Jay Walker, an English woman who underwent a preventative double mastectomy in 2016, set up the Facebook group called Mastectomy Network to offer a safe space and support to women in a similar position. Now, however, the 39-year-old advocate says Facebook is removing her post-surgical images and policing her group’s logo, she tells the Daily Mail, despite allowing male prostate exams to be shown online. The group’s logo is meant to represent female breasts with surgical scars and can therefore be seen as sexualized content:
Even further, Walker continues, the website has blocked images she has posted that show her breasts following the operation — which, she says, were only meant to encourage others and highlight how minimal the scarring really can be. “I just wanted to show others how I looked after surgery and reassure other women,” she told the British news outlet. “All we want to do is help other women make better informed decisions about their bodies.”
Members of the Mastectomy Network Facebook group have responded in support of the page and the banned images, asking how they can help.
Many women are choosing to have such prophylactic mastectomies in large part because of the “Angelina Jolie effect.” The actress announced in 2013 that she had the BRCA1 gene and would therefore be getting a mastectomy — before actually getting a breast cancer diagnosis — to lower her chance of getting the disease. Jolie’s mother died of ovarian cancer. Creating a network for these women is important, Walker says, so they can better navigate the decision.
The most upsetting part about Facebook’s removal of this mastectomy content, Walker continues, is that Facebook did not take down a video of a man having his prostate examined on the news program This Morning. And while she’s a big supporter of spreading prostate exam awareness, she thinks it shows that Facebook is more likely to remove female nudity, even when posted for a medical purpose, than similar content of men.
“I’m 100% behind the This Morning testicle exam, it’s brilliant, and anything to help end the stigma around checking yourself can only be a good thing, but it does feel very sexist,” she says of the video. “I totally support This Morning and their awareness video (guys, please check yourself regularly) just appalled at the blatant sexism employed by Facebook’s Community Standards.”
Facebook, for its part, told the Daily Mail that they make these decisions based on “nuance,” and are currently reviewing the complaints. “Whilst adult nudity isn’t allowed on Facebook, we do make exceptions including for posts which are clearly intended as medical or educational,” a spokesperson told the site.
It seems that Facebook has not acted in accordance with its policies on this matter, though. On its Community Standards page, Facebook says, “Our nudity policies have become more nuanced over time. We understand that nudity can be shared for a variety of reasons, including as a form of protest, to raise awareness about a cause, or for educational or medical reasons. Where such intent is clear, we make allowances for the content.” On a Frequently Asked Questions page, the company says, “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.”
This isn’t the first time such a controversy has gained media attention. In 2013, a photographer named David Jay posted images in The SCAR Project, which aims to raise awareness around breast cancer and mastectomies, on Facebook. They were promptly flagged and removed by the site. The photographer told Today that he didn’t place blame on the social media network, though, because their policy seemed to be in line with his values — he just asked that it be implemented properly.
Dr. Elizabeth Comen, medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and advisor to SurvivorNet, says that many women who have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene will choose to have a bilateral mastectomy, or remove the breast tissue on both sides, to avoid intense screening for the rest of their lives. However, the BRCA genes are not the only reason someone would be high risk — a family history of certain cancers can also leave women at high risk for breast cancer, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about any questions regarding the best options for you.