Celebrities, particularly famous women, can hold preciously little as truly private. Their power comes from their allure, their wealth, their talent, but it can all vanish with a few grainy nudes and a few million clicks.
Nude photo leaks are nothing new, but they are most potent when they are used to take down self-empowered, intelligent women. Online communities flock, eager to see these media darlings at their most vulnerable. By engaging in such sadistic voyeurism, those viewers, people who might not otherwise commit sexual harassment or assault, are harming these women.
It’s not just a flagrant violation of privacy; it emphasizes the naked body is something shameful. We see sex in magazines, on television, and in music videos, but when nude photos of women like Jennifer Lawrence are made public, people lose their shit.
In 1984, Vanessa Williams was forced to relinquish her Miss America duties because of nude photos taken two years earlier. As late as 2007, when High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens’ nude photos were stolen and publicized, she was ‘lucky’ to keep her job with Disney, who publicly chided her by saying that they “hoped she learned a valuable lesson.” Now, seven years later, the public wonders if this new round of celebrities have “learned their lesson” and will stop placing nude photos on iCloud, but that misses the point. These women are not committing crimes. They are doing what those out of the public eye do all the time, but because of their celebrity, they are sometimes held to higher moral standards. This isn’t the right kind of extra scrutiny.
They are, after all, human, and deserve the one right that obscurity allows: privacy. These unpolished and intimate selfies are, to the intended recipient, an expression of love and vulnerability—a tease—but ultimately a statement not intended for public consumption. Like bullies, leakers prey on those vulnerabilities for their own pleasure, popularity, and self-satisfaction.
Merely threatening a nude photo leak can take over the internet, as was the case with the rumoured Emma Watson leak, just days after she addressed the U.N. on gender equality, later revealed to be some kind of viral marketing scheme. Whoever started the campaign knew the power that nude photos carry and tried to exploit it, when a simple naked body shouldn’t be exploited at all, least of all by a stranger.
And besides, who cares if these women are naked? We all have a body, and our bodies are inherently sexual. To deny that sexuality to female media figures is a gross denial of what being a strong, independent woman, or person in general, is—someone who owns all aspects of themselves with dignity. To use that power against a person should never be tolerated.