By Evelyn Gonzalez ‘18
Our constant participation within various social media platforms and the ease with which we can send texts and images has allowed the nude selfie to become a very common trend in our interactions with others. A nude, as it is most often called, is simply a photograph in which an individual and their body is presented in either partial or complete nudity. Examining nudes through a feminist lens lends itself to a discussion of complex issues surrounding bodies. While the nudes themselves tell us about a lot about representation, desire and agency, the social context in which they are placed also point to the paradoxical nature of the treatment of women and specifically their bodies.
There are many layers to uncover with respect to the topic of nudes. Taken at face value like most photographs, the nude selfie has the ability to change the direction of the gaze in ways that allow the individual some sense of power, authority and autonomy over their image. As you are taking the photo yourself, you have complete command over the way your body is positioned, what parts are shown, and other details that are usually left outside the sphere of your control. The self-representation aspect of nudes can be considered particularly powerful especially when applied to the concept of the body positivity movement. According to a Bust magazine article written by Meg Zulch, “nude photos are body positive because nudity tends to be stigmatized and all types of bodies deserve to be seen.” Nudity in this way can subvert societal ideas about desirability, attractiveness and the importance of the corporeal form in identity and self-esteem building. The nude photo, even if it never leaves the privacy of your own camera, could be a very healthy way to explore your body, get comfortable with your nakedness and have some fun with different types of self representation.
However, another argument could be made that while nudes certainly afford some sense of agency to some individuals who decide to partake in it, it’s important to remember that many of our decisions are a result of what we are exposed to and the daily contexts of our lives. Women especially are taught by society to place an extraordinary amount of value in their bodies and place notions of worth on it. In this way women’s bodies are often highly sexualized and objectified. I want to suggest here rather that nudes have the ability to turn the object into the subject simply by providing those methods of control which other types of images, such as those on magazines and billboards, do not often provide.
Nudes also often come with their own set of issues. One of the most prominent is the “unsolicited d*ck pic,” in which individuals receive photographs of male genitalia without their consent. Not only does it make for a highly uncomfortable situation, it is also an explicit form of sexual harassment. The nudes in this case are not about empowerment or representation at all, but rather stem from a sense of control and domination in sending these unwarranted images and knowing they subjected others to them.
However, many individuals are finding creative ways to answer back to these uninvited photos. Artist Whitney Bell, for example, constructed an art exhibit entitled, “I Didn’t Ask for This: A Lifetime of Dick Pics,” showcasing 150 pictures in order to illustrate the power dynamics that are evident in these photos. In addition, on a more serious note, while it is difficult to avoid these photos completely, Madeleine Holden, New Zealand writer and lawyer, has managed to turn the tables and created a Tumblr page entitled critiquemydickpic.tumblr.com in which she rates and comments on the artistic quality of the pictures her users send her, such as lighting and positioning. She was struck by “how unnecessarily rare it was to receive a good, consensually shared [photo], and [she] realized people needed some help with getting their [pictures] to that level”. In these ways, individuals are regaining control over the ways in which they send and receive nudes once more. Nudes are multi-faceted products of our current society and as such carry with them areas of contention and possibility.