I grew up with the development of digital cameras: when I was 14 I had to find creative ways of finishing up the film but by 17 I was already trying to find out the best angle for taking my own photos. One day, when I was 18, alone in my room I donned my best blouse, put on my favourite earrings, and did my make-up. It was a Friday night and I proceeded to photograph myself with the aid of a camera that allowed me to immediately see the results.
I appear smiling, serious, with closed eyes, defiantly looking directly at the lens or sheepishly turning away. I show some cleavage and one or two suggestive glances, but nothing else. Whom were these photos for? Just for me.
At that age a friend told me “Promise me that you will never wear a miniskirt”. I don’t know why he said it, but I do know what he meant. My body doesn’t resemble the bodies of the thin girls I grew up with, sporting a waist that never allowed me to become popular or even to aspire to have a boyfriend. I was not allowed to dress like the other girls. I understood this meaning as well as I understand it now: my body was, and still is, an object on which he is entitled to an opinion. I could not wear a miniskirt because he would find it repulsive. And this is how I grew up—inhabiting an image bestowed upon me by someone else. I never started feeling ugly until the men around me started telling me I was.
The pictures I took on that September 22 (the photos are stamped with the date) almost ten years ago were the beginning of something new. I was able to represent me to myself. I could find what made me look and feel attractive. I became at the same time my photographer, my art director, my model. I took control of how I wanted to look and how I wanted people to look at me. I didn’t know it then, but I was undertaking a revolutionary act: it has been over 20,000 years since women were able to control the means of representation. After the prehistoric Venuses, women have always been portrayed by and for men, and it is only with the advent of modern technology and personal cameras that we have achieved true self-representation—anybody can take a picture of themselves and decide whether to delete it or not. That is, for the first time in history we can be at the same time the eye that observes and the observed object, and this gives us an unprecedented power over what is represented.
I used those pictures on Hi5 and MSN messenger. My photos became more explicit as technology advanced: first I took coy pictures on the family camera, then I streamed videos using a small webcam, and now I have a multimedia collage in my cell phone. I have shared these images through e-mail, Facebook, WhatsApp and Skype. My sexual awakening goes hand in hand with technological breakthroughs as cameras become more intimate and more present in our everyday lives.
On Monday, September 1st, while I was reading Facebook, I found out about the celebrity photo leak by seeing a post on my friend’s wall titled “Why you shouldn’t see the naked pictures of Jennifer Lawrence”. I had not seen any of the photos until I opened the newspaper on the following morning—covering the whole page, a lingerie-clad J-Law looked at me intently. This is the only picture I have seen, and it deeply moved me. These are not the clandestine pictures taken with a telescope of Kate Middleton, pictures taken by a stranger using invasive technology and without her consent. The newspaper picture is something she took herself. Did she send it to someone? We don’t know. But I can assure you that this picture, just like mine, was meant for just one person: herself. Maybe Jennifer Lawrence has more contracts with luxury design brands than I do, but deep down we both need to take sexy selfies for the same reason: to dictate the terms in which we find ourselves attractive.
Much of what I have read regarding the Jennifer Lawrence scandal hinges upon the notion that she is to blame. We don’t talk about her being the victim of burglary (or sexual offence); we merely shrug our shoulders and say “she deserves this for having taken naked pictures of herself”. The writer Chuck Wnedig has the best response to this, where he points out that this declaration is dangerously close to how society blames rape victims for dressing in a certain way or being in a certain place. He talks about stealing cakes or punching strangers to point out how ridiculous this is. “Crimes are not a thing we deserve just because we exist in this world”, he says. As he points out in his twit, “‘If you don’t want nude pics leaked, don’t take nude pics with your phone —‘ *Tasers you* *steals your shoes* SHOULDN’T WEAR SHOES BRO”.
Many blame Lawrence for having taken naked pictures, especially because many of her characters have made her popular among girls and teenagers. “It’s her fault”, they say, “for taking naked selfies”. “She shouldn’t have taken naked selfies”, they scream, “because this makes her a bad role-model!”. The real question is, why a bad role-model? Does she have pictures with minors or animals? Is she incurring in sexual crimes? Why do we criminalize a woman that has only shown us —without her consent, mind you— that she sees herself as a sexual being? Because we don’t even have pictures of her having sex (with herself or a partner). The only thing she did was explore by and for herself her naked body, and for some reason we find this appalling.
I recently read a comic that reminded me of something I read in Simone de Beauvoir’s book The Second Sex. She says that a woman puts on a miniskirt as a means of self-expression and a man catcalls her to appropriate this expression. Naming, pointing and calling are the way men control women who “invade” their public space, which as the comic shows is perceived as belonging to men, not women. And these pictures point to the same thing: the naked bodies of women are not for them but for men. It happened to Marilyn, to Kate, to Julia Roberts in Notting Hill. And how many times has this happened to a guy? Maybe there are no scandalous naked pictures of men because they simply don’t take them and the just don’t exist, but I don’t think that is the reason. I believe that if we suddenly found pictures of Brad Pitt’s dick we would just go “I never thought it would be like this” and turn to something else. We don’t need to turn men’s bodies into national scandals because we don’t want to control them. Jennifer Lawrence, on the other hand, wanted to own her sexuality and the world replied “sorry honey, you’re a girl so you can’t do this”.
The truth is that as more people gain access to a camera, more people are taking naked selfies. And I urge you to do it, especially if you’re women. Take naked selfies! Take all the necessary naked selfies, and all the videos, and share them with someone if you so choose. These cell phone cameras have turned out to be the best tool for taking charge of your body. I have found that taking these pictures teaches me to see the beauty hiding in my body, and sharing them is taking charge of how others see us. My private pictures have taught me that you don’t need to be on a magazine’s cover to be beautiful, and especially they have allowed me to determine how others see me.
You know what? I don’t regret having taken those pictures. I won’t delete them—I want to be able to see myself as I am now, young and happy about my sexuality. I won’t stop taking these pictures either, because they are tools that remind me that my body is capable of giving great pleasure, not only to my partners but to myself. My body, clothed or unclothed, belongs to me and no one else, and it can only be accessed by another person if I allow it to happen by sending him the pictures. If anybody out there has enough dexterity to get and publish my pictures there is nothing I can do to stop it (although maybe you would make me famous through the Paris Hilton route). The only thing that I want is that, if my pictures are ever found, we can all shrug, yawn, and do something more fun than to publicize a woman’s private body.