You may or may not have heard of Sia – an Australian singer who plays with anonymity and the right to celebrity privacy so much that she often covers most of her face with incredibly stylish wigs. Well, Sia recently make headlines and not just for saying she’d happily star as Samantha Jones in Sex and the City 3.
As it happens, Sia managed to stumble across someone trying to sell nude photographs of her to her fans. The nudes, seemingly taken on a holiday, were definitely taken without consent, and this clear act of celebrity exploitation is so lamentably commonplace nowadays that most celebrities would probably take it as a horrible part of the job and begin the legal proceedings necessary to deal with the shitty, but not unexpected, situation.
Sia, in what is probably the most amazing response from a celebrity to leaked nudes ever, hit up Twitter and posted the following.
What an absolute legend.
Of course, not everyone is on board with Sia’s approach, and it’s worth pointing out that it takes a certain degree of equanimity, body confidence, and personal resilience to be able to respond in this way, but I applaud her efforts nonetheless. Taking the power away from someone who attempted to take autonomy away from you is amazingly effective, even if it’s not ideal.
But the whole situation reminded me of my own experiences with nudes and potential violation: Namely when my partner almost shared my nudes without my consent.
When you’re in a relationship for 11 years, you feel pretty secure in your consent boundaries.
And I did.
But even back when I took the nudes in question, I was pretty certain that these were for my partner’s eyes only and that no one else would ever get a chance to encounter them.
The photographs themselves were as amateur as amateur could be.
I was a teenager at the time – either 16 or 17 – and smartphones were not a thing. We had just about got to the point where phones could come in cool fold-up versions and 3G was beginning to become an option but then you had to turn the phone on and off again if you wanted to switch from using the internet to using the phone.
I know – how did we ever live?
Either way the shots were, ultimately, grainy selfies, but I was damned proud of them. I even took to Microsoft Paint and Powerpoint and made them in to a fun little comic book, because, apparently, I’m the type of person that turns their nudes into a Marvel (or, more aptly, Marvel at) series.
When I presented the finished product to my then equally young partner I was nervous but mainly because I had body issues. I didn’t for one moment consider the fact that he would ever share the images and I was over the moon when he adored my impromptu comic book debut.
Skip forward to earlier this year.
Although my relationship with Theia was ultimately unsustainable and unhealthy, that beautiful ray of sunshine did have many positive qualities, and one of them was integrity. So, when she took me aside discreetly one day, I knew that what she had to say would be something worth hearing and taking to heart.
I can’t remember her exact words, but they panned down to this:
‘I just thought I’d let you know that Nick tried to share some nudes with me that he had of you. I asked if he’d asked you if it was okay, and he said no but you’d be fine with it, so I declined. I just thought you should know.’
Holy fucking shit.
My mind was absolutely reeling at this revelation, mainly because there were so many ‘NOPES’ that needed to be processed.
Firstly, was the fact that my partner was willing to take something that I had made strictly for his eyes only and so flippantly hand it out to someone else as if there wasn’t even an issue there. The causal nature of the situation, and just how little respect he had for the confidentiality of my nudes left me stunned.
Secondly, I had only been dating Theia for a few weeks at this point. We were still in the ‘kisses and snuggles’ stage and had only rarely seen each other naked. Yet, my partner was willing to show my photo selfies of me doing self-performed sex acts and was even, by the seems of, it eager to share them.
Furthermore, I was sixteen in those photos. Sixteen. Now that’s legal, yes, but it’s still pretty damned close to too young for comfort and the only person that my sixteen year old self should be seen by is the person I took those photos for at sixteen. For me, my partner happily trying to share photos of my sixteen year old self eleven years down the line to our shared partner that I had only known for a couple of months was a huge clusterfuck.
And then there was his response to being asked if he had asked me if I would be okay with it.
To which, he had just assumed that I would be.
I was not.
I was so not.
That theft of autonomy was the twist of the dagger in a painful and shocking situation where, had Theia not been such a gentleman about it all, my nudes would have been carelessly shared without my knowledge or consent under the pretence that I would ‘be fine with it’. As if, because I had made the nudes, I was absolutely fine with them being out there for anyone to see. Or, alternatively, because this was my partner he had the right to speak for me on how my nudes could be distributed and whether I would be okay with that, without once ever mentioning it to me.
In the end I confronted my partner and he dismissed me.
This is no surprise – the relationship was unhealthy at this point and he felt victimized and demonized for me suggesting that what he had done was wrong. I was told I was making too big a deal about it and to ‘stop going on about it’. But, truth be told, that near-violation and the ease with which my partner almost executed it has never been able to sit right with me.
I don’t have a clear resolution for this article.
I’d love to be able to reassure you that this would never happen in a healthy relationship and that if you trust your partner then you should be fine, but I can’t. I never thought a nude leak would happen to me, until it almost did and when that moment came it only hurt more due to the long-standing nature of my relationship.
I guess this is an article about autonomy and taking back the power. Sia did it through posting her own nudes in advance – thus becoming her own publisher and reclaiming herself – and I suppose this article is my way of doing the same.
If there is a takeaway at all it’s that, no matter how secure you feel, there is always a chance that your body may be exposed in a way that you don’t personally find acceptable, and being prepared for that – choosing where your power will lie in the situation – is one of the primary ways of protecting your personal health and wellbeing.