Getting to the bottom of Bumgate

We present to you the tale of the bum that launched a thousand clicks, the buttocks that stopped a nation, the derriere of liberty, the thorn in Facebook’s backside…here is the true story of Bumgate… or the day Nanette Clifton displayed her bottom on national TV.

Last month Visual Emporium had a little run in with Facebook on a matter of nudity vs art vs pornography. For most of us the division between tasteful nudity and explicit eroticism can sometimes become a little blurred. The line between sensual art and pornography can challenge at times. Are Robert Mapplethorpe’s nudes artistic or borderline lewd, does Bill Henson break Australian censorship codes, how do we respond to Hokusai’s Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife? Sometimes it gets a little difficult to define when something is offensive or artistic. Steve Hillier discusses this and many other interesting issues about erotic art over a series of three insightful articles on his blog. (You should prepare yourself with a good strong brew of coffee with a dash of something harder – they’re an intense and fascinating read)

Good Nudes Bad Nudes Part One

Good Nudes Bad Nudes Part Two

Good Nudes Bad Nudes Part Three

In summary I think most of us can agree that sometimes it can be a challenge to determine if we are being titillated by the sight of risqué nudity or aroused by artistic creativity. Facebook however, doesn’t seem to think it’s hard to draw the line at all. Nudity and hard-core pornography are apparently intimate partners. I shall explain.

Several months ago Visual Emporium offered up Nanette Clifton’s Nude watercolour as a lucky draw prize for people who signed up to the Visual Emporium newsletter. We promoted her gorgeous artwork on Facebook for quite sometime, oblivious to the moral error in judgement that we had made. Foolishly assuming that similar to famous artists that preceded her such as Michelangelo, Botticelli, Carravaggio, Rodin, Manet, Gauguin, Boyd, Lindsay etc etc, Nanette was able to depict the naked human form and not cause offence. We believed that the child-like innocence of Nanette’s nude in a moment of repose was merely a moment of delicious solitude captured by an astute brush.

Alas we were wrong

Unbeknownst to us, we had been promoting pornography all along. The day came when Visual Emporium editor, Ilia decided to promote Nanette’s image and invite a wider audience to enter the competition to win Nanette’s nude. Despite filling in the check boxes where she targeted people over the age of 18 with an interest in art and design, when she attempted to apply for a paid promotion, Facebook rejected the image for rather surprising reasons. Here is part of their response.

Here’s why we couldn’t approve this ad:

Your ad content violates Facebook Ad Guidelines. Ads are not allowed to promote the sale or use of adult products or services, including toys, videos, publications, live shows or sexual enhancement products. Ads for family planning and contraception are allowed if they follow our targeting requirements.”

Unfortunately Ilia couldn’t quite work out a way to weave a family planning message into Nanettes nude without possibly violating laws of decency and offending folk, so she felt obliged to take the next step.


Ilia’s response was fairly predictable – she stated the obvious:

“This is an image of a work of art available as a prize. It is not pornographic or relate to the adult industry in any way what so ever. It is an image of an original watercolour painting of a life model. It depicts a person reclining. It is not promoting anything other than a painting. I do not see how it relates to any adult products or services. It depicts an image of a person from behind – it is not explicit or offensive in any way. I see far more provocative photographic imagery on Facebook pages regularly!”

To which, the lovely (but possibly  a little sexually naive) Kyle responded with:

“Your ad was rejected because the image doesn’t follow our ad guidelines. Ads may not use overly sexual images, suggest nudity, show a lot of skin or cleavage, or focus unnecessarily on specific body parts. This is also applicable to the images present on your Pages.

Let me know if you need more help from my end. Have a great day.”

Ilia was not having a great day however, and feeling somewhat peeved responded with the following petulant query:

“Hi Kyle, I just want to check with you…

The attached screen captures are from a well followed facebook page. There are quite a number of similar public pages. What you are telling me is that an artistic representation of someone quietly reclining is not acceptable, however these images are? I’m a little confused. I think a dialogue about the nature of nudity, sexuality, innuendo and censorship needs to be commenced if this is the case. My view of this is that something that is unclothed can be innocent of innuendo, and something partially concealed can be overtly sexual and quite provocative – or am I being silly? 


She proceeded to attach several erotic images from a fairly well loved Facebook page, all with over 350 likes of girls bottoms (barely clothed – but that’s what made them so damn sexy) being provocatively aimed at the camera. For fear of causing offence with our more ‘moral’ readers, we will not show these images as they were clearly NOT art, and had definitely crossed our invisible line.

To cut a protracted epic short – Facebook replied by announcing the case was closed. End of story…

Not for Visual Emporium however. The media were notified, and before long, The Gold Coast Bulletin ran a major story on page 3 , an online publication called scenestr.  discussed the issue and Sunrise had featured Nanette’s resplendent buttocks on national morning TV

By this reaction, Visual Emporium can only guess that  public sentiment was not that dissimilar to theirs. Where on earth did Facebook get its moral code from?

It makes one wonder about our so-called evolving moral values, or greater wisdom and fear of the great unclothed. From our days in caves where fertility symbols were rife – clearly primarily for promoting our sexuality to ancient Greece and Rome where naked deities sprawled licentiously with beasts of the field in the hope of corrupting young maidens, to the libertine 60s and now… the era of Facebook morality where a naked bottom causes shudders of ethical terror for an invisible character called Kyle somewhere in cyberspace. Who are we protecting from what? Anyone can hop online and google hardcore porn. You can catch a bit of late night foreign naughtiness on TV as you flick between channels in the evening. As you wander through shopping centres you might see lingerie images that offend and tease (or simply arouse, depending on your inclination)… Billboards make lewd suggestions at passing traffic.

Why is the social media giant who allows beheadings to be displayed on their pages so squeamish about a pair of nicely formed buttocks?

I guess we shall never know, but one thing is clear. The minute you try to hide something, the more it protrudes.  The Visual Emporium Facebook page concentrated solely on ‘Nipplegate’ for over a week in response.  If we weren’t allowed bottoms – perhaps erect nipples might be ok. This appears to indeed be the case – Facebook did not appear to mind.  Poor Nanette however, was harassed on her personal page for posting some of Michaelangelo’s finer work. Interesting days. Still, Visual Emporium received some lovely exposure – possibly more than if Facebook had quietly approved Nanette’s image. Just goes to show… Besides, not everyone can boast that they diplayed their bum on national TV…

For those of you wondering, Errol Pike was the lucky winner of Nannette’s beautiful work!

Nude by Nanette Clifton