Opening anyone’s photos on their phone is always a risky move – oh god, please don’t scroll – but for me, it’s pretty much a boob-mine because it is crammed with naked photos of myself and others. Hell, it actually happened on the tram just yesterday.
There is such joy in taking naked photos. The absurdity of our bodies, contorted into pleasing positions. The beauty of acceptance and trust, as you share visible intimacies with another. The unrepentant exhibitionism of delighting in your body and the safety in working out in relative distance what pleases another person and yourself. The blush of someone you like sending you a naked photo, your eyes averting their photographed gaze as you try to reclaim your senses.
I’ve lost count of how many photos I’ve received or sent consensually. I’ve exchanged them with men and women just for a night, never to see them again. Or I’ve developed long-term relationships solely based on sexting photos of wherever we were in the world over the years, from tour buses, hotel or dressing rooms and writers festivals. Sometimes I even get a thirsty like from someone I’ve sexted six years before, a little acknowledgement they still enjoy that memory.
It’s not even always sexual – I showed my boobs to some girlfriends on Skype just last night and it wasn’t the first time that day, given I’d seen my best friend’s breasts a few hours earlier. Plus, I’d sent a topless photo to a guy I’m seeing. What can I say, it was a busy day for boobs.
"As someone whose longest relationship has been with self-loathing, the act of photographing myself has helped me find acceptance and confidence."
As someone whose longest relationship has been with self-loathing, the act of photographing myself has helped me find acceptance and confidence. I look at my old photos and challenge my self-perception, those beady eyes always ready to find fault and instead thrill at how my face changes, how my body expands and contracts and how I’ve grown to eventually love my curves and rolls, pale skin and scars from a life damn well lived.
This is not some wishy-washy Stockholm syndrome masquerading as empowerment – there is ferocity in my choice. I will enjoy my body in a world that repeatedly tells me I should pay more to correct mistakes that don’t exist, that I should be sexual, but not sexualised, comply rather than assert and be seen rather than see myself.
"I’ve used it as a way to remotely and safely to work out what I want in bed"
Though sexting is often presented as empty narcissism or female exploitation, it’s become an additional means for my sexual exploration. I’ve used it as a way to remotely and safely to work out what I want in bed and from partners. Sexting has given me immense power: you really have to try hard to fuck over a woman who knows how she wants to be fucked (and it might not be by you).
There’s politics in the presentation. A few days ago, someone remarked I post selfies to my Facebook and seemed slightly baffled. The subtext was selfies were frivolous, immature or even a sign I wasn’t fully absorbed by work – and that was even without nudity.
Push that subtext a little deeper and the true questions emerge: why are you showing yourself and how am I to respond? The answers are pretty simple: because I look damn fine and enjoy that. Respond any way you want but realise this: I won’t hide and I won’t give a damn.
Society has for too long operated on the principle that women are to be seen by men, their presentation controlled by men, profited upon by men and then shared by men. Any woman who subverts that mode of production is considered disruptive.
"The very act of her independence and self-acceptance distorts the normal male supply"
A casual glance at image-hosting site Imgur illustrates this perfectly. Men will share photos of redheaded women on Monday, or light-bondage shots on Tuesday or cleavage and yoga pants any damn day. They upvote each other’s vulgar commentary because it’s all about bonding between the boys. Yet any woman who posts a photo of herself for sexual appreciation is automatically branded an attention whore – how dare she realise men appreciate sexual photos and supply them herself? The very act of her independence and self-acceptance distorts the normal male supply, disrupting their commentary and reminding them that women – and prepare yourself for a shocker here – are complex beings who make their own choices.
I recently published a naked photo of myself in “Doing It”, an anthology about sex. Next to my photo, my chapter discussed a long-term relationship with a French Deathcore guitarist and our progression from photos of body parts to shots of our whole selves. The change in photos echoed the change in our relationship – a growing trust and intimacy where we would talk about the myriad ways we would fuck each other, and yet not fuck each other over by releasing each other’s photos.
The decision to publish my naked photo could be considered a desperate ploy for attention. Again this shows society’s hypocrisy – we might want to see women, but we don’t want them to remind us they exist and exercise choice.
But I exist in the world. I exist, I experience desire, I exercise choice and I feel fantastic about that. You can’t make me feel bad about that at all because I know myself too well - I have the photos to prove it.
Amy Gray is a Melbourne-based writer interested in feminism, popular and digital culture and parenting. Her work has appeared in the Age, Sydney Morning Herald, BBC, ABC and others. She is also an occasional broadcaster on ABC, Radio Adelaide and 2UE.