Yes, Naked Selfies Can be Empowering!

It’s me! The sharing of nude selfies are part of a global drive by millennials to take back their body image from societies repressive dominant ideals. Photo: Diaan Mynhardt

The internet is no stranger to the naked human body. According to Psychology Today[1], between four and fifteen percent of all web searches are porn related, and conservative types the world over are wringing their hands in anguish about the moral decay this might bring about. But I’m not a hand-wringing conservative type, so I’d like to focus on one positive aspect of internet nudity today, empowering exhibitionism.

Our consumer society floods our senses with constructed, entirely unrealistic notions of beauty, wherever we go. It sells us conflicting, schizophrenic ideas about sexuality, body norms, and sexual practices. In short, it makes us feel ugly, seriously ugly, deep down. Yet all over the internet groups of radical millennials are in the vanguard of the war to reclaim body ideals from society’s dominant ideologies.

Safe spaces and supportive communities.

Katrin Tiidenberg from the Institute of International and Social Studies[2] at Tallinn University in Estonia has been studying how adults young and old are using the internet as a platform to reclaim control of their bodies, and body aesthetics, by posting nude images of themselves[3]. These brave exhibitionists are fighting what Tiidenberg calls the regime of shame; they are taking back what it means to be sexy, and these online communities – usually found on websites like Tumblr[4]– provide safe spaces and supportive communities in a world where ‘normal’ is a narrowly defined, violently protected ideal.

Dude selfies seems to be a normal, even therapeutic practice.

What Tiidenberg found is that participation in these communities leads, through various mechanisms, to an increase in visual literacy, increased tolerance, and even expanded preferences regarding body types and sexuality. These communities not only bring sexuality – an aspect of life usually shrouded in secrecy and taboos – into the open but, reject the homogenised standards of beauty that are the signature of mainstream culture’s so-called regime of shame. These communities emphasise the ideals of body-positivity, in contrast to mainstream sites such as Facebook, where even a single slipped nipple can lead to a lifelong ban from the network.

Far from being limited to people usually associated with poor impulse control, teenagers and ageing politicians, the public sharing of nude selfies seems to be a normal, even therapeutic practice, a way to speak up to power, and a way to reject society’s ridiculous standards of beauty. It is a way to internalise ones own beauty, and increase satisfaction with oneself.

Dueling Statistics: How Much of the Internet Is Porn? Psychology Today. (accessed 19 Jun2017).
Institute of International Social Studies. Tallinn University. (accessed 19 Jun2017).
Tiidenberg K. Bringing sexy back: Reclaiming the body aesthetic via self-shooting. CP. 2014;8. doi: 105817/cp2014-1-3
Tumblr Home Page. Tumblr. (accessed 19 Jun2017).

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