The Scar Project

Courtesy of David Jay and the SCAR Project

Facebook is angering women’s rights advocates again. The social media titan has been removing mastectomy photos from two pages designed to celebrate and uplift women that have undergone the procedure. The SCAR Project is a photographic-essay depicting women between the ages of 18 and 35 that have survived breast cancer bouts.

The poignant black-and-white photos were shot by photographer David Jay in an effort to honor the more than 10,000 women under the age of 40 who will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. It has three principle missions: Raise public consciousness of early-onset breast cancer; raise funds for breast cancer research/outreach programs; and help young survivors see their scars, faces, figures and experiences through a new, honest and ultimately empowering lens.

Jay discovered these photos empower breast cancer survivors. “For these young women, having their portrait taken seems to represent their personal victory over this terrifying disease. It helps them reclaim their femininity, their sexuality, identity and power after having been robbed of such an important part of it,” he said. “Through these simple pictures, they seem to gain some acceptance of what has happened to them and the strength to move forward with pride.”

Facebook isn’t moved by the beauty of the SCAR Project or another page, Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer. The platform’s administrators have suspended Jay’s Facebook account for 30 days and removed photos of women on both pages. Facebook’s issue is the photos display breasts and nipples, which is considered a violation of the site’s nudity policy.

Scorchy Barrington – a woman battling Stage IV breast cancer — launched a Change petition urging Facebook to stop banning members and removing photos. The petition states:

Facebook says these photos violate their policy — essentially putting these images in the same category as pornography. The Scar Project, Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer, and other pages like them do not objectify or sexualize the human anatomy. They document the physical and emotional toll of women and men who have undergone mastectomies. They raise awareness of the disease and reinforce the need for early intervention and research toward a cure. This is the reality of breast cancer. BREAST CANCER IS NOT A PINK RIBBON.

Barrington also claims the Facebook pages help her cope with her diagnosis and provides similar inspiration for other women and men in her position. She writes:

As a woman living with Stage IV breast cancer, photos like The Scar Project help me feel a little less alone in what I’m going through. With so many young women facing breast cancer diagnoses, I know these photos give them hope, too. By removing the photos, Facebook is sending us a message that our struggle with this disease should be kept in the dark.

The breast cancer warrior wants Facebook to update its policies to resemble the rules established to handle a recent breastfeeding debacle.

According to Facebook policy, breastfeeding isn’t the same as nudity: “We agree that breastfeeding is natural and beautiful and we’re glad to know that it’s important for mothers to share their experiences with others on Facebook.” So, why is breast cancer considered a violation? Women fighting breast cancer are also beautiful, and I can’t think of a more important experience to share with others than one that raises awareness of the disease and helps other women who are facing treatment.

More than 20,000 supporters have signed the petition. Facebook executives have responding, alleging mastectomy photos are welcomed on the social network. Spokeswoman Allison Schumer told NBC News that the company has “long allowed mastectomy photos to be shared on Facebook, as well as educational and scientific photos of the human body and photos of women breastfeeding.”

“We only review or remove photos after they have been reported to us by people who see the images in their News Feeds or otherwise discover them,” she said. “On occasion, we may remove a photo showing mastectomy scarring either by mistake, as our teams review millions of pieces of content daily, or because a photo has violated our terms for other reasons.”

Jay and Schumer have also spoken about the issue. The photographer hopes their conversation will prompt Facebook to educate photo reviewers about the detriment of removing these images.

Schumer told NBC News that Facebook supports the SCAR Project “and will continue to work with them to ensure that even as we review millions of pieces of photos and content, we are also doing our best to make the right and best decisions as they pertain to photos.”

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