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Self Worth

Naked In Public: What Being Exposed Online Taught Me About Fatness And Gender

CW: Eating Disorder

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Written by Leah Juliett.

Art by Mariane Leon.

CW: Eating Disorder

My bones live in cyberspace. My skin is kept in the drawer below every boy’s computer. The hollow of my stomach exists on every screen –– it has been seen in every room.

I cannot piece back together the body that was stolen from me when I was a child. I cannot pretend to not be angry that I have lost ownership of my flesh. I am angry. But I am free.

As a young teenager, naked photos of me were posted on the internet without my consent. The photos were shared throughout my public high school; they changed hands on the doorstep of every fall football star.

Everyone in the town that I grew up in has seen me naked. And what is that if not a piece of sharp metal welded to the back of my left molar? Sometimes I forget it happened, but then my girlfriend takes a photo of the back of my mouth and there it is. Bright and shiny on the yellow of my teeth.

Some therapists might call this trauma. I call this “reimagining reality.”

I have spent years trying to change my body so as to not be recognizable as the naked girl in the photos. As if to say, perhaps I can make a disguise of the body I was born in. The body I learned to be ashamed of before I knew what shame meant. Maybe, in disguising myself from others I, too can forget that I ever existed. Some therapists might call this trauma. I call this “reimagining reality.”

My relationship with my body was weaponized before I understood that my bones were more than luggage for disordered eating.

At only 90 pounds, I haunted the halls of my high school like a slender ghost. I cared, more than anything, for the preservation of my size and my femininity in order to maintain a facade that allowed me to exist as worthy in a world where I felt no such thing. Blonde hair, tan skin, made-up face. Manic-capitalist-dream-girl. So long as I could measure my wrists with my index finger, I was not “too fat” that day.

But when my naked photos were shared online, a phenomenon began which I have nicknamed “the shattering effect.”

The Shattering Effect (noun): When a person experiences a moment that disrupts the course of their life so profoundly that it feels as if their entire existence has shattered in front of them.

My vulnerability makes you feel better about how ill-prepared you are to perform because there will always be someone in the room with more to be ashamed of than you.

When a rookie stage-comic experiences a bout of stage fright before their first set, the more experienced will often tell them to imagine the audience in their underwear. Witnessing the most bare, vulnerable moment of others is enough to rid you of your own fears. Now, the world is the comic, and I am the audience. Sitting naked, in the front row of every show. My vulnerability makes you feel better about how ill-prepared you are to perform because there will always be someone in the room with more to be ashamed of than you.

Being naked in public has given me the opportunity to repair and rebuild my relationship with my body in ways that I was not taught by my mother.

First, I have learned that I was the victim of a crime. It’s called Unlawful Dissemination of an Intimate Image, and it’s a felony in my state. Many have nicknamed this crime “revenge porn,” but it is more accurately known as cyber sexual exploitation, image abuse, and nonconsensual image sharing.

In relearning my relationship with my body as a victim of a sex crime, I have allowed myself to rebuild the shattering into an entirely different person. And that has saved my life.

I’ve learned that 90 percent of victims of cyber sexual exploitation identify as women –– making it an almost uniquely feminine experience. Through this lens, I have been forced to grapple with how my femininity was weaponized and used against me. I was targeted because of my gender identity and gender presentation –– I was hypersexualized and objectified. This is the experience of most women in public spaces.

When my identity was stolen from me, I allowed myself the ability to discover my real self, alive in-body, instead of searching for the same mask to adhere to my acne-scarred skin.

In coming to terms with my body and my identity, I realized that the gender identity and presentation that I’d attached myself to for so long existed because I was unaware that I could detach myself from them. And when the shattering happened, the relearning and rebirth happened, too. When my identity was stolen from me, I allowed myself the ability to discover my real self, alive in-body, instead of searching for the same mask to adhere to my acne-scarred skin.

The same can be said for my stomach, for my hips, for my chest. My body is now heavier than it has ever been. I have spent so much of my life trying to minimize and shrink and hide that I am grateful for every pound that makes me bigger; every stretch mark that shows my body becoming more alive in its home.

My younger self would have melted into herself had she known that I weighed over 100 pounds.

My younger self would have reeled in confusion to be known as anything other than “woman.”

Being completely shattered gave me the opportunity to learn about myself in a way that most people will never be fortunate enough to experience.

But then I was naked in public — and suddenly, saving myself became more important than preserving the weight or the gender that I had no real attachment to other than having no wherewithal that there was another choice.

Being completely shattered gave me the opportunity to learn about myself in a way that most people will never be fortunate enough to experience.

I am nonbinary. I am queer. I am fat. I am loud.

Street artist Morley wrote “I was once saved by the worst thing that ever happened to me.” I am unafraid because I know what it feels like to be both the comic onstage and the naked audience member. I have lived the life that was built for me –– skinny, timid girl. And I now live the life that I have built for myself –– person, who, in spite of shattering, is still here.


About the Author

Leah Juliett (they/them) is a writer, speaker, organizer, and advocate from Connecticut. Leah is the Founder and Executive Director of March Against Revenge Porn, an international cyber civil rights organization dedicated to combatting the abhorrent practice of cyber sexual exploitation through global organizing, media advocacy, national protest marches, victim support services, and a legal defense fund. Leah has talked about civil rights on CNN, MTV, BBC, BuzzFeed, Glamour, Seventeen, and more. Leah is currently pursuing an MFA in Social and Environmental Arts Practice at Prescott College.

Learn more about the March Against Revenge Porn Legal Defense Fund: http://marchagainstrevengeporn.org/legal-defense-fund

To learn more about Leah Juliett: www.leahjuliett.com

Follow on IG: @leahjuliett | Follow on Twitter: @leahjuliett


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