[Today's guest post is written by Debi Memmolo, breast cancer survivor and friend of David Jay, in response to the most recent removal of SCAR images from Facebook.]
Just after my 38th birthday, I had the life-changing pleasure of attending an exhibit of The SCAR Project, a series of large-scale portraits of young women confronting breast cancer, shot by fashion photographer David Jay. I saw myself in each of these women. I saw, in real life, the ravages of this disease. I saw beauty. I walked away with an invaluable gift: I do not need breasts to be beautiful.
A few months later, I too had my breasts removed to fight the cancer that was growing inside me. Yes, I had them “reconstructed,” but what remains on my chest are two, uneven mounds covered in taut skin and some scars. As it turns out, this now gives me the legal right to walk down the streets of New York City bare chested. (Nudity, it turns out, is defined as exposure of a woman’s nipple.) Well, aren’t I lucky?
This week Facebook removed the SCAR Project’s photographs, posted to honor one of the SCAR girls in light of her recent passing, February 23. Hundreds of followers of The SCAR Project wrote beautiful messages upon seeing these photographs (while they were still up) and hearing the news of her death. And then, without warning (or apparently a deep thought), Facebook took them all down and locked David Jay out of his own page. Why? Because nipples are improper nudity on Facebook and a hint of one of Vanessa’s nipples was in one of the images.
With some protest, some (not all) of the images were replaced. David was still denied access. I may have left this alone, but then I learned this was not the first time Facebook acted this way. In fact, it has happened several times. In mid-2013, there was a media frenzy regarding Facebook’s policies and its impact on The SCAR Project and young women with breast cancer. Facebook reversed itself then too. Nothing really changed though.
It is, perhaps, not fair to hold Facebook accountable for this action. I do not think that its policies are aimed at maligning the goodwill served by such things as The SCAR Project. This is clearly a response to something larger in our society – the female nipple and its tie to sexuality.
Innumerable people have asked me why I have not decided to have nipple reconstruction. (The “reconstruction” is performed either by twisting and stitching skin or getting a tattoo of a nipple). I am truly dumbfounded by this question. My nipples served their purpose: I had the immense fortune of nursing two children with them. Now, this disease has taken my fertility and the utility of a nipple.
And I do not need nipples anymore. While nursing, my real nipples were exposed in some of the finest restaurants, from coast to coast. They also were out on airplanes, on the side of the road and, in moving vehicles. No one seemed aroused or stimulated by the sight of a woman using her breast for its intended purpose, feeding her young.
The right to breast feed in public has seen its day in the media, but those battles, too, did not really get to the point. Why are we so fixated on the female nipple? And why is it so different from that of the male?
We are living in modern times, with modern sensibilities. This is not the Victorian Era. Why are we still struggling to acknowledge that exposure of a female nipple can, perhaps, be no less pornographic than the exposure of a man’s? Why are we still objectifying body parts?
A prosthetic nipple will make me no more or less a woman than I already am. Despite my SCARs [Surviving Cancer.] [Absolute Reality.] I am, after all, still a woman.
[Debi Memmolo lives in NYC and spends her days raising her two young children. Prior to battling cancer and being a full-time mom, Debi was an elementary school teacher, technology marketer and certified public accountant. She thinks a lot about writing but rarely writes.]
Guest Post by Lauren Culpepper
[Lauren is the production manager for The SCAR Project, David Jay's right hand, my SCAR Project sidekick, not to mention, the most lovely soul to work with.]
Since The SCAR Project began six years ago, David Jay created a Facebook page for the project. What began as a small page of a few supporters has now become a thriving group supported by over 33,000. David has used Facebook as an immediate way of communicating directly and effectively as he continues his work with The SCAR Project. For years Facebook has randomly and periodically taken down images and banned David’s personal account which prevents him from posting.
It has been an unbelievably frustrating challenge. Every time this has occurred, there is no one at Facebook to contact in order to gain clarity on the image removal or ban. This has turned Facebook into a looming “big brother” for The SCAR Project, not knowing when it will strike again.
This time, however, a woman reached out via Twitter. Scorchy Barrington, currently stage IV and undergoing treatment, created a petition at Change.org on behalf of David and The SCAR Project that created a massive ripple effect with over 20,000 signatures. Two days after the petition was posted, Change.org got behind the petition, Facebook’s VP of global policy requested to speak to Susan and David, and a conference call was set up with Susan, David, Facebook, and Change.org. It was an extremely beneficial opportunity to listen to one another and have a chance to communicate directly. The following week, Change.org, Susan, Facebook and David exchanged emails editing what would become the new policy that you now
see on Facebook’s policy page.
While in many ways the new policy is a huge victory for breast cancer survivors, whether or not Facebook will continue to allow certain images to be posted on The SCAR Project’s page remains to be seen. The new policy is certainly improved, but also leaves plenty of room for Facebook to decide what images are allowed and what images are considered a violation. And, according to the new policy, The SCAR Project images previously taken down remain to be a violation. We continue to await the decision by Facebook as to whether or not they will re-post the images (including the hundreds of comments that accompany them) that were previously removed. It has now been over a month and we have yet to see those images restored to the Facebook page.
But the truth is that nothing has really changed at Facebook. In fact, the issue has nothing to do with breast cancer at all. Facebook never had any issues with mastectomies from the beginning. Mastectomies are not the problem. Nipples are. But not men’s nipples. Only women’s. Somewhere buried within the history of America’s societal evolution (or lack thereof), the female nipple became a body part to be hidden and ashamed of. The female nipple has and continues to violate every media policy in our country, but no one will admit to that fact. David Jay brought up the issue repeatedly while in discussions with Facebook, asking them to at least clarify that it was the female nipple that was in violation. Silence. No one wants to talk about it, yet everyone wants to abide by the unspoken “rule”: The female nipple is illegal in America.
And now, as we enter the world of breast cancer treatment (where we have everything from no breasts, breasts but no nipples, one breast with one nipple, breasts with reconstructed or tattooed nipples) we enter into a gray area that perpetuates the nipple conundrum. And the recent issue with Facebook’s policies has once again shined the limelight on the elephant in the room, only for the issue to be skirted around and avoided. How many more generations will continue to accept this view of the female body? With everyone’s recent finger-pointing at Facebook’s lack of clear policies regarding discriminatory, hateful, sexist, bigoted and misogynistic posts, the problem lies much deeper. And it is buried underneath decades of a misconstrued view of what a woman and her body represents.
You can read more of the press coverage at the following links:
ABCnews.com: Facebook Launches New Policy to Allow Mastectomy Photos
(Also posted on GMA/Yahoo)
ABC News Radio: Facebook Launches Policy to Allow Mastectomy Photos
NY Daily News: After backlash, Facebook says mastectomy photos are OK
Chicago Tribune: Facebook says yes to post-mastectomy photos
Huffington Post: Facebook Revises Wording of Policy on Post-MastectomyPhotos
Boston Globe: Facebook changes policy to allow post-mastectomy photos
Shape Magazine: Facebook Allows Post-Mastectomy Photos
The Inquisitr: Mastectomy Photos Allowed By New Facebook Policy
[As Facebook has deemed some images of The SCAR Project to be inappropriate, and as such, has consequently removed them from the The SCAR Project FB page, one of The SCAR Project girls has written an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg on her blog. With her permission, I'm cross-posting it here, featuring Sara as my first guest blogger on The SCAR Project Blog.]
An open letter to Mark Zuckerberg
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the SCAR Project would reach so many women. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it would become a GLOBAL influence. There have been a plethora of articles written – all over the world. This project is changing lives…it is empowering other breast cancer survivors…other people who have had their lives changed by breast cancer…it is allowing the generations who had to suffer in silence stand-up and say, that is me…that was my mother…that was my grandmother. I often have tears welling up when I read the comments of the women who are appreciative to FINALLY see someone else like them…who say the photographs gave them the strength, peace, comfort… I am overwhelmed because my hope has been realized tenfold.
How did this project gain momentum? I have to believe it is in large part because of Facebook. The first exhibition was in NYC in 2010 – at that time, I remember the Facebook page followers numbered in the four figures. Today, as I am typing, the SCAR Project’s page has over 22K followers.
I am writing to ask you to please step in – the SCAR Project has received multiple warnings about content. At this point, the photographer, David Jay, has decided to remove the photographs rather than risk the page being shut down. I truly believe, Mark, you must know someone who has been affected by breast cancer. I believe the days of anyone not knowing someone changed by breast cancer are long gone. Think of the person you know, maybe it is a relative, maybe a friend – consider how it must feel – having to cut off a body part, a body part society tells us is the most important part of being a woman. Imagine the isolation, the fear, the grief, the anger…all of these emotions and feeling as if you are all alone. The SCAR Project has changed this – the SCAR Project has allowed these women to see their strength, to find their beauty in this strength. In order for the SCAR Project to continue helping these women, the photographs need to be available.
Facebook has the opportunity to help change the world in a positive way – by allowing the SCAR Project to have an open forum to continue reaching men and women around the world. Please, take a moment to look the SCAR Project’s Facebook page – read the comments. There is no denying the power and impact it is having on the many who view the photographs. Take a look at the SCAR Project’s website to see the actual photographs – there is nothing sexual. It is simply showing the world that breast cancer is, and always has been, so much more than a pink ribbon.
Thank you for your time and consideration~