Facebook and other social media platforms have policies that restrict users from posting images or videos depicting bare chest of women. The nipples of women are routinely censored. These longstanding practicea and policies have the effect of discriminating against the cultural practice of indigenous bare-chestedness among a broad cross section of non western and European people groups. This includes African and Australia aboriginal people.
Now some African women are speaking out and challenging the application of western values to the practice indigenous practice of being bare chested in Zulu ceremonies. These ceremonies practiced by the Swazi Zulu people of South Africa celebrates chastity among young unmarried women. Eligible women participate in the reed dance bare chested. Videos of the ceremonies posted to social media were routinely deleted as violations of social media policies. Some women took to the internet to call out the deletions as being racist and discriminatory.
Google has recently lifted its restrictions on the videos of bare chested women in Swazi Zulu ceremonies on YouTube in an effort it says to be more culturally sensitive.
YouTube lifted the restrictions in response to an online campaign by Lazi Dlamini, the head of TV Yabantu, an online video production company, that features videos on African culture on it YouTube channel. The campaign challenges the application of Western values to the indigenous cultural practices of Swazi/Zulu women. Social media platforms were accused of discriminating by trying to conform the bodies and indigenous practices of African women to western and European standards and values.
It remains to be seen if Facebook, Instagram or other social media platforms will follow suit. One instagrammer who shares similar cultural photos and videos of Zulu women had some posts deleted.
It is noteworthy that it took these African women speaking up for themselves and their indigenous cultural practices to initiate change. Other western efforts for topless equality has not intersected with the indigenous bare chest practices.
One issue might be that some westerners advocates for topless equality don’t recognize that bare chest women were not at all uncommon in many African and aboriginal cultures. That until European colonization imposed a set of standards and values that considered that indigenous cultural practice inappropriate for “civilized” society. Dlamini and others see the restriction in social media as kind of cultural colonization.
“As black South Africans, we’ve always been told our culture is uncivilised, our culture is backward. Because of social media platforms reinforcing these stereotypes it becomes harder. As a young person why would you want to celebrate something that is constantly being mocked on social media platform.” Nobukhosi Mtshali
“You talk about community standards, but you’re only talking about western community, not African community. But they did not engage with that. They just said these are our standard terms, if you don’t like it then you don’t have to use the platform”
The western tendency to sexualize women’s breasts impacts women all over the world. American, European, African Australian and Asian women are all caught up in conformation to the Western European cultural mindset. As one South African young woman states,
“I, as a South African, want to celebrate my culture. Having my photos labelled as inappropriate or regarded as porn, I take that as a direct attack on my cultural heritage. I take it as a sign of ignorance. If I’m posing in a sexually suggestive manner that is one thing, but if I’m posting pictures of me standing there in my traditional attire, that is a completely different context”
There is a huge opportunity for solidarity and intersectional effort to address the treatment of womens bare chest on social media platform. To date I have not witness many instances where the opportunity has not been taken advantage of.