When Jennifer Lawrence’s nude photos were leaked online along with photos of several other celebrities, it wasn’t the first time a celebrity’s intimate life was broadcast for the world to see. Due to their fame and notoriety, celebrities are routinely exploited. Paparazzi capture their every move, including private moments with significant others and children. What was different about this ‘scandal’ was Lawrence’s reaction, published in Vanity Fair this month.
“It is not a scandal,” she told Vanity Fair writer Sam Kashner. “It is a sex crime. It is a sexual violation.”
‘Sex crime’ is too harsh a term, some argue, to describe leaked photos. Several commenters on The Huffington Post’s article about Lawrence’s response said they feel that Lawrence signed onto fame and that scandals like this are a risk she should have been aware of. They also blamed her for believing that she could have privacy by posting her photos on iCloud. In an op-ed piece for London’s The Independent, Jeannie Mackie, a criminal defense barrister, argued that while the leaked photos constitute a breach of privacy and even harassment, they don’t qualify as a sexual crime because her physical person was not violated.
In this case, Lawrence is spot on.
“I can’t even describe to anybody what it feels like to have my naked body shoot across the world like a news flash against my will,” she told Vanity Fair. “It just makes me feel like a piece of meat that’s being passed around for a profit” (emphasis mine).
Lawrence is only 24 years old. She did not sign up for this sort of abuse. As she notes in the article, “You expect paparazzi to be annoying, You don’t expect them to be terrifying.” No celebrity should expect his or her intimate photos to be leaked across the internet. The fact that some people think that they should is a frightening indication of our society’s attitude toward celebrities and their private lives.
Personally, I have never understood the obsession with celebrity gossip. I love seeing my favorite actors in films, and I like to read interviews they give about their work and the behind-the-scenes trivia. However, I don’t see why who they’re dating, where they’re eating, or what they’re wearing matters at all. Honestly, the idea that paparazzi can make thousands of dollars on a photo of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie out to eat together makes me sick.
This photo scandal, this sex crime perpetrated not only against Lawrence, but against several other actresses including Kirsten Dunst and Kate Upton, is a sign that our society is taking celebrity-worship too far.
Lawrence made it clear in the article that the photos were intended for her long-term boyfriend, as a part of a loving long-distance relationship. The fact that virtually anyone in the world can now do a quick Google search and find those photos is horrifying. Mackie argued that the photos were not a sex crime against Lawrence because her person was not violated. I disagree. I think Lawrence was deeply violated. Not only was her privacy infringed upon, but her naked body, the most intimate and private thing she has to offer physically, was made public. In the same way that cat-calling and unwanted comments constitute sexual assault, these leaked photos are an assault against Lawrence’s physical autonomy and mental well-being. The fact that the photos of her were nude photos, and therefore inherently sexual, make this a sexual assault.
Let’s get one thing straight: a woman’s body is hers and hers alone. It belongs to no one else, and no one else but her has a right to decide how, when, and where her body is revealed. That our culture makes it almost a given that men should have access to women’s bodies 100 percent of the time (via pornography, strip clubs, and your-run-of-the-mill sexism) is undermining this fact. Lawrence was not given this choice. Without her approval, her naked body was put on view for millions of people. I can’t even begin to imagine how detrimental that could be to a woman’s self-perception, confidence, and emotions.
Whether she should have taken the photos in the first place is not a relevant part of this discussion at all. As she noted, she took the photos consensually, which is all you or I need to know. Since her comments from Vanity Fair were released, many writers (primarily religious) have zeroed in on Lawrence’s comment about her boyfriend either looking at porn or at her. In one such article, Matt Fradd writes about Lawrence as though she’s the Devil, and not the victim in this situation. He argues that her comment was sexist against men, as though she were insinuating men have no control over themselves. This viewpoint takes Lawrence’s comments far out of context and ignores her actual point. His argument is embarrassingly out of touch with the actual situation, and he is fixated on a point that is not meaningful to this discussion. Anti-pornography or not, we should be focusing our attention instead on the ways that our culture of celebrity-worship is allowing for outright violations of privacy and, in this instance and many others, sexual violations.
Although she is famous for her roles in popular films, Jennifer Lawrence has a right to the same expectations of privacy that any U.S. citizen has. She also has a right to her physical autonomy. Being a celebrity does not negate her personhood or her womanhood. I applaud Lawrence for speaking up about this issue, and highlighting the importance of physical privacy, even for celebrities. As she told Vanity Fair, “We’re people too.”