In my early twenties, I received a birthday message from a girl I’d been seeing that contained a naked photo of her. It was fun, it was exciting, and it was the first nude I ever received.
It might have come a little later for me than others, but I was generally a late bloomer, so its timing in my life just added to the occasion. Looking at it then, I realised I could have done anything with this image of her body. If I wanted to, whether for a joke or to prove something about my masculinity, I could have claimed it like a trophy and sent it around to whoever I wanted.
But I didn’t do that, and she presumably knew that I wouldn’t. She trusted me enough to keep it to myself, and that wasn’t a small thing. Receiving that message gave me this sense of intimacy that was built on the knowledge that it would stay between us.
Receiving that message gave me this sense of intimacy that was built on the knowledge that it would stay between us.
But then again, her face was hidden by her hair and some careful lighting and framing, enough to deny her identity if that photo ever came back to her. So maybe there was a hint of caution in there after all.
I’ll never know her particular approach to sending nudes, but those thoughts about trust, intimacy and safety, quickly led to a realisation of the task ahead of me. I had to reply. How the hell would I reply?
I was at the gym, clad in short shorts and a singlet, which together seemed like an ideal place and costume to snap a sexy selfie. Halfway through a session, my muscles felt a little swollen, and gym mirrors famously lengthen you out and make your physique look better than it would to the naked eye, so I did my best then and there to make up a fun reply.
What’s an acceptable time to reply to a nude with? Would it have been rude or given the wrong signal if I left it too long?
That didn’t go well. Whatever shapes I thought were flattering in the mirror seemed to disappear into a single, fluorescent-lit blob on my phone, complemented by the conceited vibe of “that dude that takes photos of himself in the gym”. I deleted those photos, but I started to worry. What’s an acceptable time to reply to a nude with? Would it have been rude or given the wrong signal if I left it too long?
I considered moving to the bathroom for some more personal space to send a reply, maybe with a nude of my own. But the more I considered it, the more I felt like I’d just be sending a seedy bathroom dick pic. I was sure that nobody wanted those. But to that end, I wondered, at what point does a male nude cross that fine line and become a dick pic?
I couldn’t remember many images of sexualised, or even aesthetic male bodies. There was our recent embrace of “Dad Bod,” but I saw that mainly as a meme, and as great as it is to embrace your body with humour, it didn’t feel like an appropriate response here. The most appealing, un-funny depictions of male nudity I could remember from anywhere in my life were classical statues, but posing like The Statue of David didn’t seem right either.
And then, of course, I remembered how often David’s penis is mocked. Michelangelo, his Renaissance peers, and the Greeks that inspired them were on-board with flaccid members, but today’s audiences tend to be more judgmental. I trusted this girl, but what if someone else found my photo? I’m confident enough in what I’ve got, but it’s definitely a grower, and I wouldn’t want a leaked photo of my flaccid, decontextualised glory reinforcing negative stereotypes for Asian men everywhere. So, unless I was to give myself an erection in a gym bathroom for what might just end up as a poorly lit dick pic, I was out of ideas.
I’d never been that conscious of my body before, and that consciousness made me aware of how awkward the male body can be.
I’d never been that conscious of my body before, and that consciousness made me aware of how awkward the male body can be. Once our clothes come off, there’s an uncertainty and vulnerability we’re just not used to, or at least I wasn’t used to. While we talk about less-toxic ways for boys and men to behave in society, it’s also worth thinking about different ways we can be comfortable in our bodies, because the two might be more closely related than we think.
Some men are comfortable flexing in gym mirrors. Others are comfortable laughing at their slowly expanding guts. That’s great, but let’s take that as a start rather than an end. There is a world of bodily relationships and identities that we’re yet to explore and claim for our own, and now is as good a time as any to work on those too.
In the end, I waited until I got home, had a shower, and sent a photo of myself lying in bed from the chest up, at a position where I felt my arms and shoulders looked nice. It wasn’t a nude, but it still felt intimate and exciting, and that’s what was important.
Eugene Yang is a freelance writer.
The Hunting premieres on Thursday, 1 August at 8:30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand, and airs over four weeks.