When do people take your picture? Think about it. What are you wearing when your picture is taken? Who are you with? Does the photographer ask you for permission? Do they post it online? Most importantly, do you care about these things? After having a picture of me and my friends go viral, I do.
My picture was taken on May 7, 2011. It wasn’t very long ago, so I remember it all. Being a high school student, I woke up late, got a bagel, went to take my SAT IIs, and then met up with some friends. We had heard online about something called a Slut March, or a Slut Walk, happening in Boston, and were planning to go. Two friends of mine were excited to dress up for the walk, but I hadn’t had time. So I, with another friend, was just wearing what I wear everyday, a tank top and jeans. But when we arrived, and met Jaclyn Friedman wearing lingerie too, my friend offered to carry my top in her bag and I said yes. So now we have answered three questions: When, What, Who. But there are more complicated questions to answer.
The reporter (who I later learned had taken multiple pictures) came up to us and asked our names, and our opinions on the march. I was surprised, because in my experience reporters can easily ignore youth activists. There certainly hadn’t been anyone asking us questions at Youth Pride the year before. So we gave our names, and talked for a bit — but never once did he ask for our picture, or for permission to take our picture later, or give indication that photos of us would go online.
However, one photo was published the very next day. I was a little uncomfortable with this, but whatever — we were in public, after all, and wanted the march to get publicity. My friends set it as their facebook profile picture. Someone put it on tumblr. I didn’t really mind. But fast-forward to a week later, and it was everywhere. My sister saw it. My parents saw it, and were not happy. I tried to explain, it was important activism, but to them it was no different than a Girls Gone Wild video. An old teacher of mine saw it on Jezebel. After a month, it was in the Washington Post and my grandparents had seen it. What’s a girl to do?
No one cared about what I thought, people just used my photo to write about their own thoughts. Established reporters and feminists needed a stock photo for the SlutWalk, and I was in it. It was clearly me, topless and silent before the world.
Some people insulted us, some commended us, but no one asked us what we thought. Gone were the inquisitive reporters — if we were newsworthy, it was only our past action, our photograph, that mattered. I saw the SlutWalk as an expression of our right to be seen as whole people, not just as our clothing or our bodies. I saw it as a clear statement that our clothing doesn’t excuse rape, it doesn’t excuse violence, it doesn’t excuse objectification.
I have learned, though, that your clothing is an excuse for photographs. Next time, I will be prepared.