You have the right to take naked photos of yourself – but should you?


(7/5/15: I  honestly don’t remember what this video was, but it’s obviously been taken down. I guess there is some ability to retract what you put out online. Who knew?

It seems like the subject of nakedness keeps baring itself in the news. A few weeks ago I wrote about a contestant on a reality show called “Dating Naked” who was suing the producers and cable channel because an image of her naked crotch was aired without being blurred out.

A few days later, a group called Go Topless hosted a Women’s Equality Day event, in which they urged women to don bikini tops printed to look like naked breasts to protest laws allowing men to go bare chested in public but not women.

And this week, the naked truth hit the headlines again with news that Apple’s iCloud was hacked, and that nude photos of celebrities were stolen and released on social media.

The initial reaction to news like that might seem to logically be “Don’t take nude photos of yourself and you won’t have to worry about nudes photos of yourself won’t be leaked online.”

But a blog post by writer Chuck Wendig got me thinking. He points out that the naked photos of actresses Kate Upton and Jennifer Lawrence that made their way to the internet weren’t leaked – they were stolen. He made some good points about our rights and the way society makes the victim the problem, rather than making the criminal the problem.

There’s nothing illegal about taking naked photos of yourself or your partner (as long as you’re both over 18 years old).  You have the right to take naked photos of yourself and pose naked for photos in which you have given your consent to be photographed (versus being photographed without your knowledge or consent, like the creeper who hides the camera in the shower of your own house).

As for looking at the photos without your consent? Sharing someone else’s nude photos without their consent is illegal and unethical. In fact, in the case of Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney, whose photos were also stolen when the iCloud was hacked, it’s child pornography, since she was under 18 years old when the photos were taken.

You have the right to be naked and be photographed, with your consent. And you have the right to expect that when that right is exercised your rights will be protected by the law.

But here’s where things get sticky.

What about reality, where the decision to exercise that right is very risky and carries huge consequences if violated? Once upon a time, if you took a naked photo of yourself, the only people who might see that photo without your permission would be the guy at the photo lab who developed your pictures. Could he make an extra print? Sure, and maybe he did.

So you take it with a Polaroid, and only you and the person who pushed the shutter button had access to the photo, unless you chose to give them the photo or the actual picture was stolen. Risk of that picture being stolen? Pretty slim. And how to you get rid of the photos? A little camp fire for the photos and negatives and you were pretty sure the image was gone for good.

Today, with social media and internet hacking being what it is, the risk is far greater than ever that any naked pictures of yourself will find their way online, without your consent. Servers are hacked all the time. That photo you snapped with your cell phone and sent to your partner could go to the wrong person, or if he gets ticked off, be forwarded to hundreds of people in milliseconds.

Your right to take the photo of yourself hasn’t changed. But man, have the consequences gotten bigger.

I go back to the post I wrote about Jessie Nizewitz , who is suing VH1 over the naked crotch shot, and I think I see now where her expectation of privacy was violated. Yup, she had the right to be naked on a TV show. And yup, she had the right to expect that her privates would be blurred out when the show aired, because that was in her contract. And yup, I still think it’s stupid to go on a naked dating show. But that decision was hers to make, and in the end, her privates weren’t blurred, so the expectation of privacy was violated and she deserves her day in court.

At the same time …

I think that there are times when we have to realize that just because we have the right to do something doesn’t mean that we should ignore the possible consequences when things go wrong, and maybe reconsider our decision to act on that right.

We do it all the time.

I legally can leash my dog and leave him in my front yard. But I know that there are several children on our street who don’t pay attention to my admonition not to try and pet the dog (he doesn’t like children). So I keep the dog in the backyard behind a fence, because the risk to a child is great, and the consequences if something happens will all fall on the dog – even if he’s legally in his own yard and the child is trespassing.

I have the right to leave my car in my driveway or parking lot with the doors unlocked and expect no one will take out my loose change, or laptop, or camera. But I lock the doors and bring the valuables in the house, because I’m told a laptop bag on the seat it too much of a temptation for criminals. My right to security in my car is trumped by the reality that I’m going to lose my laptop if I don’t lock the doors.

I have the right to use our credit cards to make purchases online. But even though we all cling to some sort of (real or imagined) security that we can fight the bad guys if it our information is stolen,  we follow the advice of experts and change our passwords regularly, or maybe keep one card dedicated just for online purchases. If someone gets access to your bank account, you’re screwed.

I’ve never taken a naked photo of myself, but I’ve posted my own photos (of dogs, scenery, etc), on my blog, which is clearly marked with my copyright, and had those photos stolen and used without my permission. So I don’t post my favorite pictures online any more and, if I do post my photos, I try and mark them with my name and date.

Does it piss me off? Absolutely. My rights are being violated. But I also have drawn a line in the sand where the risk of my rights being violated outweighs my desire to exercise that right.

Is that an answer to the problem? No, but I think we have balance our right to do something with our expectation that others will respect that right, balance our realistic expectations that we can fight them if our rights are violated with the consequences if it all hits the fan.

I’m not a risk taker, by nature. I know that once something appears online, it’s almost impossible to erase, and having fought that battle before over something far less serious than celebrity nude photos I know where my tipping point is. So I tend to err on the side of caution.

But you might be a bigger risk taker than I am – and you have the right to be. If you want to take a naked photo of yourself, go for it. But maybe consider a Polaroid. It can cause a lot less damage in the back of a desk drawer than on a cloud server.

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