A father is locked in a standoff with Instagram over a photo of his young son's bare bottom.
Paul Costello, a New Orleans photographer, has been shooting photos of his children, Edmond, 7, Kiki, 15, and Harrison, 17, since the day they were born. But one photo in particular, snapped on a 2015 family vacation to Utah, is his favorite. In it, the kids are lined up to use a phone booth, with Sara, his wife of 18 years, taking Edmond - who is nude and not facing the camera - by the hand.
"My son went through a naked phase when he was younger, and it was a sweet moment in our family," Costello tells Yahoo Lifestyle, pointing out that his Instagram followers are primarily family and friends, so he didn't hesitate to post the image.
Costello initially posted the snap two years ago, but it was promptly deleted by Instagram, although Costello never learned whether one of his followers flagged it. "I sort of forgot all about it," he says. On Thursday, he came across the photo in his collection and, feeling nostalgic, re-posted it.
A few hours later, the picture had disappeared, and Costello received a message from Instagram stating that the image was in violation of the platform's Community Guidelines, which ban nudity, including "close-ups of fully-nude buttocks" with the exception of "post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding" and nudity depicted in photos of paintings and sculptures.
Instagram's policy also states: "People like to share photos or videos of their children. For safety reasons, there are times when we may remove images that show nude or partially-nude children. Even when this content is shared with good intentions, it could be used by others in unanticipated ways."
On Monday, Costello tried again, cropping the photo to conceal his son's bottom, but that didn't work either - by the following morning, it had vanished. Then, he got creative, reposting the original image but this time, covering his son's bottom with an image of Kim Kardashian's butt, which he obtained from one of her social media feeds.
"That one lasted four hours," says Costello. "I discovered it was deleted right before jumping on a plane to New York, so I spent the flight working on a new composite." The final product, which currently remains on his page, is the original photo with his family members covered up with images that include Kardashian (specifically, the 2014 Paper magazine cover shot of her nude body that "broke the internet"), Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Instagram influencer Dan Bilzerian, and a nude Miley Cyrus swinging on a wrecking ball.
"My family photo has now been removed 4 times, even after sincere efforts to conform to the community standards of Instagram," wrote Costello on his page. "I must confess I might be unclear as to what these standards are. Perhaps [my son's] butt wasn't the issue? To be completely safe I'm trying one last time… replacing my entire family with top Instagram influencers. Surely this will finally be in compliance."
A representative from Instagram tells Yahoo Lifestyle, "This post was removed in error and we are sorry. It has since been reinstated."
The company's anti-nude policy has proven confusing. In 2017, Australian influencer Jessa O'Brien, whose account the Nude Blogger features photos of her bare butt, was suspended from the platform for three weeks. "Since the deactivation of this account, I have embarked on a tireless crusade against the social media giants to raise awareness about body positivity and expose the contradictory nature of Instagram's blurred guidelines that only exacerbate appalling double standards," O'Brien wrote on Instagram, according to Mashable.
And in 2015, Chelsea Handler Instagrammed a photo of herself topless and riding a horse to mimic a picture of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, only to have it removed, twice. "If a man posts a photo of his nipples, it's ok, but not a woman? Are we in 1825?" and "If Instagram takes this down again, you're saying Vladimir Putin has more 1st amendment rights than I do," Handler captioned her posts.
Costello opposes Instagram's "hypocritical and arbitrary" policy, citing celebrities who post photos showing them scantily clad, which - in his perspective - threaten the platform's rules. He also believes Instagram should defer to his personal judgment regarding his family photos.
"It's a mystery how these decisions are made," says Costello. "The majority of my followers also have a personal connection to me, so if someone doesn't like my photos, don't follow me."