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Nyome Nicholas-Williams Alexandra Cameron
Photography Alexandra Cameron

Nyome Nicholas-Williams took on Instagram censorship and won

The social platform will review its nudity policy following the model’s campaign #iwanttoseenyome for Black plus-size women, after her image was removed for violating guidelines

When model Nyome Nicholas-Williams shared photographs of herself sitting on a chair against a floral background, wearing cycling shorts, and covering her breasts with her arms, the posts were swiftly removed. Taken by photographer Alexandra Cameron, the images are gorgeous – dreamy, truthful, at the same time powerful yet soft, and the pair were proud of what they had created together.

When they were taken down by Instagram for violating the platform’s semi-nudity guidelines, they were shocked. “I was wearing clothes and covering my chest, they were not provocative in any way, yet they kept getting flagged,” says Nicholas-Williams, who was warned her account could be suspended if the image was reposted. Nicholas-Williams is a Black plus-sized model, and the inherent racism and fatphobia was made vastly apparent to her.

She passionately spoke out about the disparity she witnessed on the platform, the censorship and erasure that thin, white models did not have to deal with, and what followed was a massive campaign as her followers rallied in support, protesting the racial bias of the platform under the hashtag #iwanttoseenyome. A petition was launched and signed by almost 17,000 people, and supportive artwork of Nicholas-Williams was created. Stephanie Yeobah, a fellow Black plus-size influencer, raised the issue to Instagram directly on her behalf, and activist Gina Martin, who led the charge to see through the vital law against upskirting, amplified the cause. The campaign even reached the streets with graffiti painted across the walls of London.

“The community I’ve cultivated on my personal Instagram account has always been incredibly supportive, so I did expect there to be some level of noise, but I didn’t expect it to get as loud as it did – I certainly didn’t expect it to reach as many people as it did,” Nicholas-Williams tells Dazed. “I am truly elated about how far this campaign travelled. It has opened up a much-needed conversation about why black plus size bodies are constantly being censored on social media and in day-to-day life. Enough is enough.” 

As many people pointed out, there are thousands of images of thin white women wearing very little posted to Instagram every day that don’t face censorship and removal. A common post showed a comparison between Nicholas-Williams’s photograph and one of Emily Ratajkowski, in which the model is completely nude with nothing but an orchid to cover herself. Ratajkowski’s image has been allowed to remain. 

Cameron shared side-by-side comparison of an image from her shoot with Nicholas-Williams alongside with a semi-nude portrait of herself which she said had been up since November 2018. “I cannot imagine Instagram deciding that the way I look is against community guidelines,” Cameron wrote in the caption. “I can’t imagine how it feels to be repeatedly censored and targeted just for being her.”

Following the outcry, Instagram apologised and re-instated the images, although Nicholas-Williams says it shouldn’t have taken such a huge campaign to get acknowledgement and she still hasn’t been given a satisfactory answer as to why the photographs were removed in the first place. “When I spoke to the team at Instagram and challenged them on why my images, and those of other Black women, were being removed unjustly they couldn’t give me a straightforward answer,” she tells us. 

“The team I spoke to apologised and told me that it was a mistake on their end. I didn’t see how this could be a simple mistake and decided I would hold them to account and not let them get away with it – I wanted them to take responsibility for their internalised racial bias.”

Thanks to Nicholas-Williams, Instagram is now also reviewing its semi-nudity guidelines, the company has announced, with particular relation on Black plus-size bodies. The model is determined to see the policy changed, although she is remaining cautious until it is official. “It feels great to have inspired a corporation as big as Instagram to change the way it moderates Black plus size bodies on its platform; however, it should never have come to this,” she says. “My images, and those of many other Black women, should never have been removed in the first place.”

She is waiting until the new policy is in place and the necessary changes have been implemented, she says, until she truly feels she has been heard and listened to. She even has something up her sleeve – which will be revealed August 30 – to ensure action around the censorship of Black bodies is ensured.

Until then, her mission remains to continue creating spaces for Black plus-sized women in today’s society. “I want to ensure that we are being respected and allowed to use spaces like Instagram, as many other creators do, without the worry of being censored and silenced.”