By Heather Millar
Carey Goldberg—a friend and former reporter for The Boston Globe and The New York Times—alerted me to a dust-up between Facebook and a British breast cancer patient who dared to post pictures of herself, post-mastectomy, scar and all.
According to a post on the Globe’s Daily Dose blog, Facebook maintains a “No Nudity” policy and pulled down the 11 photos that Joanne Jackson shared. Facebook warned Jackson that she might have her account shut down completely if she kept posting such images.
Jackson, 40, says she had the portraits taken professionally and posted them because she wanted to share her battle with breast cancer with the world. She’s now taken her photos to Twitter, tweeting. “RT this is me 2wk after mastectomy Facebook says its offensive and against policy, I see a strong woman, you?”
Let’s just set aside the inconsistency of Facebook’s tastemakers. Is it nudity if there is no breast, no nipple? In all the various updates and system changes, how many shifting policies has Facebook had on self-harm, hate speech, violence, threats, and the like? And how many tasteless and inappropriate images have you still seen on the social networking site? And yet, how wild and wooly would it get if they actually allowed nudity? It would make the beer bong and cute kitten pics look pretty tame.
Threads about the Jackson incident are now proliferating, on the Huffington Post, Jezebel, and many other sites. Most of the hundreds of comments bash Facebook and hail Jackson as brave, “Athena-like,” and so on.
I’ve no doubt that Jackson is brave. Cancer gives you little choice but to be brave. The pictures she’s had taken are classy, and the loose cloth she drapes over her remaining breast does have a Greco-Roman aesthetic to it. But I don’t see the pictures as “triumphant,” as many viewers seem to insist. I see images of a woman who’s facing the scariest time of her life, and is trying to score a notch for living, to hit back at the threat of death. That’s spirited, but not exactly triumphant. There are, cancer patients know, no guarantees.
I don’t think Facebook is “anti-breast cancer” or “anti-woman,” either.
I think Facebook’s confusion reveals something much deeper than that: A general fear of looking, really looking, at each other’s wounds, at each other’s pain. Just a week before the Jackson dust-up began, Facebook pulled pictures that a Memphis couple posted of their infant son who died not long after birth because parts of his brain and skull were missing.
Some of you may think it’s ghoulish to post such pictures. “I don’t want to see THAT,” you may be thinking.
And sure, not everyone facing death or illness wants to share. Yet those of us who do derive great strength from the resulting conversation.
Hey, my reaction to breast cancer was to start a blog. When I was sick—and writing in gory detail about confusion, anger, pain, fear, and needles in places you’d rather not imagine—the comments and messages from friends, family and strangers helped me to put one foot in front of the other, to carry on.
We live in an age of over-sharing, for sure. But why is it only OK to share our victories? Isn’t it even more important to share our fears and challenges and wounds as well?
Show me your kitten pictures, your gardens, your graduation portraits, your Christmas gingerbread houses. But, if it brings you comfort, show me your surgery scars, your dying babies, your ailing parents, too.
Maybe we can help each other, hold each other up, score one for the living team. That would be social networking in the most profound sense.
What do you think?