In 2015, while visiting Yellowstone with a group of friends, Aidan Weltner had an idea not uncommon to high school boys: “I started taking pictures of my friends mooning the camera.”
This is how the Instagram account Get Your Ass Into Nature (GYAIN) was born: as a joke. But it’s not a joke anymore. It’s a self-described “movement.” The account has garnered over 100,000 followers, spawned countless like-minded accounts, and told over 1,000 stories.
Each post shows a different person, fully nude or partially, but there are always three things: a butt, a beautiful scene, and a story told by the poster in the description.
Some of the stories are beautiful. One, for example, reads, “I find it challenging to be body positive when quarantine has changed my body. It seems like 2020 has been a lifetime. At the same time, I want to be myself and not lose hope. This is me. I’m a gay white disabled male and learning more about myself. I’m grateful to get my ass into nature.”
Others are more playful—reading, “Everyone has butts, some have nuts, others have boobs, and that’s cool too, just remember that whatever you got, own it and embrace it, cause that’s hot.”
Others are empowering, inviting you to take part: “Beauty comes in any shape, give an opportunity to yourself to discover what is up there.”
The goal, Weltner told The Daily Beast, is to directly combat what he called “the toxic culture of Instagram.” He hoped to turn social media on its head. Instead of inspiring fear of missing out or jealousy by posting “as so many other accounts do,” he wanted to bring awareness to our shared humanity, to “inspire a large group of normal, regular people to get outside and in the process, to love themselves a little more.”
And the butts play a crucial role. It might not seem like it, Weltner said, but “it was a very intentional decision to showcase just butts. It’s the most level playing field.” He said, “frontals might send the wrong message.”
I originally found the account in 2017—but it didn’t strike my friends or me as anything more than a “lol.” But during the early months of the pandemic, I began to feel more and more alienated from typical Instagram travel influencer accounts. Rather than filling me with wanderlust, they made me seethe with jealousy, made me feel like I was missing out on something.
I stumbled across Get Your Ass Into Nature again, and began scrolling through the deluge of buttocks. But suddenly the posts that I used to immaturely laugh at were imbued with meaning. Unlike influencers, these weren’t hypersexualized body parts floating in the void of Instagram, but instead, were and are real people, taking a chance. The photos are candid and courageous, they’re beautiful and daring and unique. As I read the posts and began to reach out to some of the posters, I began to wonder if I, too, had the courage to strip naked and post a photo of my butt in nature. Even the thought of it filled me with a certain excitement: the same one you might have while standing on a cliff, above a body of water, determining whether or not you should jump in.
Despite the power these posts hold, there have been a few snags along the way, and the difficulty of maintaining an online community has proven tenuous for Weltner, who has taken several hiatuses from posting.
The first issue stemmed from Instagram users, “mostly men,” looking at the posts for the incorrect reasons. Weltner noticed, especially when posting a picture of an attractive woman, which he says “get three to four times more likes than other posts,” there were “tons of gross comments,” and overall, “a hypersexualization of the posts that went against what GYAIN is about.”
The Instagram user @plantydropper spoke with The Daily Beast about this. After GYAIN posted her submitted photo, she said she got several direct messages that were inappropriate from strangers, such as, “got me drooling over here,” and “very sexy, nice ass.”
She said the “nice thing though, was Weltner messaged me separately and said to report any people who messaged me and he’d make sure they were blocked from the account.”
Weltner told The Daily Beast that this sort of toxic behavior only increased when he posted a picture of a gay man or a heavier woman. “The comments were hurtful, and heartbreaking,” Weltner said. “Especially when you’re trying to create a community that offers the exact opposite kind of thinking and offering a place for people to be vulnerable and tell their story.”
As a result, Weltner has turned off comments from the Instagram page for the foreseeable future. But he’s thinking about moving off of Instagram altogether.
He described a few cases where Instagram, he believes, was censoring posts that did not violate any of their guidelines, and found this especially prevalent with overweight women and gay men.
Instagram, at first, denied this claim. Stephanie Otway, a Facebook company spokesperson, told The Daily Beast, “[Instagram’s] nudity policy applies to everyone on Instagram, irrespective of their weight or sexuality.”
Instagram’s nudity policy defines nudity as “visible genitalia […] uncovered female nipples except in the context of breastfeeding, birth giving, health related situations or as an act of protest,” and “visible anus and/or fully nude close-ups of buttocks.”
When asked how these posts violated this policy, Otway speculated that “the policy doesn’t allow close-ups of nude butts, so my sense is that the removed images may have crossed that line (whereas the others don’t).”
As an example, The Daily Beast sent Instagram a picture that was removed from the platform, along with the warning/threat from Instagram, which read, “Your post goes against our community guidelines” and “if you post something that goes against our guidelines again, your account may be deleted, including your posts, archive, messages, and followers.”
When Instagram looked into it, they at first denied the post had ever been deleted. Upon further inspection, Instagram found and restored the post, along with two others, claiming that, “upon closer inspection these did not violate our policies.”
Instagam’s somewhat arbitrary deletion of posts that do not violate standards has proven a major issue for Weltner and other Instagram creators. Doug McConville, the founder of @CheeksonPeaks, another account like GYAIN, told The Daily Beast he believes he has been “shadowbanned” by Instagram. This means the account is removed from feeds of people who do not follow it, and occurs after posts have been reported and subsequently deleted.
McConville told The Daily Beast that “growth and interest in the account has been much slower as a result,” and that “it’s not fair, especially since none of my posts have violated Instagram’s guidelines and been permanently removed.”
Weltner echoed this sentiment. “Instagram is trying to make a family friendly platform, so I understand where they are coming from,” he said. “But I don’t understand why the human body needs to be regulated. We all have butts, why should that be a problem?”
These aren’t sexual posts,” @plantydroppa told The Daily Beast. “GYAIN is a place for people to feel liberated and have fun in nature, when our culture sees things like that as taboo.”
McConville put it best, though. The issue, he said is that “Instagram doesn't see a difference between accounts that showcase artful and fun partial nudity compared to accounts that are more sexual. And more than that, Instagram has a contradictory approach that both encourages and punishes content with any kind of nudity, including just butts.”