‘Keep your privates private’ my mother was fond of saying. Still is, come to think of it.
That little phrase was the crux of her sex education to me, her only daughter. It came from a post-war generation, from a culture where women’s sexuality was still owned by their parents, husbands and the patriarchal society in general. It just about held sway for a ‘60’s baby like me.
It seems totally irrelevant now.
How soon after the first camera phone went on sale do you think the first dick pic was sent? I’m betting it was a matter of hours. And although selfies are now a bona-fida art form (see my review of the Selfie exhibition at the Saatchi gallery here) won’t our obsession with selfies, both clothed and nude, been seen by future social historians as a kind of mass insanity characterising the cultural fragmentation of the early 21st century?
There have been huge cultural shifts since I was born during the second wave of feminism. We can’t underestimate the impact of the contraceptive pill, Roe v Wade, equal pay and laws on domestic violence as well as the wider social changes that have led society to being more understanding of LGBT communities. But the tsunami of change that has crashed into all our lives has amplified these cultural shifts beyond anything we could have forseen prior to 2005; the tsunami that is mass adoption of the smartphone.
A couple of years ago I watched the American comedian Sarah Silberman talk about her “little light use” of phone pornography to help her get to sleep (her joke was that you have to specifically type ‘female orgasm’ into the search engine because they are so absent from generic porn.) A world where women watch porn on their phones as a sleep aid is not the “private privates” world my mother thought she was preparing me for.
Passing forty … and definitely when you’re heading for 50 like me … is an opportunity to redefine the nude selfie. Of course there is a whole other troubling aspect of the nude selfie when you’re past forty. Shall call it ‘le sag’? Everything is a little further south than it used to be. We might have had kids, or surgery or a too-loving relationship with ice cream. Life has written all over our flesh is a way that the harsh snap of a camera phone might not appreciate. But the life we’ve had showing on our bodies is also the point of taking these pictures. Can we spin this that the’re not about pert perfection but the beauty of real bodies?
So now, I have many questions.
• Is it ever acceptable to take naked selfies?
• And what do we do with them? Keep them private, send them to our partners? Post them on-line for anyone to see or make money out of them? Once you start, there’s a slippery slope of what is ‘acceptably empowering’ as opposed to just being a dirty girl.
• Is it OK to take a picture for your partner when you’d prefer not to?
• Is the difference in making money from nude photos based on whether you are doing it from a bedsit in Hounslow as opposed to Kim Kardashian’s LA mansion?
• What if you couldn’t bring yourself to take one at all, because you feel divorced from your own body, attractiveness and sexuality?
• But what if you felt compelled to take them, because they are the only way you gain appreciation and validity?
• Where is the line between genuine and hypocritical? Social media organisations that ban images of breastfeeding mothers yet allow thousands of ‘yoga bunny’ feeds with girls sticking their barely covered arses at the camera?
• Most importantly, what is genuinely empowering as opposed to the overwhelming narrative telling us something is empowering, when in fact all it does is make money for a huge social media corporation?
I would love to know what you think.
But none of us are reading for all of those questions! I promised you a step by step guide. There are tons of posts giving detailed advice as to how to take a nude selfie. Good lighting and practice are the key. I really like this post from Refinery for its use of women who may be a little younger than me but do have a wide range of body types. My own advice comes from years of practice …
2. Ask yourself that question again, just to check…
3. Remember that if you send it to anyone, there’s a chance it could end up all over the internet. To be extra cautious go to settings on your phone and turn the iCloud upload setting off. Then, when you delete the picture from your phone you’ve deleted it completely. Except, of course, you’ve just sent it to someone else’s phone….
4. Gather together the following;
a. A smartphone
b. Some luxurious bedlinen
c. A bottle of gin
5. Make sure you feel clean and delicious. Take your clothes off and spray yourself with the perfume.
6. Dance around your bedroom a bit (probably a gentle sway rather than any kind of jazz hands…)
7. Have a swig from the gin bottle and then use it to prop your phone against.
8. Put your phone on the 10 second timer, writhe on the bedlinen and let the phone snap away.
9. Admire your pictures. Remember that in 9 out of 10 of the photos you will not look like you expect to look. Remember that after a Vogue fashion shoot, even Kate Moss’ contact sheets (now she’s past 40) are full of images that she’d prefer not to see. The good digital lord gave us unlimited image storage for a reason. Look at the images of yourself with the same compassionate eyes you use to look at your child or pet. You are beautiful. Because you are you.
10. Edit. Cropping is vital: a hint of nipple or thigh is always sexier than the full English. Also, don’t get hung up on keeping it real. If you can’t indulge in fantasy here, when can you? And it’s totally not authentic to put up with unflattering photos of yourself just to fulfil someone else’s version of what’s ‘authentic’ or not. Authenticity is not a stick to beat ourselves with. Edit the crap out of it if you want to.
11. Smile and delete. Or press send…