Now that it’s out in the open, own it. Shape it. Make it yours.
Dear Ms. Lawrence,
(Or do you prefer Jennifer? Or J Law? Or like Scarlett Johansson, do you think nicknames like that are a bit tacky and insulting? Maybe I’ll just stick with “Jen”.)
OK, Jen, let me introduce myself. My name is Sam Eyler; I’m a feminist writer living in Colombia and one of the many bazillions of people in the world who saw your boobs today after they were, lamentably, leaked by a sonuvabitch hacker into Internetland over the weekend.
Those boobs, complete with pixelated nipples, have been streaming into my news feed all day, and I’ll admit I’ve been glued to it and clicking every link in hopes of hearing you weigh in on the matter personally. (I know your publicist has already released a statement, but frankly, I’m more interested in your voice than hers. Though I can imagine it’s been a rather stressful day for you—enough to drive fellow hacking victim Mary E. Winstead offline for a while—so no pressure, I can be patient.)
You see, I feel I somehow have a personal stake in how you respond to this situation, and it’s not just because we both share a Kentucky background and an inability not to either fall over in high-pressure situations or drunkenly vomit at friends’ house parties. The fact of the matter is, even though you’re a few years younger than me, I look up to you as much as any preadolescent worshipper of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. You’ve got an empowered, easy finesse that marries seething sexuality with Midwestern innocence, and—what can I say?—I really want to be like you.
In fact, I kind of think being like you might be the next step in women’s empowerment. I once summarized myself in an online dating profile as a “feminist socialist writer who tries to tear down sexual double standards like it’s her job (it is).” I firmly believe that it’s time that we female eunuchs reject our own castration and demand that our social and economic empowerment be accompanied by a shameless reclaiming of our rapacious yet repressed female desire.
In practical terms, for me at least, this means marrying my “respectability” and ambition with open horniness. You might be proud to hear that I’ve tried to do Kentucky proud and have flung myself out into the world, getting a Master’s degree from a top European university, traveling to a dozen or so countries, writing for half-a-dozen mildly reputable publications, editing for a few different Nobel prize-winning economists at international think tanks, and entertaining ambitions of soon doing my own economics doctorate on the commodification of female bodies.
Alongside all that, I proudly maintain a porn Tumblr where, with a bit of digging, you can find photos of both my boobs and bush. I have had affairs with married men as well as group sex and STIs and have visited both sex shops and swinger bars. I have written about the need for women to create their own porn and own their sexual gaze; about my experience of accidentally dropping my FetLife profile picture onto my Facebook wall; and in support of the #AfterSexSelfie trend, complete with my own blissed-out post-coital happy snap.
All of this while fending off the deeply well-intentioned concern of various friends and family members, who have warned that such behavior makes people “lose respect for me”—and also knowing, on some level, that they are right. All of this because, besides the fact that I firmly believe as a feminist in the need for women to take on greater sexual protagonism, I just really enjoy it.
In other words, I have staked my professional reputation and social status on the idea that a horny, attractive woman can enjoy getting her kit off in front of a camera for a person she fancies and still be an accomplished, successful, and—dare I say it?—good person (no matter what people suffering from a madonna/whore complex would like to make us believe about ourselves).
What all this means for me, Jen, is that I would consider it a personal favor if you didn’t let these hackers make the public display of your boobs into a scandal. As Anne Helen Peterson wrote this morning at BuzzFeed, after describing how Marilyn Monroe herself took ownership of the narrative after nude photos of her were also leaked:
As feminists, fans of Lawrence, or just culturally progressive people, we can decide not to align our reactions with the hacker’s intent.
The only way to prevent a market for these type of photos is to stop treating them, and the “secrets” they reveal, as revelatory or scandalous. They don’t tell you anything new about Lawrence. They don’t make you think differently about her. You know why? Because sexuality isn’t, and shouldn’t be, a dirty secret.
We already know, Jen, that you’re certainly not vanilla about your sex life, as made clear by your discussion last year with Conan O’Brien on the exhaustiveness of your butt-plug collection. You’re hot as all hell (and yes, I confess I kind of do fancy you. Hope you don’t mind too much). You enjoy the power that your own hotness gives you. Everyone tells us that this is the wrong way to be a “good woman,” but does it really have to be?
This is not to downplay the gravity of this despicable violation of privacy. I understand, as a (very) mildly successful writer, that controlling the image you project is crucial to establishing the emotional safety required to produce creative output in the first place. It is likely not a pleasant thought that millions of adolescent boys (and girls) will now probably spend the next few afternoons blissfully getting off in front of a photo of your exposed nipples.
But let’s face it—they probably were anyway (albeit with your face photoshopped onto Sasha Grey’s or some other nameless porn star’s body). That’s part of your power. So, now that it’s out in the open, own it. Shape it. Make it yours. Other empowered women whose boobs grace the Internet—like, say, me, or Stoya, or Kirsten Dunst, or ScarJo (ahem, I mean Scarlett Johansson)—would be enormously grateful to you for it.
Samantha Eyler is a freelance American writer, editor, and translator based in Medellín, Colombia. She has written about politics, immigration, Latin America, and social justice for publications such as NACLA and the New Statesman. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.