The other week I had a woman come to my house for a body empowerment photo shoot and while we were shooting, she told me that recently she had a bad experience with a male and that this photo shoot means a lot to her because in a way she’s reclaiming her body. She was talking to a guy online and they were getting along really well. After a while he became very aggressive and possessive. She didn’t appreciate this and decided it was better to not continue talking. In response, he made an Instagram account to upload her nudes and sent her boss an email degrading her. Sadly, her story is similar to many other women’s around the world, whose nude images have been used against them by men.
Non-consensual sharing of intimate images, commonly referred to as “revenge porn”, is a crime in Queensland and anyone convicted of distributing explicit images or videos of a person without their consent can face up to three years in jail. Her story was slightly different though, because the man didn’t live in the same state, or even in the same country. Ultimately, she was helpless and in distress because the man she trusted betrayed her, posting her intimate images for the world to see and creating a situation where she felt humiliated around her employer.
I already know what some of you are thinking in your heads, “Well that’s what you get for sending nude images in the first place.” This view is troublesome. This type of thinking is exactly what is wrong with society, and exactly why many women feel ashamed, humiliated and unworthy in vulnerable situations such as this.
Though, there is a deeper issue at hand. This issue is that society has a negative perception of nudity and taking a nude photo of oneself is commonly considered “dirty” or “unladylike”. You may not understand or agree with this view, but it is time to accept that modesty empowers some and nudity empowers others. There’s no right or wrong. However, it is wrong to put others down for their choices.
“A lot of people think nudity is equal to sex…There is nothing inherently sexual about nudity. You can be highly sexual with all of your clothes on. You can also be non-sexual with your clothes off. Please stop sexualising the nude body.” -Namaste Hannah (https://www.instagram.com/p/CB04-JfFoDn/)
The deeply rooted societal idea that nudity is sexual is half the reason nudity is used as a weapon or threat against women. It is also the reason it is also accompanied by gendered and sexist slurs, such as “slut” and “whore”. Slut has always been a derogatory term used to describe women, starting as “a woman of dirty, slovenly, or untidy habits or appearance” and then evolving to its current definition, “a sexually promiscuous woman, or a woman who behaves or dresses in an overtly sexual way”. Slut has also always been gendered; whereas women are condemned for their sexuality or sexual desires, men are congratulated or even encouraged.
Ideas about nudity, sexuality and promiscuity are especially evident on social media. Images and videos are constantly deleted and censored for not meeting social media’s standards. For example, Instagram’s community guidelines state that they don’t allow “photos, videos, and some digitally created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks. It also includes some photos of female nipples…” These guidelines are decided by people who conform to societal norms and sexualise the body, art or otherwise.
So, where does censoring start and finish? Censoring is a very touchy subject, and lines are often hazy. They’re also sometimes contradictory. How is it possible for me to see paid promotions of models in lingerie from companies on Instagram, but I can’t promote my own photography because it doesn’t conform to Instagram’s advertising policies? Sounds like double standards to me. Also, ads cannot include “nudity, depictions of people in explicit or suggestive positions, or activities that are overly suggestive or sexually provocative.” I can already see flaws in this policy. Firstly, what is a “suggestive” pose? Suggestive is a subjective phrase, so to whom do these photos need to be penned as suggestive? Do these people have a vendetta against women expressing their sexuality or femininity? It goes on to give examples of what is classified as sexually suggestive content and this includes “excessive visible skin or cleavage, even if not explicitly sexual in nature” and “images focused on individual body parts, such as abs, buttocks or chests, even if not explicitly sexual in nature”. If it isn’t explicitly sexual in nature, who has the right to choose whether it is or isn’t conceived in a sexual way?
My photography focuses on details of the female body, including images focused on individual body parts like breasts or butts with stretchmarks, but I am not allowed to promote my photography work through Instagram because it is considered “sexually suggestive”. When did excessive visible skin become offensive and why can brands promote it, but smaller businesses or individuals can’t?
None of the issues I’ve discussed will change until society changes, and society won’t change until our views of females, sexuality and nudity do. We need to learn to not pass judgements on other people’s choices. As the feminist saying goes, “My body, my choice”.