Just yesterday, I posted an article relating naked shame to the suicide of a young teen, Christian Adamek, who went streaking at his high school football game. Today, another tragedy came to my attention, after a girl at my daughter’s birthday party shared a YouTube video about Amanda Todd, a teen who was bullied to the point of suicide. The video was definitely not age appropriate for my child or the other kids watching it, and my wife and another mother were quite upset by it. We ended up having a long talk with our daughter about bullying. But when I sat down to watch the video myself, I was dismayed to discover yet another correlation between suicide and naked shame.
According to Wikipedia:
Todd writes that when she was in grade 7 (2009-2010), around the same time she moved in with her father, she used video chat to meet new people over the Internet and she received compliments on her looks. A stranger convinced Todd to bare her breasts on camera. The individual later blackmailed her with threats to expose the topless photo to her friends unless she gave a “show”.
After two years, Todd returned to live with her mother in March 2012. Todd wrote that during the next Christmas break,[clarification needed][when?] police informed her at 4:00 a.m. that the photo was circulating on the Internet. Todd wrote that she experienced anxiety, depression and panic disorder due to the experience. Her family moved to a new home, where Todd later stated that she began using drugs and alcohol.
A year later, the individual reappeared, creating a Facebook profile which used the topless photograph as the profile image, and contacting classmates at her new school.
Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that Amanda would be alive today if not for this photo. Her suicide was the result of depression and prolonged emotional torment, and I have no doubt that her tormentors would have found other ways to abuse her. Bullying is an act of evil akin to murder and rape. Throughout middle and high school, I was victim to similar cruelty, and can identify with the sense of loneliness and hopelessness she must have felt before her death. I know what it means to have no one and to feel worthless. I, too, was driven close to suicide, and if not for my writing, may not be here today. If social media was a part of my childhood, I also might not be around. So, if anything, I mean no disrespect to Amanda or her family. She seemed a wonderful person and I am certain is deserving of all the love in the world.
But a big part of her story has to do with naked shame. Her topless photo was used to blackmail and humiliate her, and she suffered extreme anxiety as a result. Bullies make the case that the fault was hers, but teenagers lack the foresight that comes with age. Girls often fall into relationships with terrible people who post photos taken in private on social media sites. At the most vulnerable stages in their lives, it is common for teens to take risks in order to fit in and become popular, to smoke, use drugs, or have sex. But while smoking, drugs and sex are largely accepted in our society, even among teens, nude photos remain taboo. In rare cases, a girl’s body may be uploaded to the Internet through no fault of her own, due to hidden cameras in bathrooms and changing areas, or after being raped.
Images, in and of themselves, are harmless. They are neither toxic nor poisonous. They do not emit radiation and do not pose risk of bodily injury. But in a world that delays live broadcasts for seven seconds lest someone sees a breast, an image can have great power. As a society, we have agreed that the human body is shameful, an object of lust, and anyone caught with their pants down is considered a victim or a whore. With technological advances like camera phones and social media, teen suicide is at an unprecedented high, because the power to bully has grown a thousandfold, just as the ease with which images can be shared and accessed, so that a moment of embarrassment can cause a lifetime of humiliation. While we may never eliminate bullying, just as we can never rid the world of evil, we can rob bullies of the tools they use to torment. By changing our views on nudity, by accepting the body as innocent, people like Amanda Todd need never fear humiliation again.