Taking nudes is not something to be taken lightly. It’s part art form, part strategic endeavor, and all pep talk. Who knew there was so much to a naked pic?
But, all jokes aside, nudes are about a lot more than raking in the desirability points. Nudes can be an empowering act of rebellion. Nudes have a deeper role than fulfilling desires or sating large egos. It’s pretty much a radical act these days, as is reclaiming anything society deems unacceptable or has stolen.
With speedy cloud networks making it easy to name and shame the faces behind naked pics, reframing nudes as a normal thing for of-age folks to share is important. Even more so for marginalized people who cross over into vulnerable identities.
So this is our hot take: Yes, taking nudes is a radical act of defiance. No, it’s not just about being sexy. It’s about saying, “I am my own and no one else’s.” (OK, that’s pretty sexy.)
A get-real guide to smart nudes
Taking a naked photo of yourself may seem straightforward, but it’s not as simple as turning on your front-facing camera. You have to be aware of the political, technological, and personal effects sending that quick nude can have on you.
Here are five considerations to help you decide whether you’re taking nudes you really need.
Before you turn on the camera, ask yourself: Who am I taking this for? If you’re feeling a little on edge while taking and sending (solicited) nudes, you might want to think about whether there’s a voice saying this is bad behavior.
Real talk: It’s not — but society sure makes an effort to signal that you’re a bad person for doing it.
And that’s because, without a solid relationship with yourself and your sexuality, you may see your naked body through a male-dominated gaze. This means you think about your body in terms of how it pleases “the man.”
Let’s talk about how womxn who take selfies for themselves are seen as “shallow” or “conceited,” but when they do it for a presumed male partner, it’s seen as an offering in the relationship. Why? Because of the flipping male gaze.
We’re all conditioned to downplay our desires as a service to others. Even if you don’t have a partner, this can still come out in self-criticism. Even if a photo is snapped unintentionally, society removes the agency and self-determination from us.
I mean, don’t you want to feel good about a nude pic because it’s wholly you?
Remember: Once someone has your nudes, it doesn’t mean they own them — or that nudes are meant only to make them… happy.
You don’t have to share a single nude photo of yourself, even if you’ve taken a thousand! And if you do, it’s not an invitation for dominance or comments (unless you explicitly say you want them (in which case, carry on).
Expanding our relationship to nudes and opening up the possibility for them to be used in an open, inclusive, mindful way means that we shift this gaze culture for all. Yes, men as well.
So examining why you taking nudes — and having an answer — is really the first step.
The way we’ve communicated about nudes has been wrong for so long. From the plague of unsolicited dick pics to “revenge porn” and sharing of pictures without consent, almost all of it has been in a negative light.
Understanding consent is the second step to sharing nudes. Whenever nudes are taken, forwarded, or sent, there has to be explicit consent from everyone involved.
In fact, writer Miles Klee explored exactly what sharing a nude really entails. For a “MEL” magazine article, “The Great Solicited Dick Pic Experiment,” he sent dick pics to “anyone over the age of 18 that directly asked for it.”
“When we only know someone as their avatar, posts and selfies, we’re naturally intrigued about the rest — not only what’s under their clothes but how they are, what it’s like to know them in real life,” he writes. “Nudity can arouse or titillate, of course, but I’ve long believed that the urge to mentally undress people doesn’t derive from sheer horniness; we have such over-mediated ideas about what the body can or should be that it’s a relief to see the ordinariness of a human form existing in space, without filter.”
Part of understanding consent around nude photos is understanding that it’s not just a naked picture. It’s an intimate way of knowing someone. And when you think about it that way, consent is a really big deal. Showing yourself is a big deal. Are you ready?
Yeah, it might seem unsexy to get political about nudes, but we have to think about the ways nudes are constantly used to punish certain types of people.
If you’re a Black person, particularly darker-skinned, you may face harsher burdens of just trying to exist in the public eye. If you identify as fat or a person of size, queer, disabled, etc., and those qualities are visible in your photos, they might get used against you when you send them.
For the same reasons society deems a person unfit to be a celebrity or be on the cover of a magazine, it will also say who can and can’t take nudes.
And to unpack why this affects us, we’ve got to talk desirability politics. Yeah, it’s a hefty term, but this structure is what tells marginalized people whether they can take nudes.
Desirability politics: a definition
This deals with the idea that systems of power affect our standards for attractiveness and beauty. How you portray yourself, or react to the way others look, may be a result of desirability politics.
You might see desirability politics show up in other forms of policing and internalized self-hatred, but they are often rooted in this desire to protect oneself from the effects of oppression that society places on people because of their identities.
Desirability politics can often come up as a misguided form of self-protection. And you may already be familiar with what that looks like without even knowing it. For example, if a queer person of color posts a nude and the reaction is that they should hide it, that’s desirability politics at work.
The downside is that even if you understand this, it won’t block the harmful effects of when someone believes you can or can’t take nudes.
So, let’s be clear — there is only one rule to nudes: Anyone (over the age of 18!) has the power to deem themselves nude-appropriate. Why? Because everyone has the right to feel empowered, sexy, and desirable in their own skin.
Nudes also aren’t used only to be sexual. They can be an important act of self-love, of reclaiming our individual feelings of how to view ourselves, independent of outward forces.
When taking nudes, be mindful that the reasons for taking them can vary greatly from person to person. Your personal reasons don’t overrule someone else’s personal reasons.
No, really. When was the last time you allowed yourself to ask this question?
In my work as a sex educator, I see this come up a lot for people, and overcoming it can bring up a whole slew of emotions.
But sexiness isn’t just about how you look. It’s a state of mind, an embodiment of feelings and emotions, and a state of being. It goes beyond how we look or present.
Just as you would before having partnered sex, is there a way to set the mood for yourself before taking the nude photo?
Maybe it’s lighting some candles, spraying on your favorite fragrance, playing a really sexy Spotify playlist, wearing something that makes you feel desirable, and gazing at yourself in the mirror. These are all things that can put you in the right frame of mind to take nudes so that when it comes time to shed those layers, you feel more than ready.
There are also plenty of online resources on lighting and angles if body confidence is a concern for you. Don’t be afraid to take multiple shots, trying different poses and experimenting with facial expressions.
Now that we’ve gotten the lessons on life and lighting out of the way, here’s one of the most important parts of the game: understanding digital safety and what it looks like for you, especially if you have these nude photos saved online.
Thankfully, resources exist online to help you navigate these issues.
One such resource that everyone should use is “A Sexy Guide to Digital Security” by SaferNudesNG. This is a handy guide for how to take aesthetically pleasing nudes that integrates digital safety and protecting your privacy online. “Encrypyt Your Nudes” by feminist collective Tech Witches also delves into the importance of encryption when it comes to something as vulnerable as nudes online.
Saving your nudes onto encrypted sources, not photographing your face, hiding tattoos or other identifying marks… these are all things you can do to further protect yourself, but they’re not foolproof.
The moment anything personal goes online, there will be an associated risk with safety, identity, and exposure. It’s also important to know your state’s laws and regulations so you know what protections you have in case you need legal recourse.
While they may have a bad rep, nudes aren’t something to be afraid of. Taking photos of yourself is not vain in the slightest — and in a capitalist, white-supremacist society, it’s important to know that we can deem ourselves whatever we want to be. “Sexy” included.
Cameron Glover is a writer, sex educator, and digital superhero. You can connect with her on Twitter.