My parents have never been critical of my appearance – at least, not in a long lasting, emotional way.
I didn’t necessarily think I was pretty, but I didn’t think I was ugly either. But I grew up in a time before smartphones were part of every day life, where the only time I had access to a camera was when our family was on holiday together, where social media wasn’t a defining factor of people’s lives. I didn’t really have a reason to take explicit photos of myself anyway – I was a nerdy teenager, and even though I was interested in boys, I was probably more focused on getting through the pile of books I’d just borrowed from the library.
But the world becomes exponentially bigger once you finish high school, and I gradually became acquainted with the expansive existence of nudes and dick pics. At the time, I didn’t think I’d ever take or send a nude of any kind – partially because I thought it was a bit silly, and partially because I didn’t think anyone would want to see a photo of me naked – but ah, how things change.
I would most likely be more ashamed at having disappointed my parents than at the photos themselves being out there for the world to see.
I’ve taken my fair share of nudes and sent my fair share, too, if I’m being honest. When I take nudes, I make sure my face isn’t visible. When I send nudes, I make sure I only send photos I’d be comfortable with the general public seeing if they happened to get leaked. This is my own personal rule. I believe that anyone should have the right to take as many photos of themselves naked as they want, without fear of an ex-partner or ex-friend using it against them for the purposes of blackmail.
Let me be clear – I have never been pressured to send a photo of myself to anyone. All the nudes I’ve sent have been of my own free will, a desire to share myself and my body with people I care about.
But even though I might be okay with these photos being splashed over the internet, I don’t know that my parents would necessarily feel the same way. As far as they’re concerned, I wouldn’t just be embarrassing myself, I would also be bringing shame upon the family in the eyes of their communities. My life – or rather, the image of my life that I present to the public – does not only belong to me. My actions don’t just reflect my character, but they are also a reflection of my parents’ characters.
My parents would lose face if any explicit photos of me made their way into the public sphere. They wouldn’t be comfortable with those photos, because it would make other people think they had raised a “bad” daughter – and consequently, I shouldn’t be comfortable with those photos either. In fact, I would most likely be more ashamed at having disappointed my parents than at the photos themselves being out there for the world to see.
It hasn’t stopped me from being proud of my body, and showing it off to others in all the ways I am comfortable with – shame be damned.
It’s difficult to fully explain the importance of face in Chinese communities and the damage it can cause without experiencing it yourself. It relies partially on an expectation of filial devotion above all else – that your biological family is, or should be, the most important thing in your life. It means that anything I do doesn’t just commend (or in this case, disgrace) me, but also affects the way my family, particularly my parents, are seen by their peers.
These conflicting feelings of independence and obedience have been difficult to navigate, especially as I became more and more comfortable in my skin. In the end, as with most things related to my parents, my yearning for independence won out. This doesn’t mean I’m dismissive of my parents’ concerns about losing face; in fact, I think I’m more attuned to it because I am consciously aware of the kind of furore I could invoke. I’ve been tiptoeing around these issues my whole life, and there was something liberating about saying “screw it” and sending those first nudes.
I also find it difficult to rationalise the fact that if any of these photos do get leaked, I will be the one who gets in trouble for taking them in the first place, not the person(s) who leaked them. I can imagine my parents sitting me down and asking me how I could be so careless, why I should have thought of them before doing anything so silly and misguided.
I have reconciled with myself that this sense that I might embarrass my parents will always be with me, but I am determined not to let this nagging feeling stop me from living my life the way I want to live it. Let’s be honest, my dad would probably still be scandalised today if he saw me in a low cut dress that showed off my boobs, so it would be almost impossible for me to explain to him why I think taking nudes is okay. It hasn’t stopped me from being proud of my body, and showing it off to others in all the ways I am comfortable with – shame be damned.
Yen-Rong Wong is a freelance writer. You can follow Yen-Rong on Twitter @inexorablist.
The Hunting premieres on Thursday, August 1 at 8:30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand, and airs over four weeks.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800737732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. For parents and teachers looking for more information can visit the eSafety Commissioner website and SBS Learn.