Censoring Nudity

Katja Covered_LR.jpg

I recently reposted a photographer’s image of me to my Instagram. You can see the image here. Nothing out of the ordinary—or so I thought, even though it’s a favorite of mine. But I had a bunch of people message me about it. Not because the image was particularly moving or extraordinary to them. But because my nipples were missing.

The image is very much nude. In it, I’m leaning back into a chair, one foot hooked on a rung, the other dramatically extended. My face is in profile—I’m looking off to the side, at something off camera. And my tits are. Right. There.

To “comply with Instagram’s community guidelines,” the photographer edited out my nipples. Where they should have been, there was just an expanse of skin and a slight blur. It made my breasts look kind of like fleshy, globular balloons, but so what? Censorship always makes the figure look a bit wrong, one way or another. I didn’t think anything of it when I reposted the image.

It apparently weirded people out. Friends, followers, old gaming buddies, and even one of my boyfriends commented on the obvious lack. At first I was inclined to shrug it off. But then I realized that it said something about censorship of nude images, which is a topic I’ve always had a complicated relationship to as a model.

All of this started when I was new to modeling. I was posing primarily for art nudes, and I wanted to share these images that I was so proud of on my burgeoning Facebook fanpage. But I couldn’t because most of them showed my nipples or pubic hair.

I suppose I could have just edited them, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. They weren’t just my images; they were the photographer’s too, and I didn’t feel like I had the right to deface our mutual art. Instead, I posted the best of those photos to my online portfolio—behind a login and an 18+ filter—or on my personal website, and hoped somebody would enjoy the art that I had made. But a lot of images never saw the light of day.

I followed that self-imposed rule of social media until I started taking my own self-portraits. Now there wasn’t a photographer, a fellow artist to take into account. If I wanted to deface my own images, I was perfectly free to do so. And I really, really wanted to share my images with other people. So…I did it.

To my own great surprise, I did not immediately burst into flames, nor was I transported to a special circle of hell. People saw the image, liked it—or not—and moved on. The world kept turning. I couldn’t help but feel just a little bit disappointed.

That’s when I realized that I absolutely despised censorship of images, but that I hadn’t consciously acknowledged it because I felt powerless to do anything about it. What was I going to do, petition Instagram to change their rules? Social media companies weren’t going to listen to little ol’ me. And society at large? I’m convinced that every piece of nude artwork we share helps to destigmatize and desexualize the human body. But talk about a slow process.

Nothing says ‘this is wrong’ like a big black bar or a pixelated or blurred part of an image.

So why the censorship hate? Because nothing says “this is wrong” like a big black bar or a pixelated or blurred part of an image. It turns whatever is behind it into something taboo, unseeable. But it’s not like we don’t know what’s supposed to be there—the overwhelming response to my missing nipples shows that. All it does is raise a big, red flag in our minds: “This thing I’m thinking of is wrong.” And it ruins a perfectly good composition.

If you’ve read much of my previous work, you probably know my stance on nudity. I am a strong believer in the idea that there is nothing wrong with it, and that a nude body is not inherently sexual. (And the idea that sexuality is somehow wrong is a little ridiculous too, but that’s a topic for another post). It’s one of the many reasons that I choose to pose nude for my art. I don’t pose nude because I want it to be shocking. I pose nude because I believe that it shouldn’t be shocking in the first place.

Which is, ultimately, why I’m still posting my self-portraits, censors and all. (I’ve even posted one or two censored images from other photographers, but I’ll admit that I still feel like I’m overstepping my bounds to do so). I’m not thrilled about it; I cringe a little bit every time.

But have you ever heard the phrase, “perfect is the enemy of good?” I’d rather see those images out in the world, even blurred out, barred, or pixelated, because I do truly believe that the more we share nudity, the more we normalize it. Even within ridiculous societal constraints.

But you bet that I’m more than a little pleased that my nipple-less breasts made a bit of a stir. Because it was weird—just like every other type of censorship we slap over nude art. And I think it’s good that we’re occasionally reminded of that.