The question goes around a lot lately - as well as the other question I didn’t answer for months. Did you stop shooting for Suicidegirls ? And how has SG changed your life ?
How has it changed my life ?
It made me a product.
I’d be weird to not acknowledge how many changes SG brought about in my personal and professional life. SG was a starting point for my work as a photographer. It gave me some nice new impulses, it connected me with models, and gave me opportunities to shoot a lot and improve my work. It opened up a whole web of new meetings, friends and lovers, some of them literally life-changing. It allowed me to network globally, travel internationally, and laid the groundwork for my tattoo work as well. I can only be grateful about everything it brought me in terms of changes and happy encounters.
But there is also a huge downside, and that is a tough one that took me years to word properly. That huge nude-internet-world crushed down my naive feminist ideals, my sex positive views, and my gender activism ; and the whole process was extremely slow, and pernicious.
Whereas I grew up quite far from the pervasive image culture and the brainwashing medias, I eventually stepped into it later, in my twenties. I’ve been lucky enough as a child, being solitary, educated and quite protected. I never opened a magazine. I didn’t care about fashion. I didn’t watch tv much, and definitely stopped after 12. I wasn’t in a teenage posse, or within a group of friends whose influences and trends shape your tastes too. I didn’t care about people or judgements. Even though I was not immune (who could escape all the media ?), I was, as much as I could be, remote from imagery. I immersed myself in books, and books don’t pollute your eyes the same way images do.
But then, the internet. Oh how I loved the internet ! It offered me all the stimulation and possibilities I was craving. But it also infused me with the visual culture that had been elusive for so long. Maybe it didn’t affect my views so badly, because at least I was already a grown-up, with a bit more distance and perspective ; but let’s face it, it damaged me anyway. It shaped my eye and my mind, precisely when I thought I was studying it and trying to fight it - the same way it shaped us all. Unfortunately, with SG, I worked deep within that world. By learning to analyze images and feedback, stats, comments and ratings of popularity, by the very act of learning and using those tricks myself, I’d been tricked as well. How sad it is to see that, simply by studying how to impress and influence, I HAVE BEEN influenced.
I can see and feel now how my tastes have changed, how they’ve been oriented and formatted. How I’ve been taught how to react, what to like, what to fantasize about, how to identify, how to present myself, and how to see and appreciate one sort of aesthetic instead of another. And unfortunately, once it sinks in, it’s so hard to deconstruct. I wonder if it’s possible, even. That’s the hard pill to swallow : you may be conscious of it, you may fight, you may identify how you’ve been conditioned - but you are, still.
I joined SG because I sincerely wanted to show that a non-gender-stereotyped queer woman, raggedy-clothed, punk and raw as I identified, was sexy, confident, and beautiful too, with no need nor desire to fit the standards. I wanted to show another kind of beauty that doesn’t look like the feminine, soft, cookie-cutter stereotype we are expected to be, and I because I had a lot of creative ideas to showcase and stories to tell. I was very passionate about body-positivity, and about seeking out some different, positive, non-heteronormative portrayals of sexuality. I was eager to show the world how diverse, rich, and interesting, how human were the women around me.
However, where am I now ? The sneaky poison of these beauty standards had sunk into me while I looked away. I became narcissistic and self-conscious. Maybe I was the only woman on earth not interested in appearances, but I really wasn’t. Then for the sake of the pictures, little queer me learnt to make myself up, changed the way I dress, the way I walk and carry myself, and I slid closer to the stereotypical feminine part of the spectrum. Oh, not in a day. Not at once. Slowly. Step by step. I set out many boundaries. I started considering myself as a sexualized creature. I attracted creepers. I objectified myself. I enjoyed it a lot sometimes, I hated it, most of the time. I was deeply involved in that world, and it changed me, not in the good way I expected. Of course, change is a natural process of maturation. I didn’t expect to grow up and stay the same forever. But I’d rather stick to my ethics.
For me, being portrayed that way, and above all, working to portray women in such over-sexualized, standardized representations as I did on SG, has had disastrous effects. I’m aware every individual will have a different experience, and a large spectrum of feelings about it, but still, hyper-sexualization can harm girls’ self-esteem very badly - in a toxic and sly way. It harms men’s valuation of women as well. We live in a society that teaches us self-hate and body-negativity. Thanks to internalized misogyny, and centuries of patriarchal stereotypes belittling and dehumanizing women, it mostly targets the female body.
-“If the body is evil, and the woman is that body, then the woman is evil." (Susan Bordo).
It’s always too present, too large, too desirable, not desirable enough, too sexual, too much of this or that, not enough this or that. We are overwhelmed by double standards, with ugly religious hints of puritanism and asceticism, despising flesh and demonizing the body -therefore, demonizing women. What’s left for us, to learn to love and accept this despicable body ?
The sexualization trap. There it is, then, the more-or-less conscious objectification. It’s very tricky. Most of the women here will retort that posing nude is definitely a boost for the ego and the self-esteem and could certainly lead some of them to a better body acceptance - and they are right. The feedback and support from people here can be very, very helpful. And appreciable. But as is often the case on women’s issues, it’s a double-edged sword : it also makes us used to being seen solely (or, mainly) as sexual objects. We become accustomed to thinking of our body like an extension of the self -not the self - or like a product, a machine working for, or against us. Not just « us » as whole. So, between body-hate and hyper-sexualization, it’s hard to find a path within the mess. Heads we lose, tails they win.
Again, it’s not wrong to be objectified, sometimes, and there is nothing wrong in enjoying the fact that we are desirable. Strangely, as I stop shooting for SG, I stepped into slightly less-soft-but-more-ethical porn shooting and filming, and it again brought up new issues for me, and more reflections about the way we focus on sexuality. I’m all for exploring sexuality, self, and fantasies ; I’m all for questioning around about taboos, societal norms, and sex stereotypes ; but still, I’m very careful and critical against constant, overwhelming, hyper-sexualization - especially since it targets almost exclusively women. The problem, as always, is in the amount and frequency, and in being reduced toonly a sex object, not a entire person any longer. You don’t consider someone a whole person when you’ve been offered an assortment of appetizing body parts. And that what’s the site is doing. Showing a fancy menu of fresh meat, over and over. I used to be ok with that, because I felt there was a certain balance - the blogs, the promotion of the girls’ interests or hobbies or jobs or creations, etc - the whole « boobs and brains » thingie ; and the lively groups. I always paid close attention to the way the site was promoted, and the way they promoted the models. I appreciated how, even if I know it was a clever branding, the girls were introduced with smart quotes, insights of life irl, seemingly quite in control with the pictures, showcased and respected as strong persons and empowered personalities in a beautiful envelope. I knew it was advertising, but at least it was advertising I could agree with. I’m still paying attention to the outside promotion of the site, and now it sickens me. What I see now are softened porn blurbs, cute brainless little baits to make you forget as much as possible that you are looking at real people.
I’m not pointing fingers, nor saying a simplistic « boohoo, bad site, evil people”. It’s not SG only - it’s the entire structure, the system that goes with it, the people participating, the whole culture of insidious consensual objectification. We are all part of it. But I don’t want to be an active part of it any longer.
I hoped to change the way we see women and eroticism. I didn’t. I failed. For years I’ve been told on SG, with the nicest intentions : « it’s great you are here, I like your vision" - but it was useless. My "vision" was only the rare happy occurrence where a super popular model allowed me to work on something a bit more creative for once ; or when I bent my work and ethics enough to meet the usual standards desired here. I feel shaping my work and directing my « visions » to keep it viable and purchasable has damaged my integrity, my work habits, and my art. As soon as I started following, or worse, suggesting - more or less consciously- what would ”work better for the site”, it stopped being feminist and progressive. Because ”working better for the site” really just means ”working better to maintain ideal beauty standards so we can make some money here.”
We say to err is human, and I suppose you need to actually make the mistake to understand it truly. I chose the typical patriarchal bargain of sexualization. I thought I would infiltrate the system and work to subvert it from inside. In a way, in small ways, I did, hopefully. I’m doing it right now. I chose to use my appearance, and then, grab the attention I gained to speak out. “Here are my tits ! Oh, now I have your interest ? Great. Stay focused, and let’s talk about feminism, respect, and gender issues.” I’ve been blogging carefully for years, trying to share and question as much as possible - that was my way to bargain with the uneasy feelings, the un-feminist aspects of being a part of SG.
There are always lots of shades in an issue, lots of nuances, depending on the context. In the context of my queer early-twenties, posing nude was a good, liberating idea, sex-positive, a good self-affirmation about the norm’s stereotypes. In the current context of my thirties, with the knowledge, the realizations, the experiences and the reflexions I have accumulated, it’s a hollow mockery.
However, there are no small gestures. Everything counts and can have a big impact. And it starts with ourselves.
Therefore, I can now answer the question I’ve been asked a lot these last months : no, I do not shoot for SG anymore - I actually stopped more than a year ago. I do not recruit, promote, or advocate for something I don’t support any longer.
I wish I was still a very young person who could pose just for fun, for the pleasure, for the sake of it, without questioning and chastising myself too much. I wish I could only focus, as I did for years, on the positive aspects of SG, and keep a carefree attitude about the impact of my actions. That would be easy, and comfortable. But the cons exceeded the pros, and I’m not that person anymore. I can’t play mindlessly with the images, the objectification, I can’t go on being that little pawn in hyper-sexualization game, without feeling like a traitor, a liar, and a part in everything I’m trying to fight.
I don’t want to be a product any longer. I don’t want to portray people as products. I see people. Human beings in all their complexity. I’m in the process of recovering - my eyes, my thoughts, my artwork, my person. I’m sorting out and fighting sneaky habits, I’m trying again to escape narrow, suffocating standards sunk pretty far down in.
It’s gonna be a long and difficult process.
Meanwhile, I wish to thank deeply a handful of lovely souls, inspiring and helpful friends, amazing to be around. P_mod, Spleen, Opale, Cherry, Annalee, Nemesis, Key, Sinnah, Ortie, Phoenix, Lavonne, Temper, Charlie, GoGo, Albertine, Benten, Erika Moen, who all inspired this reflection, and all the others I didn’t name - you know <3
(pictures credits Pascal Pierrou & Marie Rouge)
Piqûre de rappel : l'objectivation et le male gaze