A reflection on the useless taboos that surround female nudity.
The tragic story of Amanda Todd is making the rounds. In seventh grade she met a guy online who told her she was beautiful and successfully persuaded her to flash her breasts during a video chat. He contacted her months later, having somehow figured out her identity, and tried to blackmail her with a screenshot. She shared her story in a heartbreaking video, chronicling how the photograph of her breasts was circulated among peers. It prompted merciless bullying. "Between the cyber-bullying and real-life harassment, the girl had a
meltdown, began drinking, doing drugs, spiraled into depression, cutting
herself," Rod Dreher writes," adding that "she has a poignant line about
how that one image, on the Internet, lives forever." Watch for yourself:
"Melodramatic, emotionally troubled, even suicidal teens are nothing
new. What got to me about this was the role technology in the hands of a
malicious person played in driving this girl to murder herself," Dreher wrote. "Do you know Nietzsche's idea of Eternal Return? That we should act as
if everything we do would have to be repeated forever. These days,
simply as a precaution, teenagers should be taught to act as if
everything they do will be online forever. Grim, but there you are."
As a parent I'll warn my kids about the permanence of the Web, its perils and how to avoid them. I'll particularly want any child of mine to understand the potential consequences of naked images of their bodies winding up online. It's prudent to teach kids how to navigate prevailing social norms, whatever they may be. But don't stories like this one demand something more from us than cautioning? When a child is bullied to the point of suicide partly because a photo of her breasts was circulated to her friends and family, shouldn't we ask ourselves why the Anglosphere retains social norms wherein being seen topless is regarded as horrifying and shameful?
Bullying is as troublesome culprit in this case as whatever pretext prompted it. The stigma against female nudity is nevertheless something that costs women the world over very dearly. And it benefits none of the places where it prevails. Think of earth as a great natural experiment, where certain parts of Scandinavia think nothing of co-ed naked saunas, and certain parts of the Middle East require women to cover themselves in head-to-toe burkas on the street. How many Americans, Canadians, or Brits believe societies that enforce female modesty are better off? Or that countries where immodesty is most stigmatized are more moral or functional?
Yet we stigmatize the human body.
It is appropriate to castigate the photographer who captured images of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, sunbathing topless. For lucre, he needlessly humiliated someone, knowing the pain that it would cause. But there's more to the story. The coverage of the episode is perfectly summed up by the cover People magazine chose:
Given prevailing social norms, perhaps this was a nightmare for Duchess Middleton. If so, that would be an understandable reaction. But what does it say about our culture that it's plausibly a "nightmare" for a physically attractive 30-year-old woman to be seen topless at a private home with her husband? I wouldn't dream of criticizing any Duchess Middleton reaction to this. In a similar position I might well be very upset at the invasion of privacy. What I couldn't help but imagine is how awesome it would've been had Middleton called a press conference on a nude beach, arrived topless with a thousand women, and told the assembled press, "The photographer who invaded my privacy had no right to capture those images, but I face that nightmare on a daily basis. And no one gives a damn until one of them photographs me topless? Grow up. I am unashamed of my body. In fact, I rather love it, as all these woman love their bodies. That makes some immature people uncomfortable. And it is their problem, not mine. If you're sitting at home obsessing over photos of me topless, or giggling and pointing on the streets, it's you who should feel embarrassment and shame, not me. I refuse to do it anymore."
Ours is a society where that People cover makes sense, and that speech would never happen. We're doing it wrong.
Note the subjects that are not being discussed here: sexual intercourse, hookups, abortion, religiosity, secularism, moral relativism. The impulse for many social and cultural conservatives will be to reject what I've written. I am interested in having that conversation and teasing out our assumptions. To preemptively clarify what I'm saying, permit me to remind you about Janet Jackson:
Above is the infamous Super Bowl halftime show that ended with her breast exposed for a split second. What bothered me about the ensuing controversy wasn't that some parents found the halftime show inappropriate for their kids, and complained about it through formal and informal channels. After all, the lyrics and choreography are rife with sexual innuendo and simulated sex acts.
Would I want my seven-year-old watching it?
I would not.
What boggles my mind is that most people never would've been upset if it weren't for the nipple slip. They were perfectly content sitting through five minutes of sexually suggestive content with their kids, only to freak out at a nipple, as if the exposed body part itself was the problem. I can imagine a lot of uncomfortable questions that show might prompt from a seven year old. "What's a nipple, daddy?" is a question I'd much rather tackle. We've all got them, after all (save our mannequins, which are less anatomically correct than in France or Spain or Argentina).
When I was twenty I spent a summer studying in Paris. I'd somehow persuaded Florida State University to let me tag along on their summer abroad program. I ate little but baguettes and pasta so that I could afford a weekend trip down to Nice and Monte Carlo with some classmates.
It's there that I set foot on my first topless beach.
At first my female classmates sunbathed in the American style. 45 minutes later they said to hell with it, took their tops off, and left the guys feeling slightly awkward and titillated for about 5 minutes, when everyone's notion of normal re-calibrated. That's how fast the mental adjustment happens.
Most people have the same experience at nude beaches. It feels weird, and soon enough ... it doesn't. In places where women must wear head scarves, exposed locks can turn heads. In New York City, exactly no one thinks bare heads are sexually provocative, and New Yorkers have their heads turned on beaches in Rio until they don't. Sexual attraction is a force of nature. It is a proper function of civilization to bound it. Though shalt not rape is a useful norm. Treat others as you'd want to be treated is a useful norm. It is shameful to let people see your breasts is a useless norm. Those who think otherwise at once give men too much and too little credit -- too little in that the site of bare breasts is not enough to corrupt men; too much in that no matter how women dress, there is no getting around the fact that many men will lust after them.
Amanda Todd's story is a lot more complicated than an inane, pervasive taboo against exposed breasts. She felt foolish partly because a stranger she trusted betrayed her; she was bullied partly due to violating taboos against promiscuity, not just nudity (taboos that could themselves be the subject of a long critique). But it remains the case that her story wouldn't have been possible save for the flawed norms that make a big deal out of nudity, cloak it in shame and conflate it with especially transgressive promiscuity. Along with the bullying and slut-shaming that helped drive her to suicide, that norm deserves to be attacked. Yes, let's caution our kids about its existence. Let's also teach them that it's incorrect, that the human body is nothing to feel shame over, that the bullies are not merely unkind, but wrong on the merits. Let's raise kids who don't grow up to be offended by nipple slips, topless beaches, or mothers breastfeeding in public, and are therefore less vulnerable to youthful mistakes, rogue photographers, and slut-shaming.
Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.
The former New York mayor is the splashy hire, but the addition of two other attorneys to the president’s team may say more about where the Mueller probe is going.
Sometimes the biggest news items on a given day aren’t the most telling ones.
Consider three stories on Thursday about President Trump’s legal issues. First, Bloomberg reported that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told the president last week that he is not a target of either Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation nor of a separate investigation in Manhattan that produced a raid on his longtime fixer, Michael Cohen.
A few hours later, Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, U.S. Attorney, and presidential candidate, said he was joining Trump’s legal team, telling The Washington Post, “I’m doing it because I hope we can negotiate an end to this for the good of the country and because I have high regard for the president and for Bob Mueller.”
Scientists are starting to uncover the genetic basis of the Bajau people’s incredible breath-holding abilities.
The Bajau people of Southeast Asia are among the most accomplished divers in the world. In the summer of 2015, Melissa Ilardo got to see how good they are firsthand. She remembers diving with Pai Bayubu, who had already gone fairly deep when he saw a giant clam, 30 to 50 feet below him. “He just dropped down,” Ilardo recalls. “He pointed at it, and then he was there. Underwater, the Bajau are as comfortable as most people are on land. They walk on the seafloor. They have complete control of their breath and body. They spear fish, no problem, first try.”
Sometimes known as “sea nomads,” the Bajau have lived at sea for more than 1,000 years, on small houseboats that float in the waters off Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Traditionally, they came ashore only to trade for supplies or to shelter from storms. They collect their food by free diving to depths of more than 230 feet. They have no wet suits or flippers, and use only wooden goggles and spearguns of their own making. Sometimes, they rupture their own eardrums at an early age to make diving easier.
Floyd Landis, a former teammate of the cyclist’s, just won more than $1 million in a legal case against Armstrong. Here are his thoughts on the suit, cycling, and his onetime rival.
At 5:19 p.m. on Friday, April 30, 2010, Floyd Landis hit send on what would prove the most consequential email of his life. Addressed to the then-CEO of USA Cycling, Steve Johnson, the email bore the subject line “nobody is copied on this one so it’s up to you to demonstrate your true colors….” It went on to detail, year by year, how Landis and other members of the United States Postal Service team had used illegal performance-enhancing drugs and methods to dominate the sport of cycling and claim victories at the sport’s premier event, the Tour de France. The email, later included in Landis’s 2012 affidavit for a United States Anti-Doping Agency (usada) investigation, clearly implicated many of his former teammates—most famously, the seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong (who declined to comment for this article).
The company is facing multiple lawsuits from brands who say it does not do enough to prevent fakes from being listed on its website.
A decade ago, when I was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, I tagged along with Chris Johnson, an attorney representing True Religion jeans, as he searched for counterfeits in the stores of Santee Alley, Los Angeles’s hub for knockoffs. We’d go into a store undercover, look around, and ask if they sold any True Religion jeans. The store owner would sometimes lead us into a back room where the fakes were kept, and Johnson would buy them, and then inspect the jeans and see if they were indeed counterfeit.
Today, though, the process of finding people and businesses selling counterfeit versions of your product is much, much more difficult. The rise of e-commerce sites like Amazon and eBay have essentially helped created millions of such stores online—a seemingly infinite number of doors to knock on to check for fakes. Shut down one storefront for selling counterfeits, and the seller can just create a new account and open a new store. “Amazon has made it extraordinarily difficult to enforce against counterfeiters,” Johnson, who now works on online anti-piracy cases with the law firm Johnson and Pham, told me recently.
With friends like these, the president should probably reconsider his messaging strategy.
The presumption of innocence is essential to the American legal system. Sometimes prosecutors and the press need to be reminded of this. It’s not as often that the allies of a defendant, or even a prospective defendant, forget.
Yet allies of President Trump have made some peculiar comments over the last few days, as Jonathan Chait, Josh Barro, and Orin Kerr note. Anthony Scaramucci says Michael Cohen would not flip on Trump because he is “a very loyal person.” Alan Dershowitz, enjoying a strange encore act as Trump’s most prominent legal defender, told Politico, “That’s what they’ll threaten him with: life imprisonment. They’re going to threaten him with a long prison term and try to turn him into a canary that sings.”
In 2003, Congress passed legislation to eliminate sexual assaults against inmates. One young man’s story shows how elusive that goal remains.
Three years ago, the young man who would later be known as John Doe 1 shuffled into the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia, Michigan. The town of 11,000 residents, which sits in the remote center of the state, houses five prisons, and over the years, it has earned the nickname “I Own Ya.” John, who was 17, had already gotten over the initial fear of going to an adult prison—he had spent several months at a county jail near Detroit and an intake facility in Jackson—but he also knew he would be spending longer at this lonely outpost, a minimum of three years for a couple of home invasions. It was still wintery in April, and his state-issued jacket was poor protection against the drafts coming through the broken windows, shattered by men who had passed through before. “It was pretty ragged,” he recalled recently, “a tear down.”
To get a job at the Museum of Ice Cream, hopeful future employees show up at the weekly casting call, Tuesdays at noon. They head to the former Savings Union Bank in San Francisco’s financial district, where pink banners announce, in minimalist font, the name of the employer-to-be. Inside, there are giant animal cookies on carousel mounts. Gardens of gummies. A minty scent wafting through a jungle of mint leaves. Each day, roughly 1,700 people pay $38 a ticket to march through the maze of rooms, licking pink vanilla soft-serve cones, following instructions from a cotton candy server to text someone in their life whom they consider the “cherry on top,” and, all the while, angling for photos. It is as if Willy Wonka had redesigned his factory for the selfie age.
The newest Supreme Court justice issued two high-profile opinions that are different in tone but say a great deal about his worldview.
Justice Neil Gorsuch may have had a slightly awkward first year, but he just racked up a hell of a week.
In his public and judicial personas so far, Gorsuch has seemed a bit tone-deaf and clumsy. Court-watchers have mildly ridiculed his ponderous writing style. And his public appearances in highly partisan venues (including parading around Kentucky as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s in-person trophy) have garnered much justified criticism.
But last Sunday, Gorsuch grabbed positive headlines by hiring the Court’s first-ever Native American law clerk, Toby Young, a member of the Chickasaw Nation and former George W. Bush Justice Department aide. (That this has taken until 2018 is, to say the least, a disgrace.) On Tuesday, he issued two skillful high-profile opinions—a concurrence in an important immigration case and a dissent in a death-penalty decision.
A crop of books by disillusioned physicians reveals a corrosive doctor-patient relationship at the heart of our health-care crisis.
For someone in her 30s, I’ve spent a lot of time in doctors’ offices and hospitals, shivering on exam tables in my open-to-the-front gown, recording my medical history on multiple forms, having enough blood drawn in little glass tubes to satisfy a thirsty vampire. In my early 20s, I contracted a disease that doctors were unable to identify for years—in fact, for about a decade they thought nothing was wrong with me—but that nonetheless led to multiple complications, requiring a succession of surgeries, emergency-room visits, and ultimately (when tests finally showed something was wrong) trips to specialists for MRIs and lots more testing. During the time I was ill and undiagnosed, I was also in and out of the hospital with my mother, who was being treated for metastatic cancer and was admitted twice in her final weeks.
It only took five minutes for Gavin Schmidt to out-speculate me.
Schmidt is the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (a.k.a. GISS) a world-class climate-science facility. One day last year, I came to GISS with a far-out proposal. In my work as an astrophysicist, I’d begun researching global warming from an “astrobiological perspective.” That meant asking whether any industrial civilization that rises on any planet will, through their own activity, trigger their own version of a climate shift. I was visiting GISS that day hoping to gain some climate science insights and, perhaps, collaborators. That’s how I ended up in Gavin’s office.
Just as I was revving up my pitch, Gavin stopped me in my tracks.