Instagram Bans #Goddess

Heather Greene —  July 30, 2015 — 11 Comments

Yes it is true. Instagram, the photo sharing social media site, has banned the searchable hashtag #goddess. As could have been predicted, there is now a growing, worldwide backlash against the move. The new rallying tag is #BringBacktheGoddess.


In mid July, Instagram, a Facebook Inc. company, decided to ban the term #goddess to help curb policy violations. Although Instagram did not respond to The Wild Hunt, a spokesperson did tell ABC News:

In this case, #goddess was consistently being used to share content that violates our guidelines around nudity. We’ve taken similar action on dozens of hashtags because they were being used to share inappropriate content.

The spokesperson is referencing its recent ban on #curvy, #eggplant, #boobs, #scandalous and more. According to Instagram, these hashtags are disproportionately used to post pornography or photos that violate its nudity policy; a policy that in and of itself has elicited controversy.

The #curvy ban was the most recent and, after generating significant protests, the term was reinstated. In the meantime, hashtag activists took to their computers, switching to the term #curvee and posting body-positive images of themselves. The social media site was accused of censoring images of women’s bodies that did not fit an unrealistic media ideal. As with the explanation to the goddess ban, an Instragram spokesperson explained, “The tag was being used to share pornography, which is strictly forbidden on the site.”  #Curvy is now searchable again.

Instagram’s hashtag bans are nothing more than the site’s attempt to negotiate the fine line between freedom of expression and maintaining “common decency” within a public media forum. This dance is nothing new. Prior to 1930, the Film Industry was struggling with the exact same issue, with no industry standards in place. Facets of society were breathing down its neck for censorship of what was seen as sensationalism, gratuitous nudity and violence. Censorship arrived in the way of the Production Code and, then in 1968, gave way to the rating system, which we know today. TV, Magazines, Books and Video Games have also gone through a similar negotiation at one point or another. It is the difficult struggle to define the social standards of decency within a dynamic, diverse, and changing culture.

What is appropriate and when, within the public entertainment and media forum?

In the internet world, the problem becomes more complicated. There are nearly no limits or barriers to production of media, with millions of people online, from all around the world living within different cultural expectations and standards of social decency. At the same time, decisions and actions are instanteous, wide-sweeping and happening in real time.

Banning hashtags, like “goddess” or “curvy,” may help in one area, but only create instant collateral damage for others.

While there are those that do acknowledge that Instagram’s attempts are noble, there is still incongruity in its efforts. Linda Steiner, PhD, a University of Maryland, College Park media studies professor, told ThinkProgress, “I’m impressed with the attempts of Instagram, Reddit, and Twitter to try to come to grips with the problem rather than ignoring it altogether.” However, she goes on to say that the enforcement and methodologies used are inconsistent and problematic. Steiner said:

Instagram’s policy is not only weirdly enforced, I think they’re trying to have a simple policy that makes it easy for them …. Women are really bothered by the predatory invasion of their bodies … That includes posts of their body parts without their permission and the banning their own images because they don’t conform to an ideal physique.

As Steiner suggests, many of these bans, and related deleted photos, directly involve the display of female bodies and women’s sexuality. And, that has been the crux of the problem. While Instagram is trying to protect women and curb violations against women’s bodies, it is also censoring women and their positive expressions of female sexuality, spirituality, agency and body-positive imagery.

In a letter to Instagram published at Huffington Post, writer Christina Gutierrez writes, “I spend my life working with women who have experienced trauma and abuse of all kinds. I fuse modern therapy with ancient wisdom. This is how they heal. This is how we come to peace with the chaos of everyday life … The ancient wisdom texts that I work from are the stories of the GODDESS.”

Pagans and Heathens have joined the protests. Author and teacher Erick DuPree wrote:

This is not about Goddess, She doesn’t need a hashtag. This is about the sovereignty of women and their right to autonomy to hashtag something‪ #‎goddess‬ which for centuries has represented the divine feminine in many forms. That right to self expression and identity which might seem trivial has now been taken away. That is ‪#‎oppressive‬ and what it means to perpetuate‪ #‎rapeculture‬ ‪#‎patriarchy‬ and ‪#‎power‬. This isn’t about a ‪#‎hashtag‬ it’s about self determination and that is a sacred rite!

Priestess and teacher Crystal Starshine simply asked “why” and publicly shared a photo of herself and “other wild sisters at the Alternative Wombyn Retreats in Utah.”

crystal starshine

[Courtesy Crystal Starshine]

Some Pagans believe the ban is basic religious discrimination. In her Huffington Post article, Gutierrez asks, “How would the Christians and Catholics feel if their hashtag #GOD was taken away? Would the Instagram team even think to do that?” Others are pointing out that the Goddess plays a sacred role in many world religious traditions. The term is used throughout the world in many positive ways, beyond what is listed even here.

Since the ban was discovered, images of world Goddesses have been appearing all over social media in protest. And, with the new hashtag #bringbackthegoddess, women are posting images of themselves. Even on Instagram’s own site, the hashtag is being used in association with such images, as well as many others that depict female empowerment. It is now a rally cry.


Instagram’s spokeperson told The Daily Dot. “We’re also working on ways to better communicate our policies around hashtags.” The company suggested to ABC that it is always reevaluating banned hashtags. Just as it restored #curvy, it may restore #goddess. However, these decision on how to regulate decency within media, and ultimately how it is defined, are often left solely to a corporation, and are based on internal policies, the convictions of its owners, and ultimately, what it thinks will support and drive business.

[Posted on Instagram by Starsignstyle]

[Posted on Instagram with #bringbackthegoddess by Starsignstyle]

In recent months, it has been suggested that Instagram has, at times, shown a concern for the greater good. This summer, they banned #SandraBland for 24 hours and #CaitlynJenner during the Espy Awards. Instagram explained that it was receiving a disproportionate amount of hate posts using the tags during that period of time. Both tags were reinstated after the period was over. There is still debate on whether the bans themselves ultimately achieved any goal or had a positive affect.

What will happen to #goddess is still unknown at this point? However, the protests are on. Regardless of the outcome, the entire situation does bring to the forefront an important conversation about the depiction and presentation of the female body in public entertainment and media space. It presents the opportunity to question and discuss where these lines are drawn and why; what is acceptable and what is not. What photos are oppressive, which are a violations and which are a empowering celebrations.

Heather Greene

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Heather is a freelance writer, film historian, and journalist, living in the Deep South. She has collaborated with Lady Liberty League on religious liberty cases, and formerly served as Public Information Officer for Dogwood Local Council and Covenant of the Goddess. She has a masters degree in Film Theory, Criticism and History from Emory University with a background in the performing and visual arts. Heather's book on witches in American film and television will be published by McFarland in 2018.
  • linguliformean

    I am struggling to see how this is about religious discrimination; they banned it because of inappropriate (whether we agree with their T&C’s is another matter) content being linked to that term rather than it being about ‘goddesses’, they banned #eggplant ffs. Not everything is an attack on pagans.

    They are also damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Leave content and the # up and they are accused of being complicit with perpetuating negative images of women, take it down and freeze that # for a time and they are accused of discrimination, rape-culture and the like by stopping people with positive intent from posting.

    • Instead of removing the hashtag, and perhaps the right a person has to the freedom of expression to use language they removed the illicit images instead?

      Policing in this blanket way isn’t the answer because it oppresses entire groups. It doesn’t call out or correct the actual issue that Instagram is allegedly trying to prevent, the sexualization and objectification of women.

    • It isn’t so much about religious discrimination as it is about religious assumptions, and what they are assuming isn’t religiously relevant. It isn’t an attack, it is a case of cluelessness. The response is designed to clue them in. Hopefully they’ll come up with a better solution to their problem once they’ve gotten the clue; preferably one that includes women’s sovereignty to self-tag as they choose for religious reasons, rather than inadvertently religiously censoring them while claiming to protect them from those men abusing the term by disseminating porn with it. Certainly had women (or gay men) been proliferating porn with the hashtag ‘god,’ the suggestion to ban the tag outright would never have been suggested, for what is considered obvious reasons. In this case, the inverse was not considered a clear reason; it likely wasn’t even thought of at all. Hence the need to point it out baldly.

      Surely there can be any variety of possible, nuanced responses to the problem other than simply blanket-style banning or allowing. Such dichotomies are nearly always false.

  • AnantaAndroscoggin

    I’m just as glad that I never did have any reason to use instagram.

  • Deborah Bender

    Since Instagram is going to face decisions like this over and over, it needs to institute processes that are less ad hoc and reactive than they appear to be at present. It might be helpful to the company to hire some sociologists and scholars of popular culture to advise them on what’s likely to come up and how to decide where to draw the line.

    • kenofken

      The problem boils down to adults trying to play parent to other adults. If it’s a service that’s about sharing images and ideas, the only standard should be “is it legal”? If the person posting an image owns the right to that image (ie it’s theirs or they have copyright), and those depicted and receiving are of the age of consent, it should be allowed, whether it’s controversial, nudity done for personal, political or artistic reasons, or material that is frankly pornographic in nature. Moderate it to the extent that things have to be tagged a certain way and give users filter settings so nobody is confronted with any category they don’t want to see. That should be the extent of it. I won’t use any service that takes it upon itself to “protect” me from free speech.

      The bigger underlying issue is that Pagans, and pretty much everyone else has allowed themselves to be drawn into a sucker’s game where social media is concerned. The rise of the Internet inspired the delusion that you can get something for nothing, and everyone signs up for these “free” services. We’re conditioned to believe you can’t have a social existence or even true personhood without publishing every inane thought or “selfie” in our daily lives. We’re starting to learn one controversy at a time that there is a real cost to these functional toys.

      The cost is nothing less than all of one’s personal sovereignty. The terms of a person’s existence in these spaces is whatever the company says they are, and they write themselves the authority to change those at any time for any whim. We avoid confronting this reality at all costs, because we’re so dependent on the service model. Instead, we frame these controversies in terms of isolated one-off blunders. We petition social media companies on social media platforms (where else?) to reverse this policy on craft or drag names, then that policy about “occult” merchandise or another one about “goddess” tags.

      It’s wasted effort because any one victory is going to be temporary and illusory. It’s a game of whack-a-mole, and they have infinitely more moles and dens than you have reach or swing in your arms. We’re playing a short game of tactics – on their turf while they’re playing a big picture strategy that can’t lose.

      Your social media platforms are not responsive to you because you’re not the customer. You’re the product.

  • Labrys

    One more reason for me to continue avoiding Facebook and Instagram. It seems so knee-jerk to me. And I honestly do wonder, if a bunch of guys started putting up nude images of males and using #god if they would ban that as well?

    I admit, I do take some issue with their idea that anything nude is to be banned as well. Their ideas of what is “decent” seem a wee bit more than guided by Judeo-Christian ideals of what is decent.

    No, not everything is an attack on pagans. But you can bet if they ever banned #god for any reason there would be a hue and cry beyond compare. And that, in and of itself, makes me think they don’t really think it through very well.

  • Knee-jerk hashtag banning isn’t the answer. Any idiot on the Internet can decide to post nude photos under any hashtag they want, with no actual connection, just to spread the image as far as they can. Is Instagram really going to ban every single word in hashtags that ever are associated with nudity?

  • xandara

    Is there anything can we do to help convince them to un-ban it, besides using the alternative hashtag? Is there somewhere to send them comments?

  • zormpas

    Who cares? Its a facebook site – made for teenagers with teenaged DRAMA.

  • Aren’t balance and ethics and trying to set a line in a moving sea, altogether, a bitch? Wish I had a wisdom-distilled answer, but it’s good reporting as always.