First, I want to say I sent this same question to another nat’l columnist, Dan Savage, but as I really want some outside sound advice on this, I am asking you, too, I guess to increase my chances of getting any response!! Well, a little over a year ago, I posed for photographs that would end up on an internet porn website. Mostly I did it for the money, which I needed at the time.
Before I did this, I had a very open attitude toward sex workers, models, strippers, etc. I had read feminist literature on subjects like this, in particular Carol Leigh, who is a prostitute, and she writes about her work and life and is an activist as well. I found myself in a financial tight spot and a good friend of mine suggested I call this photographer he used to share a studio with for work. He said I could easily earn $700 for one day’s photo shoot. The idea of paying off my debt immediately was really attractive to me, but I was also very curious and even a little excited. I got set up with the photographer and the shoot did take all day; it was very tedious. Mostly it was me wearing these silly outfits, posing, and little by little I stripped down. This may sound naïve but I did not realize that they would also want to take close-up photos of only my vagina. I felt really gross doing that, but it was just a couple of shots so I tried just to put it out of my mind. Other than that, everything went well. In many ways it was just like any other customer-service job: boring, tedious, and I felt a little silly and degraded and was happy to finish at the end of the day, but at least this time I had gotten much-better paid.
Here’s the part of my story which I think is unusual, though. I was diagnosed with Body Dismorphic Disorder, and I take daily medication for anxiety/depression, which actually helps quite well. I have always been terrified to have my picture taken. If I see the photo, I can have panic attacks and it’s so terrible. Now, since the body area of concern is on my face, I wore a lot of make-up, false eyelashes, and an unlikely wig when I did the photo shoot, and that photo shoot was one of the only times I have had my picture taken since I was a little girl. Even with the disguise, it was difficult. I also thought that the chances of anybody I knew ever seeing the photos was nil. I mean, there is so much pornography out there, what are the chances someone seeing some amateur porn photos? Looking back, I realize that was also very naïve. I never looked at the photos, and I do not know which website the photographer sells them to. I did not want to know.
Afterwards, although it made me uneasy from time to time to think of it all, I told myself that the pictures are just but a few and probably lost in the world of the internet and besides, if anybody ever reproached me for it, I would explain to them my beliefs and political spirit a la Carol Leigh, and that I had nothing to be ashamed of. And I am not ashamed. But I realize now that I was wrong to assume I would be able to explain it away and others would understand my position. And I keep hearing news stories or talk shows of online photos ruining people’s lives and careers, and it seems ridiculous to me that some MySpace photos of someone dressed in a bikini playing beer pong could be so scandalous, but alas that is what I keep hearing, and I can only imagine if the above scenario is inappropriate, what I did is so much worse. And I have nightmares of my parents finding out; it terrifies me. I also occasionally over the past year have had BDD-related panic attacks when I think of it. While the fears I have of my own appearance and image cannot be helped by anybody, I do hope you can bring me some closure regarding my other worries. It would make me feel a lot better standing up to anybody, should the occasion ever occur, if someone with the explicit task of offering good advice and perspective shared my point of view. But if you do not agree then I would of course like to have your advice as well. I have to wonder how I would feel if I did not have BDD and thought I actually looked hot. My impulse is to think I would fully embrace my own political/social beliefs and would not have been worrying about this much at all. But then I always wonder the opposite. Maybe if I had a better self-image, I would respect myself more and not allow photos like that to be taken of me for any price — at least that is what I always hear one should feel. Please write back! It would be so much appreciated! Also, I am not sure if you need to know this, but I am 23 years old, a student, and I currently have a part-time minimum-wage customer-service job in the food industry, and I am in Austin now but I grew up and my family is in SA.
— Feeling Exposed
Writing to me was the right thing to do. I am totally easier than Dan Savage, much less preachy and more charming. I am definitely not going to judge you for having a naked picture on the internet — I live in a beautiful glass house and understand that the most important thing here is that you can love and respect yourself when the day is done.
You cannot untake the photos, and removing them from the internet would be a painful process that is more trouble than it is worth if you signed a contract or release form. You have posed for pornographic photos for the internet. Say it out loud while looking at yourself in the mirror or your friend in the eye. Surprisingly enough, it doesn’t actually physically change you. Now smile. Show yourself some forgiveness and
Will this little adventure bite you in the ass in the future? That is hard to say. These photos are not on MySpace or Facebook and never will be. Being a young and emotionally vulnerable intellectual in a hard financial situation making a well-considered decision that she later regrets is much more respectable than a drunken slut in a bikini playing beer pong and advertising it on a social-networking site where her professional peers can watch. Unless you become a celebrity or sleep with one, the only people looking at your pictures online will be in no position to judge amateur porn models. But I would recommend not doing it again considering the emotional pain it is causing you now.
Everyone has and will continue to make decisions in their lives that they regret. It is human to second guess yourself or change your mind. Everyone has secrets, failings, hopes, and regrets; it is part of the interior human experience. You are now wiser for your decision and actions. You might take the opportunity to write your own essay about your experience and your beliefs. Treat it as the research you rationalized it out to be and create something positive from the misadventure.
I believe that BDD is something that can be overcome, and I encourage you to search out ways to not just manage your situation, but free yourself from it. I am reading a great book called Unattended Sorrow by Stephen Levine. It has nothing to do with BDD, but it has everything to do with caring for yourself. Consider checking it out from the library. Continue to pursue counseling and work with the guidance of your doctors, but also know that sometimes we are the only ones who can fix ourselves. Though it is more than difficult and possibly unbearable to imagine resolution and success, you can assemble the tools because you live in a giant world of opportunity and potential happiness.
Much love, insight, and appreciation for yourself,
Your Uncle Mat
Uncle Mat answers questions about relationships, sex, pets, and art. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, myspace.com/yourunclemat, or check out the Dear Uncle Mat Page on Facebook. Your true identity is safe with him.