By Jonathan Anker
"Breast cancer is not a pink ribbon," reads the blunt motto for breast-cancer support group The SCAR Project. Its stunning black-and-white portraits of women who have undergone mastectomies show "a raw, unflinching face" of the disease and the women who are driven to defeat it.
The images are "powerful visual testaments to the real impact of breast cancer and the resilience of breast cancer survivors," says breast cancer activist and patient Scorchy Barrington.
So last month, when photographs of women displaying their surgical scars started disappearing from the group's Facebook page and SCAR Project photographer David Jay was temporarily suspended from the site, an angry Barrington launched a Change.org petition demanding that Facebook "stop censoring photos of men and women who have undergone mastectomies."
Jay posted that "Facebook has begun removing pictures from The SCAR Project page citing a violation of their policy. I personally have been banned from posting for the next 30 days. Disturbing."
Wednesday -- 20,000 signatures later -- Facebook responded with an explicit commitment to allow the photos on the site, so long as they do not display "fully exposed breasts, particularly if they're unaffected by surgery."
"We agree that undergoing a mastectomy is a life-changing experience and that sharing photos can help raise awareness about breast cancer and support the men and women facing a diagnosis, undergoing treatment, or living with the scars of cancer. The vast majority of these kinds of photos are compliant with our policies," the company wrote.
Facebook said that previous instances of mastectomy photos being removed were usually "either by mistake, as our teams review millions of pieces of content daily, or because a photo has violated our terms for other reasons." The company had allowed mastectomy photos previously, but by posting the policy Facebook is now making it clear the images are approved for the site, for the most part.
"Everyone seems to be terrified of the female nipple," Jay told Time. He says the policy would still mean some of his portraits wouldn't be allowed.
Facebook's rules on breastfeeding images -- which have also kicked-up controversy in the past -- follow the same logic, barring any such picture where a "fully exposed breast" is visible, but otherwise allowing them.
The site's community standards lay out several other types of content which are barred, including hate speech, fake accounts, spam, credible threats, pornography or general "graphic content."
And now, mastectomy pictures don't fall into any of those buckets -- for which Barrington expressed her gratitude in an updated message posted at the top of her online petition.
"For me, a woman with Stage IV breast cancer, this is a victory I share with the 20,000 people who have signed my Change.org petition and the countless men and women who have this disease and who are newly diagnosed each year," she wrote. "We want the world to know that breast cancer is not a pink ribbon -- it is traumatic, it is life-changing and it urgently needs a cure."