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Facebook backtracks on photo ban of plus-size model

Facebook has reportedly apologized for initially banning a photo of a plus-sized model that it had deemed as depicting "a body or body part in an undesirable manner" and violating its "health and fitness policy."

An Australian feminist group, Cherchez la Femme, wanted to use the image of plus-size model Tess Holliday wearing in a bikini to advertise an event the group is due to hold next month on body positivity entitled "Feminism and Fat."

Facebook rejected the group's ad request, however, because it said the image "violates Facebook's Ad Guidelines by promoting an idealized physical image."

When the group complained, a woman who identified herself only as Jenny from Facebook's Ads Team explained more of the rationale behind the decision, saying in a message to the group that the image of Holliday did not comply with the social media giant's "Health and Fitness Policy."

Types of images not allowed under the policy include "close-ups of 'muffin tops' where overhanging fat is visible," "people with clothes that are too tight" and "people pinching their fat/cellulite," it said, as these adverts "make viewers feel bad about themselves." Its policy is designed to prevent unhealthy weight loss it said.

Model Tess Holliday
Allen Berezovsky/WireImage
Model Tess Holliday

"Instead we recommend using an image of a relevant activity, such as running of riding a bike," Jenny wrote, according to the message displayed on Cherchez la Femme's Facebook page.

Although Facebook said it would not take the event page down, the advert to promote the event would not be approved, Jenny added. Cherchez la Femme did not take the rejection lightly.

"We're raging pretty hard over here — both because Facebook seemingly has no idea that plus sized, self-describing fat women can feel great about themselves, and also because we haven't been able to boost the original damn post," said Cherchez La Femme producer Jessamy Gleeson on the group's Facebook page.

Amid a backlash against Facebook for refusing the image, with many users pointing out that Facebook seemed to be "fat-shaming" and did not object to celebrities such as Kim Kardashian wearing "tight clothes," on Monday, Facebook reportedly apologized.

According to media reports, Facebook gave a statement to Cherchez la Femme in which it said: "Our policies are in place to protect the community from offensive ads. This is not the case here and I'm sorry for our incorrect review."

It added that it "processes millions of ads per week, and there are instances that we incorrectly disapprove an image."

A Facebook spokesperson told CNBC in an emailed statement: "Our team processes millions of advertising images each week, and in some instances we incorrectly prohibit ads. This image does not violate our ad policies. We apologize for the error and have let the advertiser know we are approving their ad."

Cherchez la Femme declined further comment.