A few years ago, someone broke into my email and then used it to get into all sorts of other things. Among the very many things I panicked about was: Will they see my nude pictures? Because like everyone else, I have hackable pictures of myself naked.
These are not sexual, come-hither images. There’s a photo of me wading into a freezing stream on a backpacking trip, 10,000 feet up. In one I’m naked by a glacier, getting my courage up for a plunge in the pool at its base. There are a bunch of them, from multiple trips. Goofy photos that add up to a collage of high-altitude nudies.
In the end, none got out. (Phew.) But if they had been circulated, I would have felt pretty embarrassed—and that’s irrational.
In the beginning, we are all naked and unashamed. As children we run through backyard sprinklers and into oceans unencumbered by garments. But age and society train us to hide our native forms. They train us that certain parts of our bodies are different from others and that we should hide them. Yet cultural norms are different in different places and different times. Were this the 19th century, our mere ankles would offend. Yet today in Scandinavia, we might get naked and sit in a sauna—men and women alike—without sweating it.
This is not an argument in favor of sexting; it is an argument against shame.
It’s time for the cultural norm that says nude photos are shameful or shocking to end. There are simply too many naked pictures of too many people—and they’re about to be all over our screens.
Take sexts. Sexting is great. Sharing an intimate moment when we’re not physically together with someone we love is a gift. But that gift can turn into a curse when the intimate moment becomes less intimate—when a photograph is broadcast widely in the service of revenge, belittlement, objectification, or bragging rights.
Such incidents are, rightly, described in terms of assault. They are not just gross violations of privacy and trust, they are often crimes. And the wretched little shits who perpetrate them ought to be shunned, prosecuted, and imprisoned.
Yet we should also recognize that it is only the creeps who seek to distribute those photos, or access them once distributed, who have done something shameful. There is nothing to be ashamed of in having taken a naked picture and sent it to another person who consents to it.
Don’t Look So Shocked
But this is not an argument in favor of sexting; it is an argument against shame. Fortunately, that shame may solve itself—because we are all about to get naked on the Internet. Even discounting sexts, nude images of ordinary people will soon be ubiquitous. There are just so many naked pictures of you to choose from.
There are the ones that we’re starting to see already: images from webcams and home-security cameras that are either hacked or inadvertently broadcast to the net. There are illicit ones from the doctor’s office. There are the ones from the TSA scanner. There are cameras everywhere.
Matt Haughey, founder of MetaFilter, recently got caught in this pervasive web of digital imagers. He has an Internet-connected Dropcam pulling security duty in his house, and one day he walked past it naked. The camera captured its jaybirdly owner and uploaded it to the cloud. The Dropcam then, helpfully, sent a notification to Haughey’s email that something had moved in his home. Something naked. Haughey mused on his blog how easy it could be for someone to see his junk. He has a point.
Everything you feel, smell, and see is leaping onto the Internet, just as everything is becoming a camera. A Really Good Camera. Perhaps your naked image is already on a neighbor’s Dropcam, which happened to see in your window as you walked past without any pants on. Maybe it was caught by a Google Street View camera or in the reflection in a mirror pond as a drone zoomed over, filming in 4K. *Snap*!
The nudes are out there.
In the coming years, when you Google someone’s name, it won’t be shocking to see nude pictures interspersed among the results, no big deal: LinkedIn profile, professional society award, naked picture, Facebook Page (private), and so on. We just have to stop caring about other people’s nudity. We should quit being shocked, and we should quit being shamed, because the shame is not ours, only the genitals are. And your genitals are wonderful. You should show them to the world.