Do I need to link to anything that says “[Fill in the name of a woman] is getting naked on camera for attention”? It’s been said about me. It’s being said about Kim Kardashian. It’s been said about any woman who’s ever voluntarily had a photo taken in any kind of sexualized context, and several non-sexualized contexts, for that matter.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but here’s what you do to me when you say that I take nude, sexualized photos for attention: You claim that you know my intentions. Are you a mind-reader? To my knowledge, that’s not a thing that exists. So do you know me intimately? No, you don’t, and no one who knows me intimately thinks or says that I take nudes for attention. So what you’re doing is implying that I’m a liar when I say, “No, this is not for attention,” and/or you’re assuming that attention is the only possible motivation any woman could ever have for taking a picture of herself naked, and possibly claiming that you know myself, or any woman, better than we know ourselves. That you have insight on the female character (because women are a monolith) that females don’t have if they state that they are not taking nude pictures for attention.
In so doing, you erase my entire, individual life experience. You erase my political affiliations, you erase the work I’ve done for queer and feminist activism, you erase my sexuality and sexual orientation, you erase my gender identity, you erase my upbringing, you erase the values my parents instilled in me, you erase my friendships, you erase my romantic and sexual relationships and everything that happened in them, you erase my traumas and the hard work I’ve done to recover from them, you erase my background in art, you erase my education, you erase my personality, and you erase the fact that I do actually put a lot of thought into the photo shoots I do and both how I shoot pictures and how I model in them and why.
But none of that matters, because you don’t need the context of my life to know that all I really want is attention. It’s not necessary for you to do the background work or work from a foundational assumption that all human beings are complex and nuanced, because to you, any woman getting naked in front of a camera is doing it for attention. That’s really great rhetorical work, there.
Never mind the fact that any woman who takes nude photos is inherently, in some way, reckoning with her gender identity. Mine, for example, is increasingly ambiguous as time goes on: I have identified as a woman for a long time, but a masculine cis woman, and as I get older, I’m getting more comfortable with my androgyny. When I take a nude photo, I have to confront the fact that no matter who I am, I have wide hips and large breasts and a round ass and a vagina. A vagina that I have a great deal of fondness for, a vagina that I love, but a vagina that presents realities to me that I’m not totally comfortable with, like that one day I will probably be asked to carry a child through it. If I had my druthers, my partner would do that instead. I look forward to pregnancy like I look forward to a stomachache. I feel female in terms of my gender (as our culture defines it) less than 100 percent of the time, so when I present myself as a sexualized female body in a picture, I am making the conscious decision to play with that part of my complex gender identity.
Never mind the fact that any woman who takes nude photos is inherently, in some way, reckoning with her sexuality. For me, that’s a sexuality that has been through a lot. When I was a teenager, I had a very high sex drive, although I only had sex with one boy, consensually three times and non-consensually a fourth. I always accepted my sex drive as normal and natural, no matter what gender stereotypes said would be normal and natural for a young woman. I accepted it as such because I had been an astute child who observed the fact that adults have sex for pleasure — and that’s a visible enough reality if you read a lot of books and study art and history, like I did when I was a kid — and who also was aware that adolescent hormonal changes come along with a sex drive. I expected it.
So it was news to me when my eventual ex-husband came along when I was 18 and started suggesting to me that everything about my sexuality — my sexual orientation, my high sex drive, the fact that I had had sex voluntarily and that I’d been raped — was a flaw of mine that had to be fixed for our relationship to succeed. So I stamped it out and hid myself under frumpy clothes, and my body got sick as I got further and further detached from it, and he became increasingly angry with me for not being able to function sexually with him, claiming that I had not fixed my big, fatal, potentially relationship-killing flaw, and he threatened me into painful sex because it was my duty as his wife.
When I left that marriage, I once again embraced the sexuality that I had once considered normal and natural. I embraced the fact that I wanted to have sex, that I don’t think the number of people a woman has sex with defines her moral worth, that I love women and trans* women and trans* men and intersex people and pretty much everyone as well as men. And I embraced my body as a wonderful, perfect thing, a thing that had made money for me by having the dexterity to make really cool cakes and the stamina to stand and walk for ten hours at a time, a thing that had gotten me a fantastic academic record by keeping my brain healthy and functional, a resilient thing that could lift heavy shit, and a thing that experienced pleasure. And to embrace it, I celebrated it by taking pictures of it. My nudes were on my terms — that was always my deal. I wanted to portray my sexuality, sex as I wanted it to be: happy, normal, healthy, and fun.
Never mind the fact that any woman who takes nude photos is inherently, in some way, dealing with the fact that she knows we live in a society that shames women for being sexual. The way I dealt with it was to say “Fuck that!” My parents raised me to be confident and to speak up when I think something is wrong, not to bow to convention for the sake of an emotionally easy life. Every time I take a picture of myself naked, I’m daring someone to tell me that it makes me trash, a slut, a whore, easy, or just wanting attention. I’m daring someone to try to convince me that I’m less than the sum of an entire life because you’ve seen my tits. The strength of my beliefs is greater than the strength of that idiotic, reductive sort of misogyny, and I will win that battle every fucking time.
Oh, and never mind the fact that when you say a woman is only getting naked on camera for attention, you’re de facto assuming that she’s attempting to attract male attention. Sure, you could say “Well, I didn’t explicitly state that,” but let’s not play dumb, here: If you’re the kind of person who reduces a woman to “just wanting attention,” who throws everything about her life and her brain and her intelligence out the window because you know better than women what we are, then you’re also the sort of person who wouldn’t give a shit what lesbians and bi and queer women like and want to see. Let me state this clearly. I have never cared one bit about whether or not someone notices my nude photos and bestows his (or her) attention on me for them. That was never why I took one single photograph. Male attention is not something I take into consideration when I make decisions about my body, not least because I disdain the fact that a lot of (but certainly #notall) men think that their attention is the cultural holy grail which every other person in existence aspires to obtain. It is a phenomenally vain thing for men to believe (and a phenomenally self-defeating thing for women to believe), and you can go on believing it if you want, but that doesn’t make it true.
And never mind the fact that some people reading this are going to knee-jerk respond, “Well, fine, that’s you, but that doesn’t make this true for someone like Kim Kardashian.” Congratulations on assuming Kim Kardashian does not have a functioning brain or life experiences that she takes into account when she makes the decision to appear nude in a photograph that are just as valid and real and morally insignificant as your own.
No, never mind all of that: Kim Kardashian and I and every other woman who’s ever posed nude just want attention. That’s what it is.
Original by Rebecca Vipond Brink