Reverting back to the lucid memories left by a bottle of prosecco, homemade margaritas in tow and Jorja Smith seeping out my iPhone. My best friend/flatmate and I are catching up. And that’s best done singing along with the fairy lights on – a few cliches short of a pillow fight – and yes, picking up her Polaroid camera. We clicked and captured each other with tops off and boxers hiked. Feeling ardent, free from any kind of validation from men or the internet, it was a wholly organic exchange.
I’m in a long distant relationship, so the wine-fuelled idea to send said photo to my boyfriend was inevitable. It’s delivered, then read. Before he can even reply I begin to think: does this now make this photo a sexual exchange, by default? Is it now his? They weren’t my original intentions but soon enough I find myself entertaining a weird, panicked flurry of thoughts. It’s not the first time I’ve sent him a ‘nude’, but it’s the first time the friend I share a close, platonic relationship with has taken one of me. The most considerable thought I had was guilt. For trying to explain the inner workings of a cis woman to a cis man, something he can never truly understand. I couldn’t shake the bad feeling about it. Apology orientated guilt. Then it dawned on me: what I was apologising for?
The culture and society of my female body as sexualised and objectified had rooted its ugly head inside mine. Being naked with a friend, or capturing that on cam is entirely your prerogative and that lives independent to any kind of romantic relationship you’re in. I don’t care what that looks like. Because, even lying on a bed, doting a thin slither of lace with your hands on your tits doesn’t mean you want to have sex with someone, or anyone, in that moment. You may be posing in a position that suggests sexuality, but what is automatically sexual about the naked body? I don’t show up to life drawing classes to become offended, alternatively sexually charged as my stick of charcoal navigates its way around the female form. Is there some sort age where clothes off means this is about sex? And who decided that nudity is for children, only to become adults and then your naked body becomes tied to sexual partners only? It’s not romantic to seek ownership of your partner’s body.
Perhaps what incurs the most anger inside me with regard to nudes is when I read through the tweets of women re-telling their experiences with exes exposing revenge porn. The concept that once you send a nude, ownership of your body is somehow transferred is an uneasy feeling. The simplistic answer would be to stop sending them in the first place. And whilst yes, that does make sense, why the fuck should I?
We’re told constantly, that we should put up with the way things are. To put up with shit like this: it’s funny for a group of lads to down a few pints to dare each other to take off their jeans, for a man in the crowd of a rugby match to run across the pitch in all his ‘glory’. It’s cheered and celebrated, comical. But the moment that’s flipped, and you have a vagina (woman or not) – it becomes sexual. The cheers are woos as everyone whispers I bet she’s up for it. The law says I have to contain my chest but the sun’s out. The law says the builders down the road can de-shirt. They’re ready to shout at me as I pick up my steps to rush past them. I overhear a smug chef at work – he’s laughing as he shares photos from his cracked android screen of the girl he shagged last night. He rates and shames her now. She was cheap. But, at dawn, he nestled his head across the nape of her neck, burrowing onto her shoulder before eyes shut and the pillow forgets.
What if we need to be built up by someone other than ourselves sometimes? Even the most confident, outgoing of humans is vulnerable. We compliment strangers on the street on their new creps, we comment on vapid celebrities’ selfies, and most of the time we lie to our acquaintances so we can stay relevant, and so they can inflate our egos. It’s human nature, then, to tell each other how good we look. But that’s only with clothes on. And it’s largely a facade. Coming from a cis-woman in a heterosexual relationship, the compliments and acceptance from my boyfriend aren’t always enough to feel in love with myself. What are friends for, if you don’t have a Whatsapp group dedicated to making your friends feel impassioned by their own naked bodies.
I’m not suggesting that in order to feel entirely confident you need to take everything off and rock up at your mate’s house for a photoshoot. But, actually, why shouldn’t you? When we’re proud of something, we shove it on Instagram. It’s not offensive, disgusting or weird to be proud of your body in the nude, it’s not by definition sexual to share it with the people you have close, loving relationships with – regardless of romantic partnership. Only you own your body and ultimately what you do with it.