As a nudist, you probably know at least a handful or two of real-life nudists and you probably follow even more on social media. You may also have noticed that some of the nudists you follow prefer to post photos of other people rather than photos of themselves, rather than updates about their own lives. Maybe you have gone to someone’s online profile to try to learn more about them and wondered, “Well, which one of these photos is them? Are any of these photos of them?”
Literally, who knows? And does it matter?
It is something I have mulled over this past year, which has left me with three questions: Where do these images come from and why is no credit being given to the sources? Do the people in these photos know that their photos are being passed around the Internet as nudist promotional material? Why post images of people you don’t know rather than posting photos of yourself?
Perhaps it’s the smoldering embers of academia left in me, but the first question here seems the most troubling simply because of how widespread the “copy-and-paste-and-pass-off-as-my-own” trend is online. It’s not new, and nudists are not exempt. When I first became interested in nudism as a teenager, I took my first steps by doing research online, browsing site after site with images of people who most likely had not written the articles. I eventually joined a now-defunct forum where there were loads of genuine nudists and where it was accepted and even encouraged to scour the Internet to find “nudist” and “naturist” images to share to the gallery. It never occurred to me until recently that it might not be entirely ethical to take content that did not belong to me and share it with no credit given to the photographer or the people in the image, especially when these are images that many would consider to be very personal or sensitive. It is also worth noting that just because an image contains nudity, it doesn’t mean that it is nudist or naturist.
In the 21st century, crediting the content that you share online should be easier than ever, especially if you are following sources directly. “Retweet with comment” is available in one form or another across almost every platform, allowing you to provide your own caption or personal commentary while retaining the information of the original source, the creator’s profile and website just one click away. This does not just apply to images, but any content you can find and share online can be linked back to its source. It’s easy.
Also, context matters. An image is just an image, until it’s not. A nudist friend of mine once posted an image featuring a nude man and an innocuous quote relating to nudism. The man in the image I recognized as a well-known gay adult film actor who had been causing a bit of a buzz at the time due to his problematic political views. I considered sharing that information with my friend, but I decided against it. If nobody else recognizes the actor in the image, does it really matter that he is not a nudist or that he works in the adult film industry? Does it diminish the intentions of the image and quote? For most viewers, probably not, but I would argue that it is worth choosing images carefully, being aware of what baggage an image might carry before using it to promote nudism.
If context matters, so does consent. Nudists tend to be painstakingly careful with our own identities online and in real life. We respect each individual’s choice of whether or not to disclose our nudism, to whom we disclose, and to what extent we want our personal information and images to be shared. And yet, while we all understand the basic principles of consent regarding our own exposure, we don’t think twice before disseminating images of people we do not know at all, people who have very likely not consented to their images being trafficked across the Internet. The simple fact that a nude photo of a person exists online does not mean that they consent to it being shared. If I, for example, share a nude photo of myself within a closed group of trusted nudist friends, I am certainly not consenting to that image being taken and posted online where literally anyone might find it, where it might be used for purposes that are not in line with my own values. I should have control over my own image and you should have control of yours. Now, if I ever use a nude image of myself as an album cover, à la John Lennon and Yoko Ono, please feel free to share it far and wide and help me sell some records. In any case, be it album art or a personal photo, “retweet” and “retweet with comment” give the source of the material a heads up that you are sharing it, and a chance to have a say.
That brings me to my last question. Why would you want to post photos of people you don’t know, anyway? I like to play video games: Would I ever post photos of people I don’t know playing video games? No, probably not… but for nudists, sharing photos of other people enjoying nudism is basically part of our community’s culture. It is one of the quirky yet quaint things about nudism, and I do not expect to convince anyone to end that age-old tradition dating all the way back to the first quarterly and monthly nudist publications and documentary films. The difference between those mid-century magazines and the situation at hand, though, is that publications and filmmakers operate under more stringent expectations to credit their contributors. We are a community, after all, so boosting visibility and exposure for those of us who want our work to be shared has the potential to advance our cause. Also be aware that, just like those original quarterly magazines and documentaries about nudism, anything you share online might be consumed by non-nudists as sexual content.
Finally, circling back to an earlier point, many nudists are either not comfortable or not in a position to share nude photos of themselves online. Others of us may simply choose a life of less disclosure, and that’s perfectly fine. We all have that choice, and the quantity of images we post of ourselves online is not a reflection of how much of a nudist we are in real life. For many nudists, especially those who do not have the luxury of being able to post their own photos and share their own experiences online, sharing photos of others enjoying nudism may be one of the only ways they feel they are able to connect with the community, and that seems a perfectly valid reason continue the tradition. We do, after all, value the freedom of nudity, so it feels right to celebrate that however we can.
All things considered, I think there is room for improvement when it comes to giving credit where credit is due and respecting others’ right to decide how and with whom their images are shared. We can build a better community by promoting one another, and a more respectful community by being considerate of one another’s preferred degree of disclosure (and that of complete strangers who probably have no idea their image is circulating the internet). It also costs nothing to decide to share images of real people, real nudists, and give them credit, or to share images of yourself for that matter, if you are able to do so.
Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.