Tag Archives: autonomy

Celebrity Nude Photo Leak: Scandal or SEX CRIME OBVIOUSLY UGH

Some low life leaked photos of female celebrities this weekend, notably the wonderful Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and Ariana Grande. And it’s being covered as a ‘scandal’.

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It’s not a scandal. It’s a sex crime.

Lena Duhnam succinctely sums up my feelings about the most oft used excuse for viewing the leaked shots:

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You shouldn’t be viewing these photos because you don’t have permission. They were not taken for you. These actresses have not chosen to share the images, they were not shot in a professional setting, no one was compensated. They are not ‘for sale’. They are private. Say it with me: PRIVATE.

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Listen, real talk: obviously I would love to see Jennifer Lawrence naked. I think she is beautiful, and bodies are beautiful, and that would be dope. But I won’t go find those pics, and I won’t link to where to find them, because this incident is a part of a clear pattern of misogyny and the policing of female sexuality and bodies. Celebrities give up a lot of privacy to have a career. Some of that I believe is part of their job, but some of it is a clear invasion. Women in particular, models and actresses and pop stars, are policed at a very high level. We speculate about their romantic lives ad nauseum (Jennifer Aniston etc) and we obsess over their bodies, circling supposed problem areas if they get too large (Jessica Simpson etc) or speculating about their health if they become too skinny (Nicole Richie, Angelina Jolie etc). This level of scrutiny is cruel, and it serves no one. We expect these women to hold to the standards we’ve all set for them, otherwise they face the wrath of tabloids and fans who will withhold their adoration until the standards are once again achieved. We hold them up as goddesses, but are quick to snatch them back down to earth if they ‘let themselves go.’

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But talent is not linked with a particular body type. This is why Christina Aguilera can belt at any size, and why Adele is effing glorious. The same applies to actresses, who needn’t be under 120 lbs to give a performance that is moving, convincing, funny or deep. Our adoration should be about performance, about the ability to consistently BRING IT. And yet instead of pledging our alegiance to those that move us, we worship goddesses of beauty and glamour. And I get it, because beauty and glamour are extremely appealing and alluring. But the standards are too rigid. The definitions of beauty of too strict and too immobilizing. The demands can never be maintained. And we are all just waiting for the slip up, so we can point out the flaws and I suppose feel some kind of catharsis or redemption because they are like us? Because perfection is an illusion, and we need them to prove it to us?

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This instance, though, can be spun as part of that worship. Which is gross. Because the naked body is private. It is for sharing only with those that you wish to share it with. This is not the same thing as to say it is shameful. It’s not shameful. Bodies are beautiful. The difference between what is private and what is shameful is not well articulated in our culture, and so we mostly teach girls that their bodies and their sexuality and their periods and their desires are shameful, when really those things are just private. Shaping them as private things has a much different connotation, because it is up to you to decide the boundaries of your personal privacy. Things are are private are under the purview of your own agency, subject to decisions that you are empowered to make for yourself. Shameful things have already been decided on for you, by someone else (your mother, your peers, the culture at large.) These photos were stolen and released without consent to shame these women. And the most common response is ‘Well if they don’t want them seen, then they shouldn’t take them’ which is indeed victim blaming akin to the ‘she was dressed provocatively’ or ‘don’t drink so much’ defense hurled at rape victims. The assumption is that if you take naked photos you are acting as a sexual being and if you are a woman that makes you a slut and you deserve to be exposed for what you are. She was asking for it. The only people responsible for crimes are those that commit them. In what realm of reality would it be unreasonable for a person to take intimate photos for themselves or a partner, and expect that only the person intended to see those photos would see them? Why wouldn’t a person imagine that their privacy be respected? If you believe that celebrities owe us even this, even their most intimate moments, then I think you are a delusional and unreasonable and not nice and unclear about what consent is and means. (Also: What are you hoping to find in those photos? Cause I’m pretty sure the fact that celebrities are naked under their clothes is not exactly revelatory information….)

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Women do not owe anyone access to their bodies. Famous women don’t owe you access to their nudity. Women in public don’t owe you access to touch them, to comment on their appearance, and they don’t owe you a smile. This incident highlights the way in which our culture functions to remind women that their bodies are not their own. It’s all connected friends, from street harassment to reproductive rights to the constant scrutiny and hunger for ever more provocative and revealing images. Don’t look at those pictures. They don’t belong to us.

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“Alternative” Visions of Beauty.

I recently read a very thoughtful and insightful personal essay written by an ‘alternative model’ named Carrie Jo. I put that in quotes because  I hate the term alternative modeling. It is almost always applied to women with visible tattoos and other body modifications. I think that women with tattoos are beautiful, period end of sentence. Their beauty isn’t about being different or exotic, or at least it doesn’t have to be.  What the fuck does alternative even mean?

adj.  offering or expressing a choice;

different from the usual or conventional: as

a:  existing or functioning outside the established cultural, social, or economic system

Alright, thanks Merriam Webster. So I guess in this case tattooed models are functioning outside of the established fashion system, where designers don’t want tattoos distracting from their designs. Both systems suck. In one, women are clothes hangers and must be shaped as such. And in the other, women’s bodies are the consumable product, existing only to be visually devoured and objectified. The author, Carrie Jo, comments on the well known Suicide Girls alternative modeling company, saying “While [Suicide Girls] still feature many different kinds of women with many different kinds of “looks”, the personalities of each individual model are lost. They are now just objects for masturbatory release, rather than women making a statement.” Her point is that Suicide Girls, nowadays, are practically interchangeable with traditional lingerie and pin-up models. Except they have tattoos. They are not, in reality, pushing the boundaries of what we consider beautiful. And they are often hypersexualized. In fact, I know a lovely lady who is tatted up and models, and indeed most of the photos she shares are very sexualized, bordering on pornographic. There is nothing wrong with that, and she looks super gorgeous. But why should she be limited to that kind of photo, that kind of look? Why should her tattoos restrict her versatility? Why are our visions of what can be beautiful, traditional, pretty and feminine so limited?

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The thing about feeling beautiful, is that in it’s purest form it is a feeling that is for you and not for others. When we talk about street harassment, one of the reasons some people don’t understand why it’s not a compliment is because they can’t fathom a world where women aren’t in constant pursuit of male approval. The assumption is ubiquitous that women make an effort to look good explicitly for men, and that they should be making this effort all the time. That assumption is sexist and heteronormative, which means that when you don’t conform to beauty standards, you are defying the patriarchy. And that makes you dangerous.

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But what about the things that make us feel beautiful that have nothing to do with an outside gaze? And I don’t even mean things like yoga, or being creative or being kind (which are super important, obviously.) I mean actual work you do on your appearance, that makes you feel pretty without necessarily making you more conventionally attractive. I like to paint my nails lots of different colors using vegan nail polish. And I recently died my hair lavender. And I’ve found that even though my hair is the longest it’s been in almost 10 years, I don’t really feel like myself and I cannot wait to cut it short again. I don’t dispute that it looks cute, but a very short ‘do just makes me feel sassy and real.

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Carrie Jo’s article hit me hard not only because I happen to have tattoos (and I totally agree that it’s still a radical claim to your own body and a very visible challenge to patriarchal aesthetics) but because the comments made on her photos are so vile and cruel. And she makes an extremely interesting point towards the end of her piece: “I’m not a ‘model for a magazine on the internet’, nor is this social media site ‘my employer’ putting me on display to be ‘judged.’ These photos are shared to be ENJOYED.” I thought that assertion was super important, because the commenters on her photos and indeed all over the web feel entitled and justified in their cruelty, because in their minds all images of women exist for them and for their consumption. They exist to be judged and if they are not up to par then they deserve to be called out. But what about the idea that images are for enjoyment, meant to be seen but not judged? Why is it that we can’t consume the images of women without dissecting their value against pre determined standards? Why do we tear them apart?

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I have gotten to a point in my life where I accept that certain parts of me will never change to be more conventional, and I do not (often) mourn that fact. I appreciate my body as it is (usually), and I try to express my true self in how I look and dress. I’ll never have flowing, feminine locks or feel comfortable in girly dresses and bows and heels. I used to wish that I was ‘prettier’, that I felt comfortable looking traditionally feminine (think Blaire Waldorf.) But that’s not me, it doesn’t feel authentic to me, and I am done fighting with myself. Self-love is a journey, and so I must strive everyday towards this end, towards being at peace with my physical self. I wish that the images we are bombarded with were more varied, more inclusive in their standards. It shouldn’t be so hard for girls to feel confident and secure. It shouldn’t have to be a life long struggle. I wish we were all more kind to ourselves, and to each other. I wish the media would push themselves to the point where women could be applauded for celebrating not just what is beautiful about them according to cultural standards, but what is beautiful about them according to themselves.

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Oh Westley, if only it were that easy. For now, we need to do our best to fight back against internet trolls, and that battle starts within ourselves. If you are consuming media, and you find yourself being harsh or judgmental when looking at models or actresses, check yourself. It’s not necessary. Don’t say it out loud, try to stop yourself from even thinking it. Because that’s just not a productive use of any of our collective energy. It’s hard though, I’m not going to lie. I caught myself thinking just yesterday that a girl in running gear didn’t have very well defined calves. I mean, what the actual fuck. Who is that thought helping? Not me. Not her. Not all of us who’ve been taught that women’s bodies are objects that exist for the enjoyment of others, that they ought to be dissected, that they are ours to comment on. And the internet is overrun with folks who are emboldened by anonymity,  drunk with it’s power and spewing their gross and ignorant judgments. Let’s overtake the negative with positive. Let’s make the spaces we inhabit online a force for joy and light. It’s not actually complicated: be kind. To yourself, to those you love, to those you just met, to those you will never meet. Recognize the humanity in the faces and images you come across, empathize with their struggle even if you don’t know the details, and appreciate what is beautiful and unique about people without measuring it against some bullshit pre-determined standard. Beauty is so much more than symmetry or a breast-to-waist ratio or small features or large features or lipstick or bare skin or silence. It can’t be completely described, and it certainly can’t be contained, and we are not bound to it any more than we allow ourselves to be.

So be free.

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And wild out.

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Be kind.

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Most importantly, love yourself.

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