Facebook removed this photo of soldiers breastfeeding at Fort Bliss

Facebook claims it has always allowed users to post photos of women nursing their children. In June 2014, they even clarified their policy about such photos, explaining that fully-exposed breasts will no longer be considered a violation of the nudity standard. Still, the social network has a long, sordid history on the subject—namely, for informing a user when such an acceptable image has been reported as “inappropriate” by another user or even removing the photo entirely. 

That is what happened last week with a photo of 10 soldiers at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, who are depicting breastfeeding their babies. The photo was eventually reposted, and remains on Facebook, but not until after a large show of public support.

Fort Bliss has a new room dedicated to nursing moms, with comfortable chairs, a convenient sink, and a refrigerator for storing milk. However, the room, with its bare walls, still didn’t seem entirely inviting. When El Paso photographer Tara Ruby, who is also an Air Force veteran, heard about the new nursing room, she knew just what to do.

Ruby remembered using empty offices and restrooms as they came available so she could pump milk during her own service. So she planned a series of pictures of uniformed, active duty soldiers breastfeeding their kids outside on the military base in the fresh air. She hopes these photos will be used to decorate the new room, according to CNN. 

Tara Ruby via TaraRuby.com

Ten women showed up in uniform to be part of the resulting photograph. There is no Army policy that prohibits women from breastfeeding while in uniform, as long as they “maintain professional standards,” an Army spokesperson told CNN. And an Army spokesperson also confirmed to CNN that the shoot was approved by the Fort Bliss Public Affairs and Garrison Command.

Fort Bliss might have approved, but Facebook? Not so much—at least at first. When Ruby posted the image to her Facebook account on the evening of Thursday, Sept. 10th, it was removed. Facebook could not be reached by the Daily Dot for comment.

However, when Ruby reposted the image on Friday, Sept. 11, it quickly gathered more than 8,000 shares and over 10,000 likes. At the time of publication, it was still visible on Facebook. 

Ruby explained her decision to highlight these women on her business’s Facebook page:

“Breastfeeding their babies doesn’t make them less of a soldier, I believe it makes them a better one. Juggling the tasks and expectations of a soldier, plus providing for their own in the best way they possibly can, makes these ladies even stronger for it.“

Despite a few objections expressed by commenters, she remains staunch in her convictions. Ruby used #normalizebreastfeeding, a popular hashtag created as part of NormalizeBreastfeeding.org’s breastfeeding awareness campaign. The organization explains on its homepage a situation that is all-too-familiar to nursing moms:

“Day after day, mothers around the United States are being removed from restaurants, asked to leave boutiques, and are often told to go to the restroom to breastfeed their babies. It’s time to change that. Although public breastfeeding is not the primary focus of this media campaign, it is a significant factor since there are new incidents being reported EVERYDAY [sic]: of uneducated employees advising nursing mothers to “cover up” or to breastfeed in BATHROOMS! That’s right! Disgusting and unacceptable!”

Thanks to the new nursing room at Fort Bliss, Army soldiers don’t have to choose between getting their job done and taking care of their baby’s needs. And thanks to Ruby and her photograph, the environment for those nursing moms is a little more welcoming, too.

Photo via Institute of Infant Welfare Fund/Wikimedia Commons (CC 4.0) 

Marianne Kirby

Marianne Kirby

Marianne Kirby is a writer whose work focuses on women's issues and bodies. Her byline has appeared in the Guardian and xoJane, and she has appeared on the Dr. Phil Show and Radio New Zealand.