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'We're not all Kim Kardashians' says Guelph photographer who received Facebook ban

'I couldn't be more grateful for the positive feedback I have received and the haters fuel me in knowing that what I am doing is important'

A Guelph photographer says the photos that got her banned on Facebook are a statement about body positive image, not something offensive.

Julia Busato sparked international attention this week after her mannequin photo series, featuring unconventional models posing nude and covered by strategically-placed mannequins, went viral on social media. It caused enough controversy to prompt social media giant Facebook to suspend Busato’s business account for violation of their nudity rules.

The 30-day ban, imposed after some users reported several of the images as inappropriate, or what Busato references as a spate of malicious reporting, severely limits Busato’s access to the site she relies on to run her business, even though it’s still online and accessible to the public.

The photos can be seen here.

When she started her mannequin series almost a full year ago, Busato said, she was merely looking to provide her models with an outlet that encouraged body positivity.

The series showcases dozens of mostly-female subjects – women of all shapes and sizes, uninterested in fitting into a stereotypical mold. The unifying theme – a transparent mannequin, regularly decorated by the model to suit her individual flare – covers most of her unclothed frame; sometimes a digitized blur is used, if further shroud is necessary.

“I let them express themselves the way they want to. It’s part of their story,” said Busato, 46, who has been running Julia Busato Photography for the last 10 years.

“The majority of these women are not professional models, but seriously real women – they’re makeup artists and belly dancers [and] teachers,” Busato said, adding that she knows each one, either personally, through social media or from modelling for her in the past. Most live within Guelph.

Just prior to the Facebook block, Busato posted a message on her page imploring those who found the images offensive to move on and denounced mean-spirited, malicious reporting she feared would lead to a ban and subsequent repercussions on her business and livelihood, not to mention the negative impact in the lives of the dozens of women involved.

In recent weeks, her photo series began to trail-blaze across the world through social media and has been shared over 200,000 times. Busato said she’d hoped the photos would make an impact but didn’t quite expect the outcome.

“I wanted everyone to take their naive goggles off and realize there are real people in this world and they’re not all Kim Kardashians,” she said.

While she’s received much praise in support of the project, she has also tried to quash negativity, outrage and postulations on the certain unhealthy lifestyles of some of the models left in Facebook comments.

The BBC was the first media outlet to contact Busato on March 20, soon after Facebook suspended her account without notice. Since then, Busato has been fielding incessant media requests that have flooded her phone and email.

“I definitely think BBC jousted it out a little bit further than it was actually going. I think [the reason] it’s getting so much attention is because people got angry,” Busato said.

Busato said she thinks people are offended by the images because the models unabashedly exude an expression that states “This is what I look like and you can either take it or you can leave it” and people might not know how to take that coming from an unconventionally-sized model.

“I think it’s a lot of their own insecurities about the human body,” she added.

Busato said she thinks Facebook set a bad precedent by bowing to online trolls and fears the ban imposed on her site will fuel more bullying.

“As people started being negative about my girls, so many . . . have supported them, shared this series and said ‘Let’s stand up and not let Facebook bully us’, Busato said. “[Facebook] is letting these people bully my models and they’re not taking that down. How is that okay? But an image of a beautiful, naked woman who is completely covered is not okay.”

Busato said there are many emotions going through her head at once – hurt, surprise, happiness, elation – and feels blessed to have a strong support system amidst the pressure.

“I hope there’s a light at the end of tunnel; I kind of need there to be. It’s a lot of pain and heartache to go through without something happening.”

She added, “I'm excited that people are seeing my work and message in the way that I want it to be seen. I couldn't be more grateful for the positive feedback I have received and the haters fuel me in knowing that what I am doing is important.

“I won't let this stop me. I plan to keep posting and keep working.”