The nude birth photo Facebook removed stood for empowerment


When Francie* gave birth to her youngest daughter last year, the delivery was rapid. 

So fast, in fact, that her at-home birthing team didn’t arrive in time, and Francie, on her hands and knees, guided her baby into the world without assistance. 

Francie called out for her husband, who was on the phone with the couple’s doula, to rush into the room and capture photos of their daughter’s birth. In one of them, Francie is naked, holding her newborn with both hands. She looks both tender and fierce. 

The photo, which Francie shared in a private Facebook group last week, was removed after another user reported it for violating the company’s rules forbidding certain types of nudity. The incident, first reported by New York Magazine, raises anew complicated questions about when and how the naked female body is an acceptable thing to see on social media. 

Image: Leonardo Mayorga

Francie, who runs TheMilkinMama and teaches breastfeeding mothers how to express milk with their hands, describes the birth of her daughter as “the single most transformative experience of her life.” 

Reflecting on the occasion in the last year, she has felt an unyielding current of strength. She wants other mothers to feel that same power. 

“My heart tells me to share it with others because I believe the sense of empowerment I gained with my birth and my daughter’s entry in the world could empower other women,” she tells Mashable

“My heart tells me to share it with others because I believe the sense of empowerment I gained with my birth and my daughter’s entry in the world could empower other women.” 

To mark her daughter’s first birthday, she posted the image to a private Facebook group called NYC Birth, a community of several hundred users designed, at the time, for “pregnant people, people trying to conceive, those who have birthed their children in NYC, and adoptive parents.”

This seems like exactly the right use of Facebook: a user shares a powerful story to connect with her community and, in the process, may help others overcome feelings of fear and shame. 

But Francie’s photo has no place on Facebook, according to the company’s current rules. Its policies on nudity forbid images of genitals or fully exposed buttocks and prohibit images of breasts unless they show a woman breastfeeding or a post-mastectomy scar. 

These exceptions were only won when users and activists pointed out that life-changing experiences were rendered invisible by rules aimed at curbing indecency and pornography. 

When a friend told Francie that someone from the private group anonymously reported her photo, she was surprised but not angry. She’s decided earlier to “roll with the punches” on her daughter’s first birthday, and considered the incident with a sense of humor. 

To rejoin Facebook, Francie had to remove any other images with nudity that violated the site’s policies, of which there were none. 

“It is not always easy to find the right balance between enabling people to express themselves creatively while maintaining a comfortable experience for our global and culturally diverse community of many different ages, but we try our best,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to Mashable. 

Striking that balance for more than 1 billion users is near-to-impossible, which is why Facebook’s policies focus on uniform review and application. Facebook does treat nudity in digitally created content and art like photography and sculptures with nuance, permitting it under certain circumstances.

Facebook’s nudity policy applies to all of its products, regardless of whether content is sent privately or shared in a closed group, and the company relies on its users to report material that violate the community standards.  

Elizabeth Sweeney, an administrator of NYC Birth, said that the private group is protesting Facebook’s policy regarding images of nude childbirth. Following the removal of Francie’s photo, members posted their own nude images of birth, and some of those were anonymously reported as well. 

Sweeney and her fellow moderators have since purged the group of inactive members and those who didn’t have mutual friends in the community. They’ve also rewritten the group’s guidelines and description so that it includes birth workers and focuses on pregnant women and mothers specifically in New York City. 

“If any person can look at the picture and walk way from it thinking, ‘I can do that thing I think I cannot do,’…then it’s worth it.” 

“We we want to support all situations, all scenarios, all birth!,” Sweeney said in an email. “Because all birth is beautiful and sexy! So this whole situation has had an extremely positive effect on our group and we are grateful it led us to make the changes that we made.” 

For her part, Francie understands why, beyond its graphic nature, the photo might have prompted someone to report it to Facebook. Women who have experienced traumatic or long births, or cesarean section, she said, may look at the photo and see judgment or feel crestfallen that their own birth didn’t look like hers.

But that wasn’t Francie’s hope when she shared the image. 

“If any person can look at the picture and walk way from it thinking, ‘I can do that thing I think I cannot do,’ [or] maybe the definition of what’s possible has changed, then it’s worth it,” she said. 

This is the very sentiment that powers Facebook for countless users. Perhaps one day the company’s policies can find a way to acknowledge that the nude body birthing a child is as important as images of a breastfeeding woman or post-mastectomy survivor’s scar. 

*Francie declined to provide her full name in order to protect her family’s privacy

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Image: Leonardo Mayorga
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