Photo by Lynnette Oon
Photo by Lynnette Oon

From the bedroom to campus: How one girl’s nude photo went from private to public and why you should care

Some histories can never be cleared: understanding the effects of those nude selfies on your future, and why there’s nothing that you can do about it anymore

“Send me a pic” he texts. You’re both busy, in different places, and there’s no mistaking what kind of photograph he’s referring to. Maybe you’re both struggling to stay invested in a long-distance relationship, or maybe it’s simply that you’re both workaholics whose physical intimacy has fizzled due to time restraints. What happens when someone who you love and trust asks for a nude photo favour? Long-distance could lead to forever—so, maybe it’s a good idea.

But what if you end up hating each other’s guts one day? Someone catches a glimpse of that photograph from over his shoulder? What if he loses his phone? Nude photo sharing has become a hot trend of our time. Sexual Snapchatting, Skyping, and plain old picture texting are all regarded with a surprisingly blasé attitude among twenty-somethings of today. It’s an especially prominent trend among those attending colleges away from home, resulting in, often times, being away from a significant other.

In August 2014, personal nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Arianna Grande, and a number of other female celebrities were released through a hacking of iCloud by unidentified persons and posted on the Internet forum 4chan. In response to the incident, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook denies the company’s servers were to blame. Furthermore, Cook informed The Journal that the hackers most likely provided correct answers to the security questions asked when one forgets a password, or were victims of a phishing scam.

Who is to blame for the scandal? Is it the people who had saved nude photos of themselves on their own computers in their own homes? In response to the incident, Lena Dunham tweeted, “The “don’t take naked pics if you don’t want them online” argument is the “she was wearing a short skirt” of the web. Ugh.”

Photos by Kelsi Barkved
Photos by Kelsi Barkved

The act of having nude photos of yourself or your partner has become an almost naturalized, accepted aspect of modern intimacy it seems.  Cosmopolitan.com has an entire section of their web content allotted to sexting. One article header reads: “Sexting: Naughty Ideas to Try Today”, furthermore, the section byline states that “The best sexts are like great foreplay—they’re spicy but still leave a little to the imagination.” The section goes on to explore which celebrities allegedly do it, and include other “facts”, such as “Science: Sexting is totally normal”.

Speaking to college-age girls at UBCO and elsewhere (all of whom asked to remain anonymous), the commonality of this internet/mobile intimacy trend is only further confirmed.

One young woman sent her (now ex) boyfriend pictures in the past. She told me that she doesn’t regret it because “he’s a trustworthy person—in that sense”. Living in the same city, only a few minutes apart, I asked why she made the decision to hit send: “I wanted a naked pic in return,” she explained. Her advice to other young girls considering doing so? “I wouldn’t do so with anyone that I wasn’t in a deep relationship with, and who I knew cared as much about me as I did for them, in return.”

Another girl answered yes to the question without hesitation, clarifying that she was  six months into the relationship. She explained that it was because of long distance, and “to remind him”, or make sure that he would still be attracted, despite their time and distance apart. Her advice to other girls: “I wouldn’t send it to anyone I didn’t one hundred percent trust.” Another young girl explained that she wouldn’t consider sending one to a guy that she wasn’t dating just because “he would be more likely to show his buddies”. She recommended “For future young ladies, I’d say not to put your face in it, send it to a guy you have been seeing for a long time and you have an emotional connection with, and pray to God it doesn’t get sent around. Oh yeah, make sure he sends you one first. Deal breaker [if he won’t]."

Photo by Lynnette Oon
Photo by Lynnette Oon

It seems that most can agree that digital nude photography has joined the category of foreplay, being considered by most to be an acceptable aspect of intimate relationships. However, just one month ago, a young woman’s photograph that she snapped in the privacy of her own home, that resides on her personal computer, meant for someone whom she trusts, is released on the Internet for all to see by a complete stranger who hacked into her privacy. Suddenly, the whole country and their mother are shaking a finger at Jennifer Lawrence, and having dinner table debates about what a horrible “mistake” she made. Now, these nude photographs have become ammunition to slut shame these women. So, whose fault is it really?

I asked Paul Marck, UBCO’s Manager of Media Relations (Paul has also worked for thirty years as a journalist and editor, as well as written extensively about media issues and telecommunications), about copyright associated with personal images, and if there is any legal action that someone could take against their own personal photographs being distributed freely amongst internet users:

“Digital media has really taken the bite out of copyright.” Marck compared the issue of nude photo sharing to music file sharing: “much of which largely violates copyright issues as people freely trade an artist’s copyrighted work online.” He claims that enforcement regarding these issues is nearly impossible. “Whether high art, sexting, or professional portfolio photos, these may indeed be copyrighted images. And in the case of the nude celebrities scandal, they certainly constitute private information. But once that privacy has been violated and photos are mass-shared via social media, it’s like trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube—it just doesn’t work. Trying to hold online providers liable for a wrong committed by a hacker client is a stop-gap measure at best.”

Not everyone feels the need to use nude photos to entice their partner. One UBCO student in a long-distance relationship from Australia to Kelowna says that her boyfriend repeatedly asks for nude photos from her, but she has never given in. She claims that she trusts him, but doesn’t like the idea of a picture of hers being “out there”. “What if his phone is stolen,” she said, “what if it ends up on the internet?”

Not all men are nude photo fiends, either. A couple of male UBCO students explained their own responses to girlfriends offering to text them nude photos: “What is the point? Most likely I’ve already seen you naked. Like, am I supposed to masturbate to that?”

“I respect a girl that is true to herself and doesn’t send them,” the other said, “but a guy’s not going to not like a naked pic.”

Photos by Lynnette Oon and Kelsi Barkved
Photos by Lynnette Oon and Kelsi Barkved

Asking to remain anonymous, one UBCO student shared her story with us about her own nude photo being leaked to her high school peers:

A few years ago, Emma (name has been changed) stood in the break room of her work, texting her long-term boyfriend on an old flip-phone. Based on their conversation over text, she made the decision to send a nude photo of herself to her boyfriend that she had previously taken and had saved on her phone. Little did she know, a younger co-worker who attended the same high school as her caught a glimpse of the photo over her shoulder. After her break, Emma put her phone in her bag in the break room and returned to her shift. Without her knowing, the same co-worker who had seen the photo on her phone, entered the break room after she had left, reached into her bag, and sent the photo to himself. He then forwarded it to numerous students from their high school. The next day, Emma received a text from a friend, the nude photo meant for her boyfriend with the words, “Is this you?” Heartbroken, Emma naturally assumed that it was her boyfriend who had leaked her photo, but after help from many of her peers, she was able to trace her photo back to her co-worker’s phone. Although the high school reputation that she had built was never the same after the incident, Emma says that most importantly it didn’t change her morals.

I asked Emma if she would ever send a nude photo again. “Yes,” she said. “I’m currently in a long-distance relationship and I trust my boyfriend. If you lack the sexual relations—he’s over there and not here, it’s not really an intimate relationship anymore as much as a friendship.”

Her advice to other university students is not to share photos with someone on campus or in the area. “Definitely a concerning factor for first years—everyone’s new and wanting that first-year experience.”

She says that if you are going to engage in things like that, make sure that you do trust the person, and “Even if you think you do—second-guess it. You don’t know if they’re going to save it forever. In my experience with keeping things on your phone…DO NOT KEEP THINGS ON YOUR PHONE.”

Emma laughs, “I still have nude pictures of ex-boyfriends on my laptop from old phones that I’ve backed up.”

In response to the celebrity iCloud incident, Emma says “there’s an emphasis on individuals’ bodies these days—on physical appearance. What’s important is being happy with yourself and your body. Most people have taken naked pictures even if it’s just for themselves, it’s part of our culture—especially with technology and long-distance relationships. It’s part of being able to be together without being physically together.”

Overall, Emma’s thoughts on nude photos are the following: “I don’t think its wrong. I think it’s totally normal.” Furthermore, her view on Snapchat is that people use it too often, “It almost seems that this app was made for privacy, but at the same time now actually makes hacking people’s nude photos easier.”

“There’s nothing wrong with taking a naked picture, the problem is with the fact that people don’t respect each others bodies—one’s body should be one’s own privacy. There’s nothing wrong with taking a picture of that. There’s something wrong with sharing that picture without that persons consent, though.” At the end of the day, Emma says “As long as you’re okay with you—that’s what matters.”