You’ve probably done it too.
I wouldn’t refer to myself as an exhibitionist. I don’t have an innate desire to send naked pictures around and I don’t get a particular thrill from the *ding* of my junk soaring across cyberspace. Yet I do send nudes and I’m not ashamed of it; many millennials and onward aren’t either and it’s not just due to an innate immaturity or lack of responsibility. Really, it goes down to a more social change; the way we see the body is changing. The idea of the private, self-serving body is receding and a new public, free for all body is emerging.
In the course of human history, the notion of a private body is quite new. Up until the mid 17th century or so, the body was public: people urinated and defecated in the street freely, they slept in the same immediate space as many other people, often strangers. Full clothing was not a luxury many could afford and the bodily functions themselves were not something to be ashamed of. A person was less of an individual with personal space, or individual rights and more a member of a greater community.
With the coming of modernity, enlightenment and the advent of human rights the individual became just that, individual. The birth of the novel brought about personal introspection and focus on the self. Christian and Protestant influence on values and the individual’s morals brought about a new sense of shame towards bodily functions. The naked body became a shameful thing, one full of temptation and lust.
“Over time, people began to sleep alone or only with a spouse in bed. They used utensils to eat and began to consider repulsive such previously acceptable behavior as throwing food on the floor or wiping bodily excretions on clothing”. — Lynn Hunt, Inventing Human Rights
Clothes became more modest, the way people handled their bodies became something untoward and we moved into a new age of bodily integrity and autonomy.
Fast-forward a few-hundred years or so and you arrive in the present era. While the body is still considered to be private, the internet has brought about unprecedented success in spreading the nude. The pornography industry has thrived — porn sites receive more regular traffic than Neflix, Amazon and Twitter combined. Dating apps have private albums, allowing for the sharing and spreading of your goods at the touch of a button. We began digitizing our genitals for whomever we want to see and sometimes people we don’t want to see.
Every other week some celebrities nudes are leaked online. Yet apps like Snapchat continue to thrive, even after it’s revealed that images aren’t completely deleted, even after hundreds of thousands of explicit images are leaked. The voice of an older generation calls out — why are the youngins still using these apps? How could they be so stupid to voluntarily send pictures of their goodies, have they no shame?
Herein lies the root of this nudenomeon (nude-phenomenon): the digital body has no shame.
Who are we online? I am a guy with over 1,000 friends according to facebook, someone who regularly likes tweets of comedians to twitter, someone who only views but doesn’t post to TikTok, and a person who follows a lot of drag queens to Instagram. All these definitions of my online self are created in the context of each particular social media and thus each definition is a social self. There is no “me” on social media without everyone else. I am defined by my interactions.
So think about the teenager on Snapchat or the young guy on Grindr: I am defined by my profile and interactions. Anything I upload or add to my digital persona is a part of that social person — whether that is a description, data, or photo. My body, becomes my digital body, my social body. Each piece of this body only exists in a social context, so a photo of my face isn’t so different than a photo of my Johnson. They’re all part of the person that exists in relations to others; if it’s not sent, made public, or shared, it’s not a part of me.
So let’s go back to the private body. What’s happening to it? It’s still the thing that takes us to work, that ingests food (in public) and shits it out (in private). It’s still the means through which we interact with the world and our environment including our online persona. But it’s beginning to take a backseat. Online mediums, television, and virtual reality, are all visually based media. With the exception of small 4D stints and museum exhibits, the main world of interaction, work, and communication is one that we see; less and less one that we hear, feel, touch, or smell. The private body is still mine in my physical space. But with this consideration becoming less prevalent, it’s easy to simply focus on my online, public body. It’s that much easier to disassociate the photo of my hoo-ha to the thing itself.
As a nude sender myself, I say none of this in a shameful way. As of November 2018, 40% of people 18–24 said sending nudes is normal. And yet, that leaves 60% of that don’t feel that way just yet. But the infrastructure is there for it to be so. Between sexting, skype sex, sending nudes, and watching porn, our phones are becoming sexually charged devices. Instead of touching a breast or chest, I’m touching my phone, gearing it up to get off. The medium through which I interact with my online public space becomes an inherently sexual medium. Think of the modern teenager. Once they’ve used a computer to watch porn, their horny hormonal mind will always view the computer as a porn watching device. Once you’ve sent nudes through your phone, your phone becomes the Nude Sharer 5000, and you, the online exhibitionist of the future.
Now that our digital bodies have taken a major role in our interactions, reintegrating the naked body into society feels much less dramatic. Take a look at Naked Attraction a dating show where one bachelor or bachelorette selects someone to date out a line of six naked, potential partners. The naked bodies are revealed little by little, first the lower half, including penises, vaginas, and butts, then torso, and finally face. To date there are five seasons of Naked Attraction, which have put more than 200 people completely naked on British television. Anyone can watch these shows, and yet the shame and stigma of appearing naked on television is disappearing.
Consider Only Fans, a website where anyone can create an account and share private media with whoever pays to follow them. Websites like this are allowing just about anyone to enter the realm of sex work, and make a profit doing it. There may still be some public shame around spreading photos and videos of yourself online, but as more and more lucrative profiles are made, it seems to be less of an issue. My online body is public one way or another — what’s the problem with controlled sharing of my data and making a penny off of it?
Though shitting in the streets hasn’t come back into fashion, it seems that online presence has become the bazar of the future. Now that my online body is public, it doesn’t matter so much if someone see’s it, because everyone’s online bodies are public. While some are much more public than others, the shame and exclusivity regarding our bodies seems to be slowly fading away; in its place are questions of privacy and consent. Once we accept the manifestation of our bodies today we can move onto working with them, nude, clothed, or somewhere in between.