This week, Lily Allen had intimate photos of her that were taken without consent sent to her, with the caption “this photo will be on the internet forever Lils”. And she was having none of it.
These photos were shared to her as a way to demean, undermine and humiliate her. She reacted in the only way she felt she could she took ownership. She didn’t let the person control her emotions. The irony that her new album is called ‘No Shame’ isn’t lost on me, and clearly isn’t lost on her either, as she took the opportunity to take control of the situation and promoted her album in the process. What an absolute hero.
But regardless of the way she handled the situation, the stigma and shame of women who either have intimate photos taken without consent, or shared without consent is still real. And therein lies the problem. The Daily Mail were quick to react in their usual, sympathetic way: “Lily Allen sinks to new low as she shares VERY explicit photos of her intimate area to promote her aptly titled new album No Shame”. The blame is firmly laid at Allen’s door, stating that she “sunk to new low in order to promote [her new album]” and questioning whether there was “any need’”for such photos.
I would perhaps suggest, that rather than posing the question to the woman in the photos, to the victim of the situation, why not ask the photographers who snapped the shot? Why not ask the person on Twitter, who posted it with the sneering caption? Why not finally start holding the people to account, rather than placing stigma, shame and blame on women who are put in this situation?
Intimate photos taken by you or a partner are supposed to be private. They are supposed to be enjoyed by the two of you, enhance your sex life, or keep the intimacy alive during long distances. Sharing these photos takes an enormous amount of trust. And no matter how much you may trust that person, there’s always a lingering fear… what if they share them? What if everyone sees them? It’s a nightmare no one wants to experience. But sadly, too many women do.
“I had topless photos of myself posted online by an ex when I was 16 but didn’t report it. He wanted to show everyone what a slut he thought I was. He posted them online for revenge.”
“I was in a relationship a few years ago. He pushed and pushed me to send intimate photos until I gave in. We had a nasty break up that involved the police and I found out he’d uploaded the photos and screenshots of our Skype chats where I was touching myself.”
This worst nightmare situation has happened to far too many women. The stories are heartbreaking. These most intimate moments are violated, and that trust is abused by that one person you had faith in. And that violation never goes away, because the Internet is permanent.
“I tried to get them taken down but the Internet is forever. I’m pretty sure they still exist somewhere.”
To lose autonomy of your own body repeatedly through constant sharing of photos via the Internet is a horrifying form of betrayal and assault. It’s also one with a lot of stigma attached to it, with many women fearing consequences to them, not just those who abused their trust. Sometimes, people can be lucky and those involved can face consequences.
“He did it to the girl after me, so we collected evidence against him from a few other girls too and he lost his job”.
But the consequences never seem to match the emotional trauma that being put in these situations can cause, long after the initial posting and sharing of the photos calm down. For many women, there also many not be the option to report it…
“My ex was abusive, and took photos of me without my consent. When I asked if he did, he denied it. But after so much abuse I didn’t challenge him any further. The relationship ended. I got out of it. But I still can’t challenge him and get those photos back”.
These photos are a constant threat. They are always there in the back of the mind, whether the photographs published or not. Photographs have been published online to get revenge or to s**t-shame, taken without consent as a form of control and ownership. Even when the relationship ends and the initial sharing of the photograph dies down, the threat and potential for repercussions never leaves you.
“There will always be that permanent fear there. That threat that one day, those photos will get out. No matter how many years later, he still has a hold over me. That constant fear never leaves you”
“It’s just knowing they’re there that’s an implied threat if you “step out of line” or something. Then those photos are still there. It’s horrendous.”
Lily Allen is in a position where she can use her privilege as a celebrity to reclaim ownership of the situation by reposting without embarrassment. And I applaud her for it. The tragic fact is she shouldn’t have to. No one should ever be put in a position that they have to choose between embarrassment beyond their control, or sharing intimate photos of intimate areas of their body to reclaim the situation. But she does. She turned this horrific invasion of privacy into something controlled by her. Not everyone is lucky enough to be in that position of privilege, however. Many people still live in fear of the repercussions in case photos appear. The judgment. The abuse;
“I still get nervous even now when I take or share photos of myself. In case they come out. But I shouldn’t. I look absolutely amazing in those photos. I shouldn’t feel any shame at all. But the sad truth is, that if they came out the ruin, the damage would all be to me. Not him”
Posting photos to shame, to get revenge is the lowest of the low. It is a pathetic act that shouldn’t land any shame at women who are victims but at the people who are sharing and posting the photos. The people writing about victims in order to blame them.
“I’m not ashamed that my photos exist – when he took them I had faith and I felt really pretty. He managed to turn that into something sour and horrible.”
Many of these photos were taken in intimate moments. Loving moments. Moments when women felt empowered and sexy. Women should not need to feel shame or fear of repercussions if photos are shared. Lily Allen’s perfect reaction to an attempt at shaming her is inspirational. But it shows we have a long way to go.