After more than 20,000 people signed an online petition asking Facebook to stop censoring photos of people who have undergone mastectomies, the social network has for the first time posted its policy on the images:
Yes. We agree that undergoing a mastectomy is a life-changing experience and that sharing photos can help raise awareness about breast cancer and support the men and women facing a diagnosis, undergoing treatment, or living with the scars of cancer. The vast majority of these kinds of photos are compliant with our policies.
However, photos with fully exposed breasts, particularly if they’re unaffected by surgery, do violate Facebook’s Terms. These policies are based on the same standards which apply to television and print media, and that govern sites with a significant number of young people.
The company said in a statement that it has “long allowed mastectomy photos to be shared on Facebook, as well as educational and scientific photos of the human body and photos of women breastfeeding,” but that sometimes these types of images are removed as the team is reviewing millions of pieces of content.
The real issue is nudity, not mastectomies. The social network essentially bans photos of nipples or genitalia. “Everyone seems to be terrified of the female nipple,” Jay says. While he commends Facebook for addressing the topic, he remains cautiously optimistic about whether it will make a difference. “The language still allows the same images that were removed before to be removed again,” he says.
This isn’t the first time post-mastectomy photos have raised concerns on the social network. Jay tells TIME The SCAR Project has maintained a Facebook page for several years and that his photos are periodically removed. He says that while he believes that Facebook supports his group’s overall mission, and realizes that “some of these images go against policy on a literal level,” he adds that, “there needs to be some room here because these are important images people need to see.”
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The impetus for the Change.org petition occurred last month, when Angelina Jolie revealed that she had undergone a double mastectomy in order to significantly reduce her chances of developing breast cancer. Inspired by the news, David Jay, photographer behind the photo series The SCAR Project, re-posted some of his previously banned mastectomy images. After Facebook again removed the images, he posted a note on Facebook on May 19 stating that he had been temporarily banned from posting images to the group’s Facebook page. A fan of the Project’s page, New York resident and breast cancer advocate Scorchy Barrington (who is battling the disease herself) saw Jay’s note and created the petition that prompted Facebook to directly address its policy on mastectomy photos for the first time.
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One of the women included in the Project is Sara Bartosiewicz-Hamilton, who was diagnosed with the BRCA2 mutation (which predisposes women to a high likelihood of developing breast cancer) and underwent a prophylactic mastectomy. Before the surgery, Bartosiewicz-Hamilton was unable to find any images of young women who had undergone the surgery. “I faced a lot of skepticism having healthy tissue being cut of my body,” she says. After hearing about Jay’s project, Bartosiewicz-Hamilton was photographed and says that these images are important to give women a realistic view of what to expect after surgery.
See some of The SCAR Project’s images below, which are allowed under Facebook’s policy.
MORE: Angelina’s Mastectomy: Altered Bodies Are Already the Norm