getting it

Why I Have My Face in My Naked Selfies

Photo: IMAGNO Brandstätter Images/Austrian Archives/Getty Images

“Never, ever send nude photos to a guy. When I say never, I mean fucking never.” The words hit me like a knife in the chest as I read them on page 228 of Amber Rose’s new manifesto on living right, How to Be a Bad Bitch. Even nudes that obscure your face can be identified by tattoos or other characteristics, Amber warns, and in the event of breakup, you’ll have to wonder for the rest of your life if the ex in possession of this salacious contraband will decide to share them with the world at large.

Heeding this rule would effectively crush my whole sexy-selfie game. And while I’ve cavalierly ignored the same advice from other, lesser creatures (in the form of endless online lists of naked-selfie rules and instructions), I momentarily questioned my sextcapades when Amber Rose made the case. I’ve sent nudes in which I am clearly identifiable far and wide, enriching the digital thirst economy one boner at a time. Did I really need to surrender this treasured pastime? Don’t get me wrong: Assuming the absolute worst in men is often a winning bet. But it is also paralyzing and exhausting and makes it nearly impossible to have romantic or sexual relationships based on mutual trust. I respect the reasons that make many women decide against having their faces appear in their sexts — but the risks make me defiant more than anything else.

What I am about to tell you about naked selfies is not advice. What you do or don’t do with your naked body and your cell phone is between you, whatever god you may believe in, and the NSA. I honestly don’t care if you go to your grave without so much as taking a PG-13 shot of your cleavage and immediately casting it into the digital dustbin, forever ashamed that your inner harlot escaped just long enough to snap a photo. So with that caveat behind us, I am going to say that having my face in the naked selfies that I send out is not only not that worrying to me but that it is an intentional, purposeful use of my face as a signifier for my self, and I will accept no more paternalistic finger-wagging about it.

I admit that a primary motivator for my semi-casual dispersal of sexy selfies is vanity — I want the men on the receiving end of the messages to give me a compliment just as much as I want to give them a boner. A body shot is useful if I want to get a reaction about my being desirable but a shot with my face in it is more likely to get me a reaction about being beautiful.

Beyond that, however, there’s this: I don’t always want to arrive in their messages as a disembodied set of tits or as one of many spectacular butts out there in the world. Sometimes I want to arrive as myself. Sometimes I’ll even send my face as a power move. After a bunch of shots that don’t reveal my identity, I’ll send a very clear face shot — looking somewhere between sensual and smug, head up, stomach down on a bed with my ass visible in the background. It is the sexting equivalent of photobombing the detached, eroticized body shots with my specific, highly personal face. “You will look at me when I’m sexting you, do you understand me?” is the loud and clear message of these interruptions of otherwise anonymous parts.

There is a particular rush right after clicking the “Send” icon and watching the progress bar sprint across the top of a text conversation — the interlude while the phone is loading the photograph but doesn’t give me an option to cancel the operation. I spent most of my life despising the body I lived in; I would have sooner jumped out of my skin than bare it on camera. I wouldn’t even wear shorts in photos. Wearing nothing at all was out of the question. I would characterize my current relationship to my appearance as more of a cease-fire than a peace, but I’ve been much more at ease in the last several years than I was in my teens and early 20s. Part of that self-loathing 16-year-old girl who aspired to true babehood got trapped in amber in my heart. Every confident naked selfie is sent partly on her behalf. Your time has come, I say to her, finally comfortable being seen.

One of the reasons I made the shift from anonymous nudes to ones featuring my face was the realization that many such images existed anyway; they just weren’t in my possession. I worked in strip clubs armed with security cameras where men were routinely kicked out for attempting to take photos with their camera phones. (And that’s just the ones who got caught.) There are images of me out there to which I never consented, and I’d be more violated by their release than any photo I took myself. More than once I’ve posed for promotional photos for a club in exchange for reduced house fees — so I live with a latent but not unfounded fear that if I become even moderately famous, a former employer will dig up those images and plaster them on taxis across New York City. Just last night I was checking the statistics on how people find my personal website through search engines and saw that multiple people arrived by Googling some variation of “Alana Massey naked.” I’d like to think they just considered me a babe, but I have enough anti-feminist detractors calling me a filthy whore on their blogs to assume such visitors had more sinister intentions. I sometimes wonder what I’d do if they found what they were looking for. I like to imagine myself commenting, “So your point is that I keep it fucking tight? Or that I was hiding *~gasp~* breasts under my bra and not two sleeping baby possums nestled into perfect spheres?”

Again, this is not advice. I know that revenge porn is real and that it ruins lives and if your job or reputation or custody situation would be at risk if a naked photo of you surfaced, then be as cautious as you have to be. But I’ve noticed that when I am warned against sending naked images to men, it is primarily because of the assumption that they are incapable of acting honorably in possession of these images. I am told that my naked selfies could be just one fight away from being plastered across any and all internet forums that will host the indecent little things. The claim is not unfounded: According to a survey by the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, one in ten former partners threatens to post nude images of their ex online and 60 percent of those follow through.

Victim-blaming is decidedly and rightly not in vogue, yet we persist in tsk-tsking women who throw some identifiable tits and ass out into the digital world. We should shame instead the kind of pathetic men who sit around giving each other digital high-fives, whose best recourse after a breakup was “Aha! Boobs where the blessed infant possums ought to be! Just as I suspected. Burn her as a witch!”

Like, really? That is all you have? I would be tempted to shake some pride into these men but I’d fear their fragile masculinity would shatter all over me. And then I’d be all bloody and unable to take the rest of Amber Rose’s incredible advice about taking perfect selfies. Seriously, if it were any more on point, it would cut you.

Why I Have My Face in My Naked Selfies