Are Nude Selfies Empowering?
August 10, 2016
Yesterday I wrote about the state of our culture revealed by the spokesperson for one of our presidential candidates saying Marlania Trump’s published nude photos are nothing to be embarrassed about because she is beautiful. I then made a contrast with another woman who heard the opposite when she wanted to use her body for a weekend fling. She was rejected because her body was too wrinkly, yet was still able to stand naked in from of the mirror unashamed. Please read that article in conjunction with this one.
But hey, everyone can get in on the 15 minutes of fame now without having to wait for a Playboy contract or even a guy willing to take you out for the weekend. Sure, celebrities are leading the way, but 46-year-old moms and teenagers alike are now encouraged to take pride in sharing their naked selves with the world. In their article for The Weekly Standard, Judith Miller and Ann Marlowe highlight Kim Kardashian, who kicked off a whole slew of celebrity support sending the message that they can be proud to post their naked bodies on social media for all to admire. The authors conclude, “Sharing nude selfies is just the latest form of ‘empowerment,’ or exhibitionism, at the expense of self-respect.”
What is it that makes women want to expose themselves in such desperate fashion, demanding strangers to venerate their bodies? And why do they have to keep assuring everyone that there’s no shame in it? Are their beautiful, naked bodies their glory?
But there is shame.
It’s right there in Geneses 3. Before the fall, we read, “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen 2:25). But after they sinned, their eyes were opened to the fact that they were naked and needed a covering. Once they sinned, they couldn’t bear their nakedness. We’re not talking about a casual relationship here either. We’re talking about the very first married couple. Were they merely ashamed of their nakedness before one another? I don’t think so. Clearly, they shared their nakedness in sexual intimacy later. But this shame of being exposed is not only before one another, it is before the whole creation, their God, and even the angels. Man’s glory has been corrupted because man turned from the true glory of his Maker and his Maker’s goodness to seeking his own glory to rule by his own goodness.
And so even now, we see more attempts to recapture that counterfeit glory. As soon as you try to exploit beauty, you’ve corrupted it into something to consume. Sure, sinful hearts find pleasure in that corrupted beauty. Naked flesh becomes the object of desire rather than covenant union with the person. But we know it isn’t right. We all know. We know that true beauty does not need marketing and advertisement. We know that obnoxious appeals for attention are desperate. We know that a truly beautiful woman doesn’t need to tell everyone she’s beautiful---with words or naked pictures.
Beauty is not something we acquire over others. It is something that we share with others in an appropriate way.
There’s no shame in beauty. But because we are still sinners, we still need a covering. We cannot be naked and unashamed. For those of us in Christ, our clothing, just like the animal skins that God made for Adam and Eve to replace their fig leaves of their own covering, points to our ultimate covering of Jesus Christ’s blood over our sin and his righteousness accredited to us.
The ultimate glory that we seek is to behold the face of Jesus Christ, our bridegroom. The Christian’s expectation is the beatific vision and there will be nothing more beautiful to behold in eternity. We shall see Jesus Christ as he is in his unveiled glory.
This brings me back to the sharing of our nakedness, our sexual intimacy in marriage. As Scripture tells us that our marriages here are a picture of this much greater marriage, we gain more understanding of why there is no shame in the pleasure of sexual intimacy in marriage. In this intimacy there is a different kind of unveiling between a wife and a bridegroom, one in the context of a marriage where this husband is to also give himself up for his bride. Christ has cleansed us with his own blood, and our husbands are to cleanse us in keeping God’s word.
Holiness and purity are beautiful. And so is grace. In the covenant context of Christian marriage, we experience all of this. We strive for holiness. We offer grace. Our nakedness is a perpetual reminder of our need for redemption and our longing for incorruptible, resurrected bodies. And our union of flesh, our “knowing” one another so intimately, and the pleasure that brings is mysteriously fascinating. It should never be cheapened. But as wonderful as that is, we long for the consummation of our much greater union with Christ.
Our nakedness should humble us, not empower us.
And so back to these nude selfies. They don’t glorify the woman; they cheapen her. When women publish nude pictures of themselves, they are succumbing to a longing for acknowledgement of a beauty that is exceptional and unique. But the effect is the opposite.
Again, I turn to C.S. Lewis, who is one of the few who have written so remarkably on the topic, before even knowing about the future of sexual exploitation in selfies:
Are we not our true selves when naked? In a sense, no. The word naked was originally a past participle; the naked man was the man who had undergone a process of naking, that is, of stripping or peeling (you used the verb of nuts and fruit). Time out of mind the naked man has seemed to our ancestors not the natural but the abnormal man; not the man who has abstained from dressing but the man who has been for some reason undressed. And it is a simple fact—anyone can observe it at a men's bathing place—that nudity emphasises common humanity and soft-pedals what is individual. In that way we are "more ourselves" when clothed. By nudity the lovers cease to be solely John and Mary; the universal He and She are emphasised. You could almost say they put on nakedness as a ceremonial robe—or as the costume for a charade. (The Four Loves, 104, Kindle Edition, boldface mine.)
But in the act of love we are not merely ourselves. We are also representatives. It is here no impoverishment but an enrichment to be aware that forces older and less personal than we work through us. In us all the masculinity and femininity of the world, all that is assailant and responsive, are momentarily focused. (103)
Which woman do you want to represent---every other desperate woman who sacrifices her body as a quick object to gratify a man’s lust, or a covenant bride to the husband who sacrifices his own life for her good?
Sexuality is still mysterious to us. Lewis again articulates the wonder and baseness of it all:
For I can hardly help regarding it as one of God's jokes that a passion so soaring, so apparently transcendent, as Eros, should thus be linked in incongruous symbiosis with a bodily appetite which, like any other appetite, tactlessly reveals its connections with such mundane factors as weather, health, diet, circulation, and digestion. (100).
Be humbled. Be holy. Be thankful. And honor the weight of your neighbor’s glory.