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“Natural female bush gets shamed” Instagram censorship – A talk with Ainsley from Sticks and Stones Agency

“We can´t base censorship on a perspective because everyone’s perspective is so different. Especially for an international business who would have to take into account every culture, religion, etc. The only alternative would be absolutely no censorship.”

Some time ago I read the article “Why Instagram Censored My Body” by Petra Collins and I felt that it was some sort of wake-up call, especially being a woman myself. And only recently the instagram account of the rad Australian agency Sticks and Stones got deleted, either coz of a nipple showing on an image that has been posted, or because of those two pretty girls showing part of their bush. But seriously, is either of those two reasons something so offensive that it cannot be shown and that you should receive this sort of “punishment” for and your 2 1/2 years of work gets deleted in an instant? It is ok to spread a naked and photoshopped butt of Kim Kardashian for Paper Magazine, but not ok to show Gia and Noma Hill´s natural bodies? We had a talk with Ainsley, one of the founders behind Stick and Stones about how they dealt with this censoring, if nudity equates sex and well; of course you need to see what has caused all this stir

UPDATE 21.01.2015: Instagram re-activated the account


THE_HILL_SISTERS_STICKS_AND_STONES_AGENCY_4Instagram Users flagged this image – provided by Sticks and Stones Agency


Instagram has deleted your account with more than 100,000 followers on the basis of repeated violation of their rules. In the end it was about an overlooked nipple and the natural hairiness of two girls. Why do you think that natural hair of women or a nipple represent such an “offensive problem” for social media? Do you think that this body censorship represents a current society attitude?

Its such a shame… To me the difference between sexual nudity & non sexual nudity, empowering imagery & degrading imagery is blatantly obvious. But then I live in a culture (Australia) where walking through the shopping mall in a bikini is the norm. Skin is everywhere here because its just not practical to cover up in our climate. My job also requires me to skim over thousands of images every week & exposes me to so much nudity… I don’t look at it as being sexual unless the context is sexual. If a girl is pushing her enormous fake boobs up toward the camera with a bikini top on that’s ok by instagram censorship standards but if she is sitting on a field of grass looking into a sunset with no top on, completely unaltered, than she is reported as inappropriate. Clearly there is a difference.

This final photo that I posted was a picture of 2 sisters standing side by side on the beach in their matching swimmers. One of the most natural photos I have ever posted & yet apparently the most offensive. The photoshoot had not been put through Photoshop & the sisters had not altered their bodies in any way including still having their natural bush intact… Like it would on all women that didn’t opt for trimming the bikini line, the bush was spilling out of the side of their swimwear. Unfortunately I also didn’t spot a very tiny pale nipple that was showing in the shadow of a bikini top. I cant be entirely sure whether my account was deleted for the nip slip or the bush but I have heard about many other accounts being deleted for the bush… Including amazing artist / writer Petra Collins.

The bush thing I will never understand… Its completely ok for men to have pubic hair showing at the top of their Calvin Klein’s but this is entirely unacceptable for a women. All the other stuff (womens nipples, etc) probably wont change anytime soon because it would take an incredible amount of man power to look through reported images & decide what’s art & what’s not & that’s all up for interpretation… We cant base censorship on a perspective because everyone’s perspective is so different. Especially for an international business who would have to take into account every culture, religion, etc. The only alternative would be absolutely no censorship.

Exactly. The shoot that has been deleted is a great example for absolute naturalness. As you said, no photoshop, etc. And yet apparently not suitable for social networks. Interestingly, the cover of Paper Magazine was very retouched and showed the bare butt of Kim Kardashian which never got deleted anywhere and was going viral on social networks without any problems. Isn´t that ironic?

This is absolutely what frustrates me the most. If you could look back on my instagram account (the deleted one) you would notice that the photos I had posted (beautiful inspiring work from photographers all over the world) usually had absolutely no sexual nature & yet I had 4 photos taken down in the weeks leading up to my account being deleted. I have no idea which ones & why they were taken down, I only know because instagram sent me a very generic message to let me know each time.

Right now as I scroll through my explore page I am exposed to highly sexual imagery including nipples! We were being targeted by someone who seems to enjoy reporting our photos. So not only is the censorship system unfair in terms of what it deems to be acceptable & unacceptable but it also all comes down to if your images are being reported or not. The more work you put into your instagram & building your brand & your following the more chance you have of being reported.

Is nudity always equated with sex?

This all depends on the person looking at it. But no… Absolutely not.

If you are looking throughout history, representations of naked bodies have always existed. Why do you think that nowadays natural nudity is considered as something that needs to be “hidden” or censored and is being peripheralized?

I would say it has a lot to do with how we are raised. Unfortunately many parents hide nudity (both their own & artistic) from their kids & many kids see adult nudity for the first time when they discover porn. Usually for boys this is at around 11 years old when their brains suddenly become fascinated with sex. Now days high speed internet provides unlimited amount of access to every kind of porn & fetish imaginable & this is usually where kids start to formulate their first ideas about nudity… Usually associating it with sex… High impact sex.


Temple-Stones_015Ainsley – Founder of Stick and Stones – photographed by Janneke Storm


To keep a good account on Instagram and all social networks takes a lot of time and effort. So when all gets deleted in an instant, you realize how much you have put into something where you have very little control over at the end. Has this experience and knowledge changed your way of seeing and approaching it all now?

First of all with all the horrible shit happening around the world atm I do realize that having my account deleted is such a first world privileged problem to have. When I put it all into perspective, considering this was the worst thing that has happened to me for a while I can appreciate just how blessed I am. But on top of losing 2 1/2 years of so much hard work & photos I might never get back this really was the worst thing that could have happened to our business… Or at least in the first 48 hours of it happening that’s what I thought.

Like most creative businesses, ours relies so heavily on social media for work, advertisers, photoshoot submissions, etc. Our following was not about popularity, for us it is our livelihood. I honestly thought Sticks & Stones was finished. One week later as I reflect on all the amazing publicity we have had online & support from so many amazing people on instagram, etc I have realized this was all part of an incredible elaborate marketing plan put together by the universe. Our new account (@sticksandstonesagency) has gained 23k followers over the past week & our blog is blowing up :) Best of all it has raised so many important discussions about what we as a society deem acceptable… For instance Kim K’s ass gets a big tick while a bit of natural bush gets shamed.

Is there anything that you would want to change about the social networks?

For instagram I feel that if they don’t change their censoring policy that they should at least let us know which photos have been removed & why so that we have the opportunity to move forward within their guidelines & not feel the heartbreak of a sudden deleted account.

They should absolutely reinstate accounts that were obviously trying to work within their guidelines… I have not heard back from them whatsoever since our account got deleted & I must have written to them at least 25 times…

My first thought when this all went down was to write Richard Branson a letter about starting a new 18+ social media much like instagram but not censored & with the option to add GIFS of course. Who doesn’t love a good fucking GIF! It shocks me that you cant yet upload gifs onto instagram… Or can you? If you know how please tell me!

What are the things that you think should be censored at the end?

Hate, bullying, negativity.

Thanks for your time.


A&S_166Ainsley and Sebastien- Founders of Stick and Stones – photographed by Janneke Storm





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