Facebook blocks pics of breast cancer survivor

A woman who says she wants to offer encouragement to others suffering through breast cancer is not allowed to post photos of her reconstructed breasts on Facebook.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read
Facebook bans nipple photos from its Web site, including most recently a woman's postmastectomy pic--though the ban does not seem to apply to men's nipples. Screenshot by Elizabeth Armstrong Moore/CNET

Facebook and boobs. The parties just can't seem to get along. Be it what kinds of pictures to allow (photos of breastfeeding and mastectomies, for instance) or what kinds of campaigns to host (even breast cancer campaigns such as I like it on have been frowned upon by other breast cancer awareness campaigns), the social network can't seem to steer clear of breastly woes.

Now the removal of U.K. Facebook user Melissa Tullett's recent double mastectomy image is raising more than a few eyebrows.

The question at hand is the exact nature of Facebook's nudity policy. Time magazine has called the policy a "war on nipples," as breasts whose nipples are covered are allowed. And since breast cancer survivors Sharon Adams and Anna Antell were allowed to keep their photos of scars provided they did not show "further" nudity (specifically the dark areola around the nipple), Facebook's' decision to remove Tullett's photo may seem like yet another policy reversal.

What seems to be the deciding factor in Tullett's case is that her image included not just her scars but also her reconstructed nipples. "It was showing my actual tattoos, because my nipples have had to be tattooed on," she tells the BBC. (At first her entire account was disabled, but Facebook says it has since reinstated her profile after deleting the image.)

At this point Facebook's response is vague--the company told the BBC that the photo was removed because it contained nudity. But in fact what makes Tullett's story notable is that its policy is now more clear than ever: the nipple, be it real or reconstructed, in a context that is strictly sexual or simply anatomical, is an offender in Facebook's playbook.

The sentence: nipple banishment. Unless you are a man.

In response to this story, a Facebook spokesperson has issued the following statement: "We take no action on most photos of people who share pictures of mastectomies. However, we do review photos reported to us and may remove those that violate our policies. These policies are based on the same standards that apply to television and print media. Photos containing a fully exposed breast (as defined by showing a nipple or areola) do violate our policies and may be removed."