boscono [1] that made me go cross-eyed with delight: her alabaster cheekbones, her lady-boy body standing proud and shamelessly against a pillar. She’s clutching a black evening dress that has fallen to her thighs. I don't have to wear a gown to be elegant—I am elegant, she seems to say. The picture swept me off my feet. So, of course, I posted it.

The image blew up with likes. I know, right? Properly pleased with my post, I poured over more images of Mariacarla and sipped away at an iced espresso. After a while, I picked up my phone to see how many likes the image had amassed—true confessions of an addict—and noticed the photo wouldn't refresh. Dumbfounded, I tried to reload again, blaming bad reception. The pic wasn't in my stream but was still posted on my account. Assuming there was an error, I reposted. The likes started streaming in again. Content, I helped myself to a Nutella beignet. Again, I looked at my phone was gone. All of it. Everything. No Instagram. In a hot daze, I dropped the beignet and tried to log on repeatedly. A message appeared: YOUR ACCOUNT HAS BEEN DISABLED.

Wait, WHAT??? All of those followers, friends, new friends, contacts, idols! Gone! And over a nude that was more Botticelli than Playboy? My heart dropped. I'M A MOM FOR GOODNESS SAKE! 80% of my photos are of my dumpling son and the rest are of fashion, beauty, friends, and frickin’ selfies! Wow. I felt like crying or killing someone.

Did it matter that my Instagram was private? That I posted a beautiful photo by Juergen Teller? No. I guess not.

When I pulled myself out of my murderous state, I started to do some research. I went to Instagram’s website and read the rules and guidelines.

Basic Terms:

1. You may not post violent, nude, partially nude, discriminating, unlawful, hateful, pornographic, or sexually suggestive photos or other content via the Service.

Why is "nude" in the same vein as hateful, violent, discriminating, unlawful, and sexually suggestive? What if it’s a fashion nude? A classic painting of a nude? What if it’s art, and where do you draw the line? I was drowning in questions.

I have seen Instagrams of girls that are fully clothed but sexually suggestive as all get out. Even partially clothed! I've seen selfies from women AND men that make my Mariacarla look like Bo Peep and their accounts are up and running, trailed by the thousands. I actually felt hurt.

I wrote to Instagram: "I'm a mom, I'm this, I'm that...I'm tasteful, blah blah. Please give me my friends back!!" My pleading was answered with an auto-reply stating that they had received my email and they would investigate, and that I’d probably never hear back from them, regardless. Awesome.

I wondered if anyone else had experienced such dread. Well, Madonna did.  After one week of Insta, Madonna had 170,000 followers. She received a warning (at least she got a warning) to stop posting images of her cleavage and her hot 54-year-old butt hanging out of tiny shorts. She also posted images of Frida Khalo's paintings, which she collects, that could have gotten the Instagram narcs on her perfectly-sculpted derrière: "Don't share photos that aren't yours" is another Basic Term.

I started a new Insta. It feels strange, like I'm the new girl in school and have to start making new friends all over again. Needless to say, you won’t be seeing any nudes this time around...well, maybe of Gussie's little ham butt.

—Stacey Nishimoto

All images from Stacey Nishimoto's disabled Instagram account. 

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • Paty

    Love your blog!
    I’m posting looks from L.A. and accessories:

  • beeswaxnoneofyour

    Ah yes - welcome to the santized Internets. locked down its comments so much that you couldn't type 'penis' in comments on an article about duck genitalia. True story.

  • Guest

    It's not that I don't understand how you feel, because I do -- I'm a photographer and I sometimes shoot nudes. They are tasteful, well-done, not porn, blah, blah, blah.

    What I do object to, though, is your seeming sense of entitlement. Instagram's terms of usage are the same for everyone. Why should you get some sort of special exemption? (And if you read those terms closely, you'll discover that they own your copyright, too, even though they like to say otherwise.) You could always start your own blog and post your photos there. So much easier.

  • Ada

    People are so afraid of nudity. The fact that skin - which is in essence what nudity is - can be considered at the level of violence and other hate is sad indeed. That's what society has come to (or perhaps always has been. :(

  • Ada

    I do think that you perhaps could have fought this in another way I see your overall point and I agree with you.

  • Angelo

    I don't know why people are so afraid of the human body. Unfortunately many people are not award for the fact that nudity does not equate sex. The human body is beautiful and not something that needs to be censored.

  • Azrakun Blue

    Interesting.. I would not think this would warrant automatic closing of your Instagram... In Europe I see advertisement top-naked all over and then the perception of nudity becomes less stringent. But then compare it to other parts of the word and the US scores better in those ranks...

    But then to me some images are so sexually charged (even if the main body parts are covered) that if they are to delete the image you posted (and the context it was in) then those should be gone awry as well...

    Actually I am going to the Instagram founder's lecture here in San Francisco on May 30th! Maybe I should ask him! I bet they don't have much do decide in this area - relaying on the legal department prepared standard terms of service agreement..

    And now I am following you on Instagram! xox

  • isilnoir

    you are right it is a real shame. however, if they don't write that terms then who knows what people will do. instagram is a place where people share their babies' photos, and people under 18 years old using this site. i don't see a harm in this photo, i think it won't hurt anybody to see an innocent naked body like this but they have to delete it because if they don't they would break their own terms. and i said why terms are needed in this site.

    i think they should have told you the reason after they deleted the photo for the first time, so they don't have to disable your account. just for one photo nobody have to be disabled.

  • Terry

    Please get a tumblr :)

  • anon

    I'm not offended by the image, and I get angry about censorship. But this piece just comes across as self-absorbed and whiny. In a previous, recent article about Stacey she describes herself as a "greasy, rocker, dive bar girl" (probably to fit the image of what "Nasty Gal" is). And, now, all-of-a-sudden she is "a mom" meaning I guess that she is pure with no motives of doing anything than posting pictures of her son. Although I think women can be multi-faceted and not have to confine ourselves with narrowly defined labels she has done that twice to herself in PR moves to promote whatever it is she wants at the moment. It's kind of disappointing to see this very thinly-veiled attempt to get Stacey back her instagram when she is actually censoring herself more than instagram ever could. The rules are posted there. You didn't read them.

    • heather adair

      But that's the whole point, right? That WE want the freedom of "speech" (freedom of the 'Gram!) to make our own decisions about expression, not have them made for us. We want the freedom to self-censor, but we don't want that decision made for us. We want to be able to re-define ourselves as greasy AND mom. We want to label. On our own terms. Even if they (might, occasionally deliberately, constantly, etc) contradict.

      to that end: Terry who said "get a tumblr" is probably spot-on :)

      and, Instagram isn't, hasn't been, and probably shall never be, the ultimate forum for self-expression. It's the Forum of the Selfie.

      SO, if anything, I can relate to the shock/surprise/hurt/embarrassment over being slapped on the wrist, but wouldn't call complaining about being banned whiny, necessarily, just frustrated (over not reading the rules :))

  • Cat

    I'm an art history major, so I get the nudity aspect of art. But this piece disappointed me. Yes, there are some rather risque Instagram accounts that have not been disabled. But this article comes off as if saying, 'Well, if I'm going down, everybody should go down.' It's not fair, but that's how life works. You violated the rules; you're paying the consequences. A rally-the-troops article is unnecessary and quite frankly, a little childish.

  • Melissa Princcess

    I feel like our culture is in the midst of a sexual revolution, with a lot of pulls and tugs from these laws that characterize nudity as a crime. It's a disgusting to know that our bodies are disconnected from us as soon as we are old enough to start contemplating the meaning to our bare selves... This may be say 6 or 7 years old. It's a shame nudity is offensive to many people...

    Thanks for writing! And i know a few people who also got the boot off instagram from their suggestive pictures! People like Helmut Newton and today Ellen Von Unwerth have also pushed boundaries on thier work! And I love that empowerment that comes from not conforming!

  • Sara

    Welcome to censored Instagram and Facebook! Disgusting! Freedom of speech? Fake democracy! Ignore such evil sites!!! I know why I do not want to have an account on such sites that sell our private details to other companies. Yes, human body is natural and beautiful! Stupidity and censorship are ugly!

  • Knellie

    Maybe her account was disabled because the image in question was a double-no-no - in addition to nudity, also an image by Juergen Teller. As she points out: "'Don't share photos that aren't yours' is another Basic Term."

  • liz goldwyn

    I've been kicked off Instagram twice already for posting vintage pinup imagery and artwork including: a Kees Van Dongen painting from 1919; a Duane Michals photograph from the 1970s originally published in Vogue; an image from the Venice Biennale of nude dolls (male & female) lying in bed post-coital... Yet I continue to re-up my account (I don't have Facebook so Instagram is my social media "diary". Perhaps its a bit antiquated to have these censorship rules when I could do a google search for "hot girls cum" any old time I want!

    Instagram: @goldilocksg

  • Aubrey Green

    "I felt like crying, or killing someone.." - Love it.

  • Hannah Johnson

    I find it disturbing that a woman's body is seen as vulgar or offensive in 2013. Breasts are beautiful! Babies suck on them to find nourishment! Why are people so shocked, still? It makes me sad. I'll be with my pile of vintage Playboys ...
    A heterosexual woman who isn't afraid of boobs

  • A. Nightmare

    "I felt like crying or killing someone."

    Am I nuts for finding this absurd, given that it's Instagram? An entire article... on Instagram? Free speech is well-worth defending but I don't exactly find a violation of Instagram's highly accessible terms to be a Constitutional crisis.

    • Jody

      Sure, it would be absurd if it was published in the New York Times, but I don't think ITG takes itself that seriously. The entire tone of this blog is light-hearted and fun, like the kinds of ridiculous and over the top conversations you have with your girlfriends. Stacey's dire statements had an obviously facetious undertone, so I'd be fairly confident in reassuring you that no actual lives were taken during the writing of this article.

  • ashley

    I once repinned a picture on pinterest of alexa chung in a sheer blouse that showed one fabric covered nipple, then i received an email telling me that the picture had been removed for nudity. So, being an adult and not at all childish, i went to the celebrities tag of pinterest and flagged every picture of a man without a shirt. A nipples a nipple, right? I haven't really been back on the site much because i was disgusted at the over sexualization of women.

    • Lischelt

      that is hilarious! good on you

  • anon

    The only thing I got out of this article is the desire to know where to find that photo of Mariacarla online. Does anyone know where it's from?

  • EMvL

    I think the problem is that 9/10 times naked women in this society are perceived and presented as sexual (much more so than male nudity, which is still often used for comical purposes). However much I'd like to appreciate a naked female's body sheerly for the aesthetic qualities, you can't escape the sexual overtones. Society has overly sexualized (naked) women, when that ends, you can post pictures of nude women without it being sexual or presenting the woman as a f*ck-object.

    • Lana Nasser

      I completely agree. As much as everyone on here says that the female body is not only sex...society has deemed it to be so. Every time there is female nudity, there is a certain sexual overtone that is presented. I hate this. I wish it was not like this. Or that male nudity cast the same shadow. But alas, life is this way.

      • LGandaB

        The only way we can change this is to promote the distribution of more non-sexual images of the naked human body. It's the difference between a nude beach in North America and one in Europe- the more time people spend around naked people in a non-sexual way, the less they are bothered by the naked human form.

        • Lana Nasser

          I agree. However, it will take millions of years to do. I mean look at our tv programs. All the nudity in Game of Thrones is sexual. And they use nudity and sex to buy viewers for their show. It is a complex thing my friend.

  • Lischelt

    Stacey, sorry to hear - that sucks.

  • odile

    fucking puritains and prudes