Instagram recently came under internet fire, when they removed the above photo for violating their community guidelines. The picture was part of a photo series project, in which a young woman documented her and her sister’s menstrual cycles. According to the New York Times, the purpose of the project was to point out the societal double standard: we are completely comfortable objectifying women and seeing them naked (as long as they’re “hot,” of course), but when it comes to seeing or talking about natural feminine bodily processes, we’re a bit squeamish.
At first, I tried to give Instagram the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they remove all photos that include blood. That is after all, “adult content,” which is strictly prohibited by their guidelines. But a search of “hashtag blood” quickly negated that hypothesis. There are thousands of pictures of people with broken noses, bloody faces and fists, and gruesome images of people covered in blood. So no, it wasn’t the blood that made this picture so inappropriate.
The artist was right: we don’t like to admit that women are real, living beings. It’s much easier for us to imagine that women are like Barbie Dolls — that our bodies miraculously pump out clean, healthy baby humans; we don’t need to see (much less understand) the mechanics of how that actually works. Bodily fluids are natural. We sweat, we spit, we discharge, we bleed. This is not gross or inappropriate; it’s what makes us human. By keeping these things so hidden, so under cover, we are teaching women that they should be ashamed of their bodies. Ashamed of their menstruation.
I remember being in high-school and asking a friend of mine — in an embarrassed, hushed, quick whisper — “can I borrow a tampon?” I remember the fear of putting it in my pocket, dreading the possibility that someone could identify the outline in my front pants pocket: “will they know that I am on my period? I can’t walk through these hallways fast enough.” Oh, the shame.
Looking back, I’m horrified that I was so self-conscious. Who cares if someone knows it my time of the month? That’s my time — my time when I am reminded that my body is doing everything it needs to be doing. My time to remember that I have the amazing ability to create a baby (should I so choose, which is… another topic entirely). It’s my time. And I should not be ashamed.
I was ashamed. And many women still are — it only makes sense given the society we live in. But, as Rupi Kaur proved with her fight against Instagram, when the internet stood up behind her and got that picture reinstated, the times are changing.