Facebook apologized after fat-shaming a model—but the damage was already done

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On Facebook, an image of Kim Kardashian covered in nothing but body paint raises no censorship flags. Neither does a Victoria's Secret model posing in lingerie. But a plus-sized model in a bikini? Stop everything, because that's apparently too offensive for public consumption.

The social media network was forced to apologize recently after rejecting an ad that featured plus-sized model Tess Holliday, claiming the image depicted a body that was "undesirable" and thus violated its ad standards. Excuse me?


The ad in question, which showed Holliday smiling in a bikini, was submitted by an Australian group called Cherchez la Femme to promote an event titled Feminism and Fat, organized to promote body positivity. The group was so surprised its ad was rejected, it appealed the decision. Rather than back down, however, Facebook defended its rejection, in a message Cherchez then posted to its event page:


"Ads may not depict a state of health or body weight as being perfect or extremely undesirable,” Facebook wrote. “Ads like these are not allowed since they make viewers feel bad about themselves. Instead, we recommend using an image of a relevant activity, such as running or riding a bike.”

Of course, this is all completely ironic since the image was being used to promote healthy body image and acceptance—a fact that was not lost on Cherchez. It also underscores why campaigns to fight fat shaming are needed.

"Facebook has ignored the fact that our event is going to be discussing body positivity (which comes in all shapes and sizes, but in the particular case of our event, fat bodies), and has instead come to the conclusion that we've set out to make women feel bad about themselves," a spokesperson wrote for Cherez wrote.

Adding, "We're raging pretty hard over here … Facebook seemingly has no idea that plus sized, self describing fat women can feel great about themselves."


On Monday, as media attention rose and the backlash poured in, Facebook changed its tune and declared that the ad did comply with its standards—blaming the mistake on the sheer volume of requests the company receives.

"Our team processes millions of advertising images each week, and in some instances we incorrectly prohibit ads,” Facebook said in a statement. “This image does not violate our ad policies. We apologize for the error and have let the advertiser know we are approving their ad.”


Perhaps the most irksome part of the whole incident is Facebook's original argument for rejecting the ad, claiming it might make users feel bad about themselves. Studies have shown that unrealistic body images—including waif-thin models and photoshopped celebrities—are often catalysts for low self-esteem, depression, and eating disorders in adolescents. Not images of body diversity.

In fact, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, about 70 percent of girls in grades five through 12 say magazine images influence their ideals of a perfect body, and 47 percent say the pictures make them want to lose weight.


So if Facebook truly wanted to censor ads that made people feel bad about themselves, it would pledge not to use photoshopped images that promote unrealistic beauty standards or ask brands like Victoria's Secret to add more body diversity into its advertising portfolio.

The company's delayed apology, in this case, feels like too little, too late.

Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.