I was 12 when I took my first “nake.” I donned my finest Limited Too bra that made my cleavage sit just right. I stood in my bathroom mirror with my shoulders arched back, my foot beveled inward, my free hand on my waist and the other in the center of my stomach, making my budding B cups the focal point of my brand new Nokia flip phone.
I have no idea how that photo found its way to my parents, but as I sat sandwiched between my weeping mother and concerned father a week later, it's safe to assume they took a field trip into the archives of my cellular device. The funny thing is, the photo, although assumed by my mother, wasn't for the boyfriend I had at the time, seeing as 8th-grade wasn’t a pivotal time in my love life. I honestly just took it for myself.
I'd very much noticed my body begin to change into that of a woman's, and this fact didn't necessarily please me, but it did fascinate me. I was entranced with this idea of my form taking a permanent shape, even within the confines of a 2-by-1.5 inch cellphone screen. I was a pretty progressive preteen.
My parents didn't exactly hold the same sentiments. Through whimpers, my mom whispered to me words likebut what about your future, while my father chimed in with sentiments surrounding my self respect. Even if the action held no malintent, it was absolutely inappropriate for me to display my underaged body.
So let's fast forward to 2016, where I am now a 21-year-old senior in college, scrolling aimlessly through her Instagram feed.
Last week Kim Kardashian West posted a nude selfie with her breasts and vaginal region blocked out by little black bars. As expected, comments belittling both her womanhood and motherhood flooded her feed. And although I don't love to keep up with Kim Kardashian, I do believe in the intersectional respect of women. Kardashian West responded to the verbal attacks saying, “I am a mother. I am a wife, a sister, a daughter, an entrepreneur and I am allowed to be sexy #happyinternationalwomensday.”
Not only is she the one taking the photo, but she is the one posting it. Unlike most celebrities who have unfortunately had their naked photos published without their consent, Kardashian West, like many other trailblazing women, has taken the liberty to assert her own power over her body. There is a sense of autonomy that resonates in me as both a viewer and as a woman who has taken many photos in the same stance and felt totally validated in my skin because of it.
In a study conducted by Cosmopolitan, the magazine found that of 850 mostly female college aged students, 89 percent have taken naked photos of themselves and 82 percent said they would do it again. I am honestly just ready to wake up and read a headline that says: Celebrities! They're just like us! They take naked photos of themselves! Vanessa Hudgens, Jennifer Lawrence, and essentially all the women slut-shamed for having too much sexuality for male-dominated mainstream to handle, are being chastised for doing something many of us (both men and women) do.
Even the verbiage we use when discussing naked photos is problematic. I’ve only had my naked photos accepted by my peers if they were tasteful, i.e., when there’s better lighting, more clothing involved, or my face wasn’t in it.
There are even vastly different connotations of the word “naked” versus the word “nude.” In Kenneth Clark’s book, The Nude, he wrote, "The word 'nude' on the other hand, carries an educated usage, no uncomfortable overtone. The vague image it projects into the mind is not of a huddled defenseless body, but of a balanced, prosperous and confident body." Usually for naked to turn to nude, it must be curated under the guise of “art.” Not to negate this narrative, but this idea reinforces that only certain naked bodies are allowed to have merit value, no matter how they are contorted in a bathroom mirror. The “right naked body” extends beyond say the sought after cover of Vanity Fair, but predates to the Victorian nude paintings or sculptures. These usually white, well-lit, elongated, porcelain bodies or petite marble creatures were the bodies that were allowed to be deemed nude.
We continue to victim blame women who choose to grace the digital world with their bare bodies, and the ones who have that choice made for them, instead of shaming the peevish and childish perpetrators who think it best to expose them. Women’s bodies are constantly exploited and hyper-sexualized the minute they begin to take fuller shapes, sometimes before that. In Body Play, a collection of monologues regarding people’s experiences with their bodies, feminist blogger Betty Terrapin says, “I wonder how differently my process of getting to be at peace with my body and all that would have gone if I hadn’t had a period of time where it was just like constantly being sexualized. I think all girls go through that at some extent and it's really unfortunate because that's just how we decide to make girls women—to make them feel ashamed about the fact that they are women.”
I surely have sent out some (stunning) nudes, or have taken some just because I was feeling myself, but personally have not published any. But even with strict guidelines enforced by popular social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, we’re rarely allowed the safe space to let even a nipple slip.
We should all be working to create such platforms where it is perfectly fine to liberate your libido and fully express your sexuality. I’m not advocating for everyone to send out their best tit pics or dick pics but we, especially women, should have the autonomy to own our bodies and display them as we so choose. Surely this quote is wildly outdated, but Michelangelo once proposed, “What spirit is so empty and blind, that it cannot recognize the fact that the foot is more noble than the shoe, and skin more beautiful that the garment with which it is clothed?”