“Let us see the whole truth about childbirth”

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Lucy Mangan
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Lucy Mangan on why it’s important to take a stand against Instagram’s firm stance in refusing to host pictures of women in the moments before, during or after giving birth

Wait, wait, allow me to find my spreadsheet… there’s something new to add. Ah, here it is: List Of Things That Are Disgusting About My Body. A new entry at number 8,005,683: it has given birth.

If you haven’t given birth, just note it down as something to be disgusted by. Thank you. That, I can only presume, is the message behind Instagram’s firm stance in refusing to host pictures of women in the moments before, during or after giving birth. It lumps such images in with pornography because some form of nudity is often involved. And we all know how rare some form of nudity is on Instagram…

The challenge against this policy is being led by nurse Katie Vigos and her Empowered Birth Project, which seeks to share images (some shocking, some beautiful, many both) of women as they give birth to educate people and demystify the process. She has suggested blurring the pictures initially so you can choose whether or not to tap and see the unblurred version, but the answer is still no.

Now, in all honesty, I don’t particularly want to see birth pictures. I’m too squeamish about all matters of the flesh, from snot to sex, to approach any of them as an empowering resource. But do I want them available for other people to click on, should they so wish? With all the intensity of a third-stage contraction, I do.

Why? Because they counter the pernicious expectation that women should look pretty and presentable at all times; that we shouldn’t see them in the graphic throes of childbirth. When Instagram allows endlessly filtered pictures of women in tiny bikinis, boobs out, vaginas in, pubes gone and (thin) bikinied thighs open in invitation to an outsider rather than a crowning infant head, it is adding its powerful voice to all those others that tell us this is the right – the only – way for women’s bodies and attitudes to be. If you look or think otherwise – yeeuuch! 

Please recuse yourself.

When images of women doing something as personal, powerful and intimate as giving birth are censored, the message that this is against the norm and something that should be concealed is multiplied a thousandfold. Images of birth are not about reducing women to baby-machines either, any more than the growing destigmatisation of periods, menopause and other parts of our ‘hidden’ female experience are trying to reduce us to a biological essence. It is about enabling us to show, discuss and own our lives and stories.

The resistance to all of this is telling. Who could possibly stand to lose by women gaining insight, cohesion and solidarity in more and more areas of life? Vigos’s pictures show us how weak and pliable the ‘acceptable’ images of women make us seem. The images she shares make us look so strong that I begin to wonder exactly who it is that is really terrified of this uniquely female power, and – with thoughts of The Handmaid’s Tale coming to mind – the lengths they will go to to separate us from it?

It serves men, under the status quo, to keep women looking and feeling weak. Any contradiction of this purported fact only weakens their hand and strengthens ours. Not censoring ourselves, or allowing the things we do to be censored, is a part of changing that dynamic.

Let’s click on the whole picture. Make things nice and clear.

Image: Alex Hockett / Unsplash