Why Do We Take the Risk of Taking a Nude Selfie?

Amid scandals in which celebrities’ nude photos have been leaked online, the urge – even obsession – to photograph ourselves deserves its own reflection.

A model takes a selfie backstage of the Topshop Unique catwalk show during London Fashion Week, September 18, 2016.
Reuters

Following the recent hacks of Pippa Middleton’s iCloud account and comedian Leslie Jones’ website, and a hacker’s admission that he downloaded sensitive images of stars such as Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton, we might want to reflect on why we take selfies in the first place.

Why take the risk? After all, you can easily look at yourself in the mirror. But we need more. Much more.

I think the answer is so trivial that it sounds strange: People don’t see themselves often enough – not their faces and not their bodies. Their eyes spend most of the time looking at the “other”: friends, work colleagues, television characters, ordinary people who pass them on the street. And yet themselves – their faces and bodies – they only see on the way to the toilet and in the shower.

There’s something strange about this: People have a very intense connection with their minds and sense of inner self, yet they’re almost completely disconnected from their physical appearance. This imbalance may seem obvious but it’s not. It’s not by chance that people feel an almost magnetic pull toward looking at themselves every time they pass by a store or car window.

From that perspective, the smartphone solved a major problem: It let people keep in their pocket almost limitless variations of their appearance; it gave them better access to their physical appearance. The obsession for selfies can be understood as closing the gap in the body’s battle with the mind. The body tells the mind: “Until now I was forced to ask you for help all day to imagine how I look. Now I have a complete album of myself in my pocket.”

Taking nude pictures of oneself – whether photos or videos – is an enhanced version of the same phenomenon. Because if one’s clothed body can be seen throughout the day, the naked body is rarely encountered, let alone the body in its most intimate state (sex). In day-to-day life, during mundane routine, the naked body is both present and absent; it exists and doesn’t exist. Therefore, we want to look at it, be familiar with it, get used to it. This turns into a yearning, almost a need.

Every time human needs meet a new technology, we must be careful. Just as television was invented to portray a visual reality for people around the world and later became a tool for controlling the masses, there is a dichotomy in the smartphone. For example, the fact that a smartphone has a camera in it doesn’t mean it’s a camera. A smartphone is first and foremost a communication device. It has ostensibly private, non-communication functions – “my calendar,” “my albums” – but we have to be suspicious of them, to treat them as double agents.

Sharon Perry, an Israeli sports commentator whose phone was stolen and nude photos shared on social media, was harmed because, in her desire to expand her body archive, the “other” broke in without permission. But not all “private” actions taken with a device connected to hundreds of millions of other devices are necessarily deals with the devil. Even though the print is small, people should make an effort to read the terms and conditions.

There it’s clearly written that you can get to know yourself better, but only if in return “we” get to know you better. Every new acquaintance you have with yourself will also go through “us”; you and I are going to be as one “we.”

The smartphone, like social networks, must be understood as tools built by people to penetrate other people’s privacy. This is the fantasy of our era, and this is the technological method found to fulfill that fantasy. Under the guise of a portable phone – all we wanted was to speak to one another – a device has been built that turns the individual’s anatomy into rubble; it sends it bruised and bare into the hell called “one big human tapestry.”

The public condemnation was predictable. When we expose the hiding place of society’s illegitimate fantasy, the decibels of morality are always turned up.

But the demand “don’t disseminate the photos” is legitimate. The demand “don’t look at them” is empty. It’s like when traffic reporters urge drivers not to rubberneck after a car accident. That instruction is composed of synthetic material. Will a person stuck in traffic for half an hour pass by the reason for the traffic and not look at it to understand what caused the delay?

Not looking at car accidents, like not looking at nude photos of famous people sitting right there in your pocket, is to lose a critical component of humanity: curiosity. It’s the curiosity to look at what lies beneath the image, the façade, the make-up. It’s not “nice,” but it is nice.

Paradoxically, it’s the person who obeys the demand not to look who’s somewhat dangerous; as if he has a robotic functionality encapsulated in the word “obedience.” Society would still value this person for his morality and nobility, but only because there is evidence that there stands a soldier who obeys orders in every circumstance – perfect material for a factory.