You can get away with a lot of stuff on Instagram. There's the borderline nudes of celebs like Kim Kardashian. There was the account devoted to shots of shit that lived on the platform for five months before Instagram shut it down. But the one thing you can't show? A small spot of period blood, apparently.
Earlier this week, Rupi Kaur, a 22-year-old college senior and published poet, posted the above photo on her Instagram account. It's part of a series she created for the final project in her visual rhetoric class. Within 24 hours, Instagram had removed the photo, so Kaur posted it again. Once more it was removed.
Kaur told me she didn't post the photo to stir controversy, but because she was proud of it.
"I guess coming from my educational background (I'm a rhetoric major) I look at this picture and I just think it's absolutely beautiful," Kaur told me. "I admire the body. I admire the colors and the grain and her hair. So, I knew that it would get backlash but I never thought that it would be to this extent."
Instagram's terms of service do limit what kind of content you can share on the platform, but its restrictions only prohibit images that are "violent, nude, partially nude, discriminatory, unlawful, infringing, hateful, pornographic or sexually suggestive." There's no mention of menstrual blood.
After the photo was taken down the second time, Kaur switch platforms, posting the image to Facebook (which owns Instagram) along with a passionate invocation asking her followers to call out Instagram.
"It's sad in this world. That this is still happening. I know that some communities and cultures go out of their way to shun and oppress a woman on her period. I guess Instagram is another one of them," she wrote. "Their patriarchy is leaking. Their misogyny is leaking. We will not be censored."
The post was shared 6,339 times and liked by more than 36,000 people. By Thursday morning, Kaur's photo had suddenly reappeared on her Instagram page.
A spokesperson from Instagram told me the photo had been flagged by another user and removing it was just an honest mistake.
"When our team processes reports from other members of the Instagram community, we occasionally make a mistake," the spokesperson wrote in an emailed response. "In this case, we wrongly removed content and worked to rectify the error as soon as we were notified. We apologize for any inconvenience."
Despite the back and forth, Kaur said she took the photos reappearing on Instagram as a victory.
"Really, I feel like I've won," she told me, adding that she was moved by the support her followers gave her in calling Instagram out. At the end of the day, she said she's still surprised the image was as controversial as it ended up being.
"I never thought it was such a big deal," she said. "It's just a red spot."