Why Instagram censored this image of an artist on her period

Rupi Kaur's photograph exploring the taboo around menstruation was taken down by the platform not once, but twice

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Rupi Kaur menstruation photography Instagram censorship
Rupi Kaur

When Rupi Kaur decided to make the taboo around menstruation the theme of her university photography project, she probably didn't expect to become ground zero in Instagram's latest censorship war.

The Canadian poet and artist uploaded an image from the visual series to the photo-sharing platform. It depicts her fully clothed with a spot of blood between her legs and on the sheets. Instagram removed it – twice – claiming that her photo violated their terms of service. 

"I decided to choose menstruation [as the theme of my project] to try and demystify the stigmas around it," Kaur told Dazed. "And so I developed the series with my sister, Prabh over a weekend. After it was created I decided to share it online, as a part of the project, to see how different medias would embrace/reject it."

While the picture got nothing but love on Tumblr, trolls swarmed her Instagram page, leaving comments like "come over here and let me make your vagina bleed" and "fuck your feminism". The picture was deleted by Instagram barely 24 hours after it went up.

"[Instagram] didn’t give me any reason or nor did they contact me beforehand," Kaur explained. "I just went on my Instagram and i got a message that said it had been removed."

"I felt very upset because at this point it wasn’t just a project for my school course anymore, it felt like a personal attack on my humanity.  But I didn’t complain to them directly. I posted the photo again because I wanted my audience to know what kind of censorship was happening here. And so I immediately posted again that same night, and again it was removed the following morning."

Outraged, Kaur took to social media to call out the censorship. She wrote on Facebook: "Thank you Instagram for providing me with the exact response my work was created to critique... I will not apologize for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in underwear but not be okay with a small leak when your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified, pornified and treated less than human."

Instagram still refused to explain why the image had been removed. But after Kaur's original post detailing the event was liked by 53,000 people and shared over 12,000 times, the company quickly changed its mind. 

It apologised to Kaur, writing in a message: "A member of our team accidentally removed something you posted on Instagram. This was a mistake, and we sincerely apologise for this error."

Kaur's original photo has now been restored on Instagram, but it's worth remembering that acts of artistic censorship on Instagram probably happen all the time, out of the public eye – and especially if they involve women's bodies.

But the huge awareness-raising campaign can only mean good things for Kaur. She sent us her proposal for the university project, indicating her ultimate aim for the image series: "By highlighting these distinct moments of the cycle that women go through I will be forcing viewers to look and tackle their fears head on.  They will be forced to feel uncomfortable, in hopes that by the end of the visual experience they realize these are just regular normal processes that can’t be helped, and they are just as normal as any other bodily process."

Mission accomplished. 

You can view Kaur's full photo series and work on her website here

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