The moral absolutism of Instagram and the new scarlet women of the internet.
As we’ve discussed previously, the naked charity calendar is a well-established way of raising money for assorted causes. It’s become accepted because it is naughty but nice, unexplicit and devoid of sexuality. but in general, we have a society that still looks down on any combination of charity and sex. Pornographers who raise money for charities have faced having donations turned down (and we’d do well to remember that any charity that is morally picky about who can donate probably doesn’t need your money), and now we hear of the case of American Instagram model Kaylen Ward, who has been roundly punished for her innovative efforts to raise money for Australia’s bush fire relief.
Ward raised an impressive $700,000 by offering nude photos to anyone who donated $10 or more to the cause – all you had to do was send proof of donation and a nude pic would be emailed to you. In a world where nude photos of women are pretty easy to come across, this is impressive, but never underestimate the desire of some men to see anyone even vaguely famous (and as an ‘influencer’, Ward had – at least – the sort of facile pseudo-fame that matches that of a Big Brother contestant or C-list celebrity), with 96 thousand followers. She had previously been selling nudes for cash, but her new charitable status seems to have pushed her out of obscurity and into the sights of the Instagram censors.
Normal people would not have a problem with this cheeky way of raising money. But of course, Instagram and its parent company Facebook are not run by normal people. We should remember that Mark Zuckerberg was an Incel before they were a movement, and began Facebook as a way of comparing the women who would not sleep with him and asking people to decide who was hotter – a petty little game of bitter humiliation. This resentment towards sexual women continues through the Facebook empire to this day – not only is nudity banned outright, but increasingly draconian rules now include bans on implied nudity (that is, images where the forbidden nipples, buttocks and genitals and covered suggestively), sexual discussion and whole careers – sex workers of various sorts have seen accounts closed even if their photos are entirely chaste.
In this climate, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Ward’s fundraising efforts were not welcomed. She might not have been posting the actual nude pictures online, but the mere fact that she was making the offer at all – and the teasing images that were on her #nakedphilanthropist page – was enough to damn her as a scarlet woman. As of the time of writing, her account has been shut down. And her family have disowned her and her boyfriend seems super-pissed, partly because they were probably unaware of her Instagram career before this blew up, but mostly because this is America and there is a weird as fuck attitude to nudity in that country as a whole.
Of course, we might argue that Ward was as much about the self-publicity and the charity, but so what? Isn’t everyone who takes part in a charity fundraising event rather than just quietly donating essentially attention-hungry and in search of validation for their big-hearted support of good causes? All public fundraising is as much about the individual’s ego as it is about raising money. That’s the trade-off we accept. In any case, Instagram is entirely built on exhibitionism – without the shamelessly vain posting attention-hungry photos of themselves, that site would be nothing.
The backward, moral finger-wagging of sites like Facebook and Instagram is ugly and unpleasant. It’s also not going anywhere – if the condemnation of their removal of breast-feeding images and works of classic art has only resulted in token apologies and little change to actual behaviour, then we can’t expect a loosening of rules any time soon. If anything, pressures from governments and campaigning groups who hide their moral disgust behind claims of child protection will see social sites like Twitter – where there are no current restrictions on nudity – start to tighten up the rules.
The banning of shameless women online (or offline for that matter) is the modern scarlet letter – a punishment for stepping out of line and daring to flaunt their sexuality and frustrate the desires of a repressed society and organisations submitting to the loudest religious voices. These things never end with the banning of porn, or sexualised nudity, or indecorous dancing. If you tolerate this, your freedoms will be next.