For months, Samm Newman filled her Instagram feed with photos of herself in bras and boy shorts. The photos were hardly risque. Baring a bit of skin, but nothing you wouldn’t encounter at the gym or beach, it resembled thousands of other selfies taken by young women and posted to social media every day.
Then on July 12, Newman, a 19-year-old student at Central Ohio University, posted another such image (below), adding the caption “I [heart] my belly.” A day later, she was using her Instagram account when she was suddenly logged off. When she tried to log back in, she received a notice accusing her of violating the app’s community guidelines.
She, technically, might have (the terms say that users may not post partially nude photos), but her photos are no more suggestive than the thousands of sexually suggestive photos that aren’t removed from the platform.
The email from Instagram came as a shock, Newman tells Business Insider. Her goal in posting the photo, she says, was not exhibitionism but self-affirmation. Newman has been a member of a self-love community on social media, particularly on Instagram since 2013. It was a form of therapy, she explains, and a powerful antidote to the depression she’d suffered for years.
In an email to Business Insider, Newman notes that she’s been overweight and bullied for it for most of her life. High school was especially hard.
“People would stand behind me in the lunch line and throw things at me or put gum in my hair,” Newman recalls. “I began to cut myself, hit myself, stab myself.”
In November of 2012, her senior year of high school, she began thinking of committing suicide.
Joining body beautiful and self-love communities on Instagram helped Newman learn to love herself. The photos she posted of her body, she says, weren’t explicit or suggestive. More important, they were not for other people, but for herself.
“I was terrified the day I showed my belly,” she confesses. “I was taught as a kid to suck it in and hide it away.”
That, in essence, was what Instagram suggested as well. “My entire account containing over 560 followers and over 500 personal photos and memories of my self love journey were removed without warning,” she says.
Newman accuses the company of “size discrimination,” and notes that others had had similar experiences. She cites the case of Meghan Tonjes, who complained about the company in May after it removed a photo of her underwear-clad rear end. After Tonjes called out the company in a YouTube video, the story went viral, and Instagram restored the photo and apologized.
“Many others have faced discrimination on IG, such as new mums and nursing mums,” Newman adds. “Many photos of breastfeeding are also deleted as well as entire accounts dedicated to loving your post-partum body after having a baby.”
After her account was deactivated, Newman crawled into bed “crying, disgusted and angry that Instagram would do this,” she says. When she awoke later that afternoon, she thought of the many suggestive images she’d seen on the service — some of which showed breasts and genitals and seemed genuinely to be in violation of the company’s guidelines. Indeed, she’d reported a number of them herself. But when she checked the service, they were all still there, as were pages in which users offered to send nudes in direct messages.
Following are a few examples of photos that Newman reported, which she says were never taken down by Instagram. (We’ve blurred certain portions that may be inappropriate or NSFW.) As of the time of this post being published, they are, indeed, still active and present on Instagram.
“That is the moment that I became enraged and determined to fight this,” she says. Newman reached out to The Huffington Post as well as local channels NBC4i, ABC6, FOX28, and 10TV. As support and media attention grew, Instagram released a statement to NBC4i stating that they had made a mistake.
The company provided us with the same statement:
When our team processes reports from other members of the Instagram community we occasionally make a mistake. In this case, we wrongly removed content and worked to rectify the error as soon as we were notified. We apologise for any inconvenience.
Newman’s account was restored, and she celebrated with friends and family. But the party didn’t last long.
On July 16, Newman realised that even though her account had been restored, the photos of her body were still missing. In an email to Business Insider, she writes:
I know they took both photos of me in my bra and underwear off of my page. Both are gone. There are no photos of my body left on my Instagram, but this evening I got another email saying my Instagram account had been removed…again. I have nothing left that could be remotely in violation of their terms and services, which means they removed something simply for the sake of removing it. An innocent photo from my life.
“I felt so stupid,” Newmann says. “I felt so dumb for believing their initial apology was sincere.” She reached out to Instagram herself but heard nothing back. Distraught, she asked one of the media contacts that she had made to help her.
Robyn Haines of NBC4 reached out to Instagram for comment. Soon, she updated her own story and Facebook page with the following:
Here is the newest response from Instagram after taking down some of Samm’s photos…again. (They actually said they’re sorry this time): “We are truly sorry for our mistake here. When reviewing reported content from the Instagram community, we do not always get it right. As soon as we were made aware, we restored the content.”
“I feel empowered because I got my account back,” Newman says, “but I don’t necessarily feel like Instagram has my back when it comes to the content I post. It sucks.”
If she had it to do all over again, she says, she might choose a different social media platform altogether. “But this is where everyone I like is,” Newman adds, “so I’ll stay.”