Who made Instagram the arbiters of what constitutes smut, anyway? Well, they did.


Rihanna attends The BRIT Awards 2012 at the O2 Arena on February 21, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

Being an international sex symbol is hard work.

No, really, it is: there are the endless photo shoots, adoring (and sometimes alarmingly crude) fans, and then, there’s the thanks you get when companies like Instagram ban your photographs because they happen to offer an unambiguous look at your nipple ring.

Tuesday, Rihanna’s breast-baring photographs from French lad mag Lui were up for an hour before Instagram removed them and sent the singer an email telling her to keep her clothes on or get banned, TMZ said.

Rihanna responded by posting a picture of herself photoshopped to resemble a sweet, chaste, and slightly zaftig 90′s church lady, with the words “RIH’S NEXT MAGAZINE COVER IF IT WAS UP TO INSTAGRAM” written across the top and bottom. She added a frowny face as a caption.

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 28: (Exclusive Coverage) Recording artist Rihanna attends Roc Nation Sports 1 Year Anniversary Luncheon at TAO Downtown on April 28, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
Rihanna attends Roc Nation Sports 1 Year Anniversary Luncheon at TAO in New York. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

It’s not as though this hurts Rihanna much. The Lui photos are easy enough to find. They’re all over Tumblr, she’s posted them on Twitter without reproach, and besides, her Instagram handle is badgalriri, for heaven’s sake. Having Instagram tell you your pictures are too hot for their platform amounts to excellent free publicity.

The Lui photos were certainly racy, and Rihanna has cultivated a reputation for posting photos of herself in outrageous get-ups, like the time she uploaded photos of herself wearing a denim thong. It was part of a costume for her “Pour it Up” video. She later deleted them.

Some have questioned whether something is inappropriate just because it’s a photograph of someone’s exposed breast. There’s a difference between some college student’s topless bathroom selfie and the work of a professional photographer that Instagram demands be covered with censorship bars, right?

Here are the rules regarding nudity, according to Instagram’s Community Guidelines:

Do share photos and videos that are safe for people of all ages.
Remember that our community is a diverse one, and that your posts are visible to people as young as 13 years old. While we respect the artistic integrity of photos and videos, we have to keep our product and the content within it in line with our App Store’s rating for nudity and mature content. In other words, please do not post nudity or mature content of any kind.

Don’t share photos or videos that show nudity or mature content.
If you wouldn’t show the photo or video you are thinking about uploading to a child, or your boss, or your parents, you probably shouldn’t share it on Instagram. The same rule applies to your profile photo. Accounts found sharing nudity or mature content will be disabled and your access to Instagram may be discontinued.

The company had no problem with this photo from a recent Vogue Brasil shoot: the singer is topless, but her hands are covering her breasts.

Facebook, which bought Instagram in 2012, has weathered its own controversies when it comes to female nudity and the context in which it’s presented. Last year, more than 20,000 people signed an online petition asking Facebook to stop censoring mastectomy photos after the social network removed photos posted by a woman who had undergone the surgery to treat breast cancer. They’ve also been criticized for censoring breast-feeding pictures.

Like Instagram, Facebook employs a clinical standard they say is the same for television (clearly, they’re not referring to Game of Thrones) and print media, which they say amounts to no exposed nipple in breast-feeding photographs.

David Jay, a photographer for the SCAR project, whose photographs of breast cancer survivors have been censored, says Facebook simply has a problem with nudity: “Everyone seems to be terrified of the female nipple,” Jay told Time magazine.

Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on race and gender issues.
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Soraya Nadia McDonald · April 30