If the stolen photos of naked female celebrities have taught us anything this week, it is that there is a difference between those who consume pornography and peeping toms.
Unlike past glimpses of celebrity skin, this instance is particularly disturbing because of the means used to acquire them. The images – including some of actress Jennifer Lawrence and model Kate Upton - were stolen. And they were not stolen by way of a stray email or text that was sent to the public by error, or by a paparazzo who found himself in the “right place at the right time.” Nor did some vengeful ex-lover pass them along to the media for spite or a fee. They were stolen by a stranger or strangers who hacked into Apple’s iCloud to obtain pictures that were never intended to see the light of day - photos that were taken in private, deleted from devices long ago and forgotten.
Now that these pictures are accessible to anyone, Christians might make the argument that we should resist viewing them for the same reasons we argue against the viewing of pornography. Yet there is an additional dimension to this scandal, one that should be equally relevant for believers. To view pictures that were obtained this way is a particular denial of the victims’ imago dei. It’s an act of violation and shaming that directly counters our call to treat each other as creatures made in the image of God.
As Jessica Valenti pointed out in The Atlantic, part of the appeal of these particular photos is that they were never intended for public consumption. Many people have sought out these specific images because they promise shame in addition to stimulation. Referring to Lawrence, Valenti wrote, “If she shared nude images consensually, then people wouldn’t get to revel in her humiliation.”
Something far more sinister than hormones or libido is afoot.
Valenti’s observation hints at a rather twisted aspect of this story. While some women do invite public eyes to gaze at their naked bodies, Lawrence, Upton and the dozens of other female celebrities who were victimized here did not. This remains a key difference that needs to play a significant role in any conversation moving forward. Something far more sinister than hormones or libido is afoot. Something makes these photos more enticing than nudity alone.
When Adam and Eve first sent the world into a state of disrepair, they ran from God, hid from Him and covered their nakedness. Whereas their nakedness once represented unbroken fellowship with their Creator, the covering of their nudity points to the introduction of shame into a once-perfect world.
Today, many of us still hide in the shadows from the One who made us, living with shame and fig leaves rather than seeking reconciliation. In this state of isolation and guilt, some people long to draw others into their shame. No one wants to be alone in their darkness, so they look to expose the nakedness of others. Celebrities are highly prized, as their spectacular fall can be all the more satisfying. But like all lies, the satisfaction one feels by violating and shaming others is merely an illusion, a temporary balm to our own pain. Bringing shame into the lives of others will only and always drive us deeper into our own.