Before Leaked Nudes Could Go Viral

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Sitting on the bus with my best friend, dressed up for a night out. A short bus ride from Pitsford to Northampton. Rolling hills, rolling by.

Giggles from a gaggle of teenage boys on the back-seat, who are about my age but sooo much less mature, I tell myself stridently, trying to shun the shivering-hot shame from my body through sheer force of will. They can go to hell, I think, then retract it. I’m already there, and I’d rather be alone.

It’s August 2005; I’m 19 years old. Facebook is still Thefacebook. Camera-phones are uber-cool. Texting is a word but sexting is not. The photographs of my naked body weren’t hacked from the cloud because that expression made no sense (still doesn’t). My privacy was stolen the old-fashioned way: when I was asleep.

I went on holiday with a group of girls that summer and the images causing much mirth amongst the boys on that bus were taken by another girl, a friend of a friend. She was with a boy when she took them; I think she was trying to impress him. I’d fallen asleep naked, protected by a thin white sheet, because it was hot and sweaty in the Canary Islands in July and I was intoxicated to the point of not giving a shit. I was sleeping in a room with two other girls. I felt safe. What could go wrong?

What went wrong was that the sheet tumbled from me as I turned in my slumber (at least, I hope this is what happened; I really hope she didn’t lift the sheet herself). Then the girl came back from the club, found me unconscious, and thought it would be funny to take some photographs and pass them around mutual friends upon our arrival home.

I first heard about their existence from a male friend, after my teenage flesh had already ‘done the rounds’ of Northampton.

“Do you know I’ve seen you naked?” he asked with a grin.

I felt sick immediately. How could I not know such a thing? He seemed to delight in telling me I was spread-eagled on my back in the photographs, that my breasts looked bigger in real life.

I didn’t know it was possible to feel so naked until that moment. I didn’t know that being objectified feels a lot like pins and needles, like chilblains.

The dawning of my vulnerability left me feeling dizzy, shaky, not fully real; definitely not respected or dignified or beautiful. I felt like a snail with a crushed shell—a fleshy smear on the pavement, exposed and homeless.

For all these reasons and more, I feel sorry for the celebrities who had their private photographs stolen this week. They just want to act, to dance, to sing. They’re talented, stunning, young. Most of them are women, but this barely needs saying. I hate the fact that private images of their bodies are being passed around by strangers, pointed to and laughed at. They don’t deserve to feel like I did.

I moved away from Northampton that summer, leaving my brief local fame behind. I’m lucky, in a way. At least it was 2005 and I was a nobody and I could escape. At least I didn’t have to worry about the clouds.

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