By Kris Bramwell
Instagram users are debating the social media platform’s censoring of images of healed self-harm scars.
Some people who have recovered from self-harm are finding images of themselves are being taken down or blurred if scars are on view, and believe this is because of a change in policy by the platform.
However, others who have recovered, or are recovering, have posted that they can find pictures of scars troubling.
Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, told the BBC in February that the platform was going to change its policy to “not allow any graphic images of self-harm”, following the death of Molly Russell.
Molly took her own life in 2017 and when her family looked into her Instagram account, they found distressing material about depression and suicide. Molly’s father Ian says he believes Instagram is partly responsible for his daughter’s death.
Under the hashtag #youcantcensormyskin, people all over the world have been discussing what imagery is acceptable and what is not.
In a post addressed to Instagram, artist and mental health advocate Hannah Russell, from London, asked the site to stop “deleting photos of people with self-harm scars”.
“None of these photos are doing harm, they in fact show there is life after self-harm, there is recovery, hope. By taking down these images you are telling all of them and others that their body is never going to be accepted.”
She continued: “This is directly hurting people in recovery who have come so far and deserve so much more respect from such a massive platform.”
The post has prompted people from as far afield as Australia to share their experiences of times when their own images have been censored.
Aria Sandvik, who has scars on her arms following nine years of self-harm, said she has had two photos blurred recently, including one she was sharing with her followers to say she had not harmed herself for seven years.
The 28-year-old, from Bergen in Norway, told the BBC: “I post about self-harm because I don’t want people to be ashamed of their scars.
“I believe that when Instagram censors scars, they are saying that ‘people do not want to see your scars’, and that can be a massive slap in the face for people in recovery who are building up to showing off their skin again.”
Aria says that subsequent reposts of this image have not been censored by Instagram.
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The #youcantcensormyskin hashtag was started by 19-year-old Chloe Rose, from London, who has previously self-harmed. Until two years ago, she would “never show” her arms because of people staring at her or making “horrible comments”, but she is now open about her skin and mental health.
She says she aims to “inspire others” by “being brave and talking” about her struggles. She believes Instagram is “forcing” people with visible scars to “hide”.
Instagram has told the BBC that it does allow content relating to self-harm for the purpose of recovery, including healed scars.
It says it aims to balance the need to remove harmful content speedily, but also allow people to use the platform in a positive and supportive way.
Instagram says that if it makes a mistake and removes content which should not come down, then it works quickly to restore it.
Within the same discussion, some people with a history of self-harm have said that they may be upset by seeing images of scars.
One male user wrote: “Sometimes seeing people post their self-harm scars is a little triggering for me,” but “recovery should definitely be encouraged.”
While a woman from Oregon in the US made the distinction between “purposely” taken photos of scars and “live your life” images.
“You’re allowed to live your life normally with cuts and scars,” she wrote. “Direct pictures of self-harm cuts or scars should be deleted, but pictures of you living your life with them showing is different and should be allowed.”