When 31-year-old Laura Henrietta posted a video of herself receiving nipple and areola tattoos to replace the ones breast cancer took from her on Instagram, “sexual activity” was the last thing on her mind. But that’s exactly how the social media site, which has a rule against showing women’s nipples, classified her post, and they immediately took it down and warned Laura not to post anything like it again.
Laura was understandably taken aback, because she’d been using the social media platform for several years to share different aspects of her breast cancer journey with friends, family, and followers. She says she’s never received anything but supportive and encouraging words from the people who view her content, and she was surprised that Instagram threatened to ban her for posting something that so many people have thought was inspiring and empowering.
“I have been inundated with love and support for the post sharing my areola tattoos, not one person has made a fuss or made me feel bad,” she says. “I’ve had so many messages from women saying it’s helped them realise they want reconstruction or that it’s normal and available.”
Laura, a hairdresser who lives in Norwich, Norfolk, found a lump in her breast while on vacation and was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer when she was just 25 years old. She underwent chemotherapy and a single mastectomy, followed by a preventative mastectomy on the other side and then reconstructive surgery. Later, she opted to have nipple and areola tattoos done to help her feel like a complete woman again.
“It has been over five years since I had my mastectomy and lost a huge part of my femininity,” says Laura. “I had hoped it would be the way I became cancer-free, but little did I know how precious life was about to get. My new 3D tattoos have transformed the way I look at my breasts.”
Sadly, that wasn’t the end of Laura’s cancer journey. A few short years after her original diagnosis, she noticed a persistent in her right shoulder, which turned out to be cancer again, and this time the disease had metastasized and spread to her bones. At that point, doctors told her that her cancer was incurable; she’ll have it for the rest of her life.
Throughout her battle, Laura has been sharing the good moments and the bad moments with her 6,000 Instagram followers. She aims to support other women with incurable breast cancer and help them cope with this difficult diagnosis. She and her friend Nicky Newman run a group called Secondary Sisters that supports other women with incurable cancer. The page has 7,000-plus followers and is a place for women to share their cancer-related experiences, including getting nipple tattoos.
Laura claims she has followed Instagram’s rules to a T, despite the fact that she disagrees with them. Her 3-D nipple and areola tattoos, she says, are not real nipples and should therefore not be a problem. But beyond that, she reminds us that nipples are not a sexual organ and shouldn’t be banned from social media, especially when the rule only impacts women and not men.
“It’s really important we get this message across to Instagram—why are nipples allowed on a man but not on a woman? Especially when it’s art—a tattoo, not even a real nipple.”
Luckily, Laura and other breast cancer survivors like her do not intend to take this treatment lying down. “I will keep sharing my experiences to help other women and show the world what happens when you are in my situation,” says Laura. “I refuse to hide away.”
Hopefully, Laura’s story will help keep something like this from happening to others in the future. A spokesperson from Facebook (which owns Instagram) says, “Images of post-mastectomy scarring and reconstruction are allowed on Instagram. Occasionally we make mistakes and unfortunately removed this content in error. We have since restored it and taken steps to prevent this happening again.”
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?