Let’s talk about the November issue of Vanity Fair, shall we? “Jennifer Lawrence speaks for the first time about her stolen nude photos” is the prominent cover line—but even more prominent is the emphasis on J. Law’s breasts. Is she nude? Is she topless? A similar is-she-or-isn’t-she-nude photo garners a full-page spread inside the issue.
Normally one might shrug this off as just another sexy celebrity photo shoot. But coming as it does after Lawrence’s nude photos were leaked and universally exploited a month ago, I think the Vanity Fair editors were being exploitative themselves.
No one—Vanity Fair nor Jennifer Lawrence—knew about the nude photo leak when the photo shoot took place weeks beforehand. But the editors did know before sending the magazine to the presses, and that’s when they chose what appears to be a nude photo of J. Law to grace the cover and opening spread. In doing so, they opted to ride the wave of nude photo frenzy to sell their magazine. Real classy, Vanity Fair.
I’m curious what Jennifer Lawrence thinks of all this. No amount of quoting Lawrence in the interior pages could erase the exploitative feel of the cover. As Megan Garber notes on the cover of The Atlantic, “the line between objectification and empowerment is a notoriously thin one, particularly for women.”
When Jennifer Lawrence’s nude photos were leaked a month ago, I shared my thoughts on the cultural conversations that followed, which included my opinion that it isn’t necessarily anti-woman to suggest maybe we shouldn’t be taking nude photos of ourselves.
“Well that’s obvious,” a friend told me later that day. “What’s more interesting, and what we really should be asking, is why are people taking these nude photos? What is influencing them to take them?”
“Porn,” I replied bluntly. At least that’s my take, after spending a year researching the connections between porn and sex trafficking for a journalism fellowship. As you’ll note in other pieces I’ve penned here (like this one or this one), the effect that porn has on the demand for women’s bodies is incredible. But, I thought, I can’t really speak for Lawrence or anyone else as to why they’re taking their nude photos. I suppose that will remain a mystery.
Well, now with Vanity Fair’s issue hitting newsstands, featuring the first J. Law interview since the photo leak, we have it in her own words: “Either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you.”
But wait. Wasn’t another large theme of commentary during the original scandal that the nude selfie is just another empowered means of sexual expression? Or at least a helpful tool for intimacy within relationships?
“Either he’s looking at porn or you” sounds not empowering but resigned.
I have no intention to give Lawrence any more grief than she’s gotten already. To be clear, the hacking and disseminating of her personal information is incredibly violating, and no matter what photos were in her account, she did not deserve to have them distributed against her will. But I also think that this is worth commenting on, since I have reason to believe this phenomenon affects many more women than just her. Not long ago, a twenty-two-year-old said something similar to me: “You can’t really date anyone these days without being expected to share naked photos.”
She’s certainly not alone. The rise of teen and adult sexting has been well documented by such outlets as Vanity Fair and the New York Times. It would appear that women are taking nude photos of themselves not really for themselves but for others. Mainly, for men. So much for self-expression.
And men aren’t entirely acting alone; their appetite has been largely influenced by porn. Internet porn—the ability to see a naked woman with zero social skills and hardly any effort—is a relatively new thing in history, and it’s become crack for a lot of men. It’s impossible for real women to compete with these fantasy women in porn; nonetheless porn creates a culture in which we have this urge to. And that brings out the worst in us—self-consciousness, sizing ourselves up by others’ standards, and worst of all, losing sight of what makes us uniquely beautiful.
There’s reason to believe it is not as simple as “either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you.” Not all men look at porn, but if he is, chances are your nude photos won’t stop him. In reality, it furthers the thinking that men have no self-control and need naked photos to hold them over until the next time they’re with a real woman.
But boys will be boys, right? Well sure, but boys survived somehow before having naked women on-demand. Now it’s as if the male stamina is shrinking as quickly as Internet speeds up. And women are tempted to think this is just the way it has to be, so we learn to play along. We send nude selfies. If we’re in show business, we start giving in and dressing sexy to boost sales. We choose revealing photos for our magazine covers. We think otherwise we won’t be relevant. Or that guy in our life will forget about us.
In reality, we women have more power than we think.
We can do better than to pornify ourselves.