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Body Painting Project Celebrates Breast Cancer Survivors, Stirs Controversy

Breast cancer survivors pose wearing little more than body paint to celebrate their lives.

An artist in Fort Lauderdale started the Breast Cancer Awareness Body Painting Project (BCABPP) to help women celebrate their lives and their bodies after surviving cancer — but despite the spirit of the artwork and lack of explicit nudity, Facebook’s system for removing photos reported as inappropriate has removed photos posted by some of the models and the project’s Facebook page.

It seems incredible that these photos of survivors, meant to be images of hope and courage, and clearly trying to represent more than just the gratuitous glamorization of perfect bodies, should be singled out for removal when a photo of Demi Moore in her infamous Esquire “birthday suit” (that I posted a day ago on my Facebook page as an experiment) remains untouched.

Ellen Gondola, one of the 25 women who have modeled for the project thus far, said in an interview with the South Florida Sun Sentinel, said that she never felt so beautiful as when she posed for her photos, with her chest and surgical scars clad only in a painting of bamboo and butterflies. She reported that she was “sickened” when her photo was taken down not once, but twice, from her Facebook page. Along with all the encouraging comments left by friends and family.

As noted — and illustrated — on the BCABPP Facebook page, photos containing nudity are constantly slipping through the cracks in Facebook’s system, which leads one to question why this group’s photos were targeted for censorship. Michael Colanero, the photographer and founder of the project, expressed frustration in an interview with the Huffington Post over the fact that the photos are now being associated with the Facebook “pornography” censorship issue and worries that the negative attention may be distracting from the plights and accomplishments of the survivors.

Colanero is passionate about the project and hopes to photograph a total of fifty survivors, with the end goal being a coffee table book of the images that can raise funds for a breast cancer charity. All of the models have come to the project through word-of-mouth, one even traveling all the way from Australia to participate. Colanero explains that each of the women have been painted in images that express their individual personalities and address “femininity, motherhood, pain, fear and courage.” Two local women artists do the painting and Colanero photographs and then makes digital adjustments to the images that he says he intentionally made “child-safe” so they would, presumably, avoid the controversy that is now surrounding them.

Included in the gallery below are quotes gathered from comments found on the BCABPP Facebook page and Sun Sentinel article.

nggallery id=’123730′

  • Ribbon In The Sky 1 of 6
    Ribbon In The Sky
    The first image in the series that hopes to help all survivors by raising awareness. Cancer survivor and model, Ellen Gondola, says "We're showing women going through the hardest time of their life that there's beauty at the other end."
  • Tribute 2 of 6
    Tribute
    "This project has helped me HEAL in ways that words can not express,'' wrote a woman describing herself as a recent cancer survivor.
  • Growth & Contrast 3 of 6
    Growth & Contrast
    One of the models wrote, "When I saw this project - my heart literally (ok.. it tried) to do a back flip because this project resonates true to my own heart."
  • Journey 4 of 6
    Journey
    The site shared this, "These images are meant to bring awareness to an incredibly sensitive topic; breast cancer. When done tastefully, as in this case, we are able to reach a wider audience and open the lines of communication leading ultimately to awareness, early detection and one day, a cure. I wholeheartedly support this beautiful, tasteful and awareness-invoking cause. ~ Candy"
  • Releasing the Spell 5 of 6
    Releasing the Spell
    "I watched this project help my friend reclaim her power,'' one woman wrote.
  • Roses 6 of 6
    Roses
    The woman photographed here expressed her frustration with the censorship on her blog, Staying in the Pink — "As a two time survivor of cancer, I am hurt and offended. As an advocate and speaker, I am determined to speak out against one of the largest human networks in the world standing between people and information that can save lives."

It’s curious that Facebook isn’t answering direct questions on why these particular photos are being censored and makes one wonder whether the fact that these women, who are owning and taking pride in their bodies which have been, in some cases, drastically altered by mastectomies and treatment-related surgery, are being discriminated against in a subtle, but undeniable way. Surprisingly, even the artist-friendly Flickr.com has joined in the censorship of these images by blacking out all the photos in Colanero’s Flickr page that have even a hint of nipple through the body paint. You can still see the photos, but you must be signed in and are only allowed through after being prompted to click a link a second time to verify that you really want to see the photo. And yet, upon searching images tagged with “body, painting, women” a slew of images come up like this one, completely unrestricted and, in this writer’s opinion, more graphic than any of Colanero’s images.

In our culture that is so steeped in images of scantily-clad, sexualized figures, it is incredibly disappointing that this artist and his courageous survivor-models who are using their female forms in a positive way and for a good cause, are being unfairly targeted by loosely-interpreted and randomly-applied rules of decency.

I understand that these rules are in place to keep Facebook a Flickr pornography-free, but if content that falls in the grey area of being “questionable” is going to be judged on shifting and completely subjective opinions on what are acceptable limits of nudity and on what type of person or body is being portrayed — then either all body paint images should be allowed or none of them should. If this is a case of someone complaining specifically about the photos in question, then there needs to be a human-review feature added to the process to ensure that images are not being targets of censorship by people with unknown motives.

If this is a case of discrimination, what could possibly be the motivation for wanting to keep these images from being seen? Do you think that these photos should have been taken down? How could Facebook and Flickr handle the case of questionably content more fairly?

To see all the photos in Colanero’s project, click over to his Uncommon Stock Flickr page. For more information about the project, you can watch this ArtStreet video. A petition to restore the photos to facebook has been started here.

All photos in this post are courtesy of © 2009 by Michael D. Colanero / UNCOMMON Stock
The images are all copyrighted material as indicated, and are watermarked.
Unauthorized use or reproduction for any reason is prohibited.

 

Read more of Amy Windsor’s writing at Bitchin’ Wives Club.
Follow Amy on Twitter and Facebook.


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