I remember it like it was yesterday, even though it was practically 10 years ago. I was hanging out with my then-boyfriend, and some good friends from college at one of our hometown lounges, chatting and having a grand time. I got a call from one of my besties, telling me something horrible had happened. A guy I had dated months previously had posted personal photos of me onto a gaming site for anyone to look at. My heart dropped. I seriously thought she was playing a cruel prank on me.
I remember breaking up with that long distance relationship. It was going nowhere, and I was at the point in my life where I wanted to find my soul mate. I deleted his private photos, our text messages. I deleted his entire existence from my life, because that's how I move on. He, apparently, didn't.
I'm sharing this for a girl who recently went through a similar experience.
I know you probably feel like crap right now, and as if everyone hates you. But please believe me when I say I know exactly how you feel and what you're going through. My story is a little different, but it had a similar impact.
This is a letter to share my experience and how I found control, trust, and perseverance. At the time, I felt like a victim. Like I was robbed and there was nothing I could do.
My story is a story that hundreds of women are starting to speak out about. I started seeing a change in society's eyes about women's bodies in 2014, when several celebrities had their photos stolen and released without their consent. It made me feel like I wasn't the only one. It made me feel like it wasn't something I should be shamed for. And you shouldn't either.
There is a growing interest in women having power over their own bodies, from magazines showing breasts, to organizations trying to 'free the nipple'. Women are fighting tech companies for the right to share their photos of breastfeeding.
Before this growing trend, women have been told to never share private photos of themselves, to hide themselves for fear of them being released. If those photos ever get out, they are shamed for sharing them in the first place. They are "victim-blamed". Women are taught from an early age that their bodies are sexual things, and trusting this to another person can be seen as unintelligent, immoral, and wrong.
Over the past 10 years, I've taken several steps to keep my personal photos out of any public eye because I too believed it to be a terrible, bad thing. While I understand that once something is on the Internet, it's there forever, I still took strong precautions from my photos being posted without my consent. By sharing this information with friends, family, and relatives, I've amassed an army of trusted individuals who have helped me hide my body, who have helped me from being shamed. But I was still hiding.
I lost a huge part of my own strength and control when my personal photography was released without my consent so many years ago and since then, it's only gotten more prevalent. The trend of strangers judging my body, the comments made to me by con-goers, the immense deal of stress, spending hours upon hours sending Dmca takedown notices to random sites made solely to comment about women's bodies. It makes you feel numb after a while. It makes you lose faith in humanity and lose trust in people. I lost my optimism.
Recently, I took a vacation to a beautiful serene part of our planet earth where I had no connection to the Internet. I went offline for a week, and it was bliss. I heard no criticisms, no harsh feedback, and no opinions. I was myself again, and I missed feeling like that.
So I made a decision. I needed to quit hiding and share my side of an old story that so many women have told. That was about 9 months ago. I stopped worrying so much about some random opinion about my body and I focused on myself. And I felt like I gained back the control that I needed over my life. The random opinions didn't matter anymore, and I found a way to block them out of my life.
There are so many young girls who commit suicide because a boy has released their nudes, with no recourse. There are several women in the public eye who have had to deal with the same thing, but have amazing lawyers and PR representation. But the problem persists, where these women are constantly shamed for doing the act of taking photos of themselves in the first place.
And herein lies the problem. By shaming the victims of a sexual harassment or abuse, we are working our way into a society norm where women are treated as sexual objects. We need to take back control of our own bodies, and break the never-ending cycle of treating women as property that can be objectified. Women should feel strong and self-confident for sharing themselves with their spouse, significant other, boyfriend, girlfriend, or anyone for that matter. We shouldn't feel as if taking a photo of our nude body is a bad thing, or immoral, or something to be ashamed of.
I'm not ashamed, and I don't regret posing for my own photography. While I didn't have a clue about rule of thirds or lighting at the time, I did have self confidence. I've found my self confidence since then, and I've grown a career out of something I've been passionate about since I was a child. I fell in love with media and education. I've found a passion for life, love, freedom, and my own power.
While I did place trust in an individual that acted on a whim, and I placed control of my body in the hands of another person who made his own decisions- I dont look for recourse in his actions. I know, from speaking with many, that I could. But To this day I am so proud of myself for making the choices I have in life. From respecting that long-ago boyfriend, to respecting myself in my work. I wish I could have had control over my body 10 years ago, but that control was taken away from me with a swift upload.
I can't change my past, and I've discussed this with so many of my close associates. What I can do is speak out about my experience in the hopes that it gives another young women strength. No woman should ever be shamed for putting trust into a person she holds dear. No women should be told she is a slut, whore, cunt, or a bitch for sharing herself with her person. It is her choice, and whether she chooses to share herself publicly should continue to be her choice. Taking that decision away from someone is degrading and inhumane. While a person who shares your private information may do it out of spite, jealousy, or for bragging rights, I hope that by reading this some young woman in the world may look at her photos and say "I'm amazing. I'm proud of my body. I am not ashamed."
From the mouth of one of my European friends: "Who cares? Its just a body. Everyone has them."