It's natural for a mother to share an image of her new baby. But when the infant in said image is breastfeeding, things get tense and rage-y pretty fast. And most notably, we’re once again reminded that social media can be shaky ground for women. Depending on which Instagram comments you’re reading, the breastfeeding selfie is either a sweet moment between mother and child or a gross display of nudity. But finally, after a year of public debate about the phenomenon, Instagram has decided the #brelfie, as it's commonly known, is the former.
Last week, the company behind the app revealed updated community guidelines, which state that photos of women “actively breastfeeding are allowed.” It’s not quite a sweeping victory for Free the Nipple (the app will continue to remove photos of Chelsea Handler’s breasts and the like), but it’s a step in the right direction. In addition to nursing mothers, Instagram has also lifted its ban on images of post-mastectomy scarring and paintings and sculptures that feature nudity.
This follows a string of high profile #brelfies from famous women such as Gisele Bündchen, Miranda Kerr and Jaime King. But it’s the little known women who suffered the most from Instagram’s old-fashioned guidelines. (No one ever really complains when a supermodel posts a gorgeously lit photo of herself — topless nursing or not.) The most notorious example of this would be Heather Bays. When she uploaded selfies of herself happily nursing her 20-month-old, the complaints led Instagram to deactivate her account. That formally kicked off the #brelfie movement, a yearlong battle with Instagram in which women the world over joined Bays in protest. Ultimately, Bays won when her account was restored, proving that social media can be a tool for empowerment too.
When she heard the news of her latest victory on Friday, Bays was understandably ecstatic. “So many people laughed at us and told us to get over it and mocked us and will still continue to do so," she posted on Facebook. "But those people are missing the point. I'm sure this won't put an end to the bullying and the shaming, but we can at least be grateful that Instagram will now be on our side!!! High fives all around!!” Read the full guidelines on Instagram here.