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Nude girl selfies: the new ‘trading game’ for boys

Taking explicit pictures of themselves to send to boyfriends has become widespread among young girls in the social media age. Photo: Shutterstock

Taking explicit pictures of themselves to send to boyfriends has become widespread among young girls in the social media age. Photo: Shutterstock

Last week, several naked selfies of young Maltese women were circulated on the internet without their consent. Kristina Chetcuti delves into the virtual world and talks to people who live and breathe the nude pictures culture.

John’s* smartphone pings as we speak. He swipes and shows me what he has just received in his What’s App inbox. It is a photo of a girl of Barbie-like proportions: long shiny locks, slim, well-formed buttocks, large breasts. She is naked, leaning against the bathroom sink, one hand faux-covering her bosom and with the other she’s holding her iPhone to take the selfie.

She looks like a porn star.

“Ah, no. She’s Maltese. I know her. She used to go to school with a friend of mine,” says John, 23.

The photo was sent to him by another friend of a friend who posted it on a ‘thread’ – like an online room for his group of friends – on an instant messaging application.

John is a graduate, with a professional job, and, like all his peers, nude selfies are part of the ‘boy’ culture. “Nude photos of girls always used to be shared but in the past two years, with apps like Snapchat and Instagram, there has been a boom – it’s become very easy to share photos widely,” he says.

If you don’t do it, it means you have low self-esteem

“It’s gone ballistic – whoever has a picture of a naked ex-girlfriend in his hard drive is sharing it.”

The girls are presumably aged between 18 and 24. As he swipes through his whole collection, it is evident that some girls look almost shy in the nude pictures, while others are very confident in their racy postures.

“Some girls do it because they are badgered by their boyfriends to send them a picture. But there are others who do it out of their own free will. It’s like exhibitionism – for them body image is everything,” he says.

There is no clear-cut demography of the girls who send nude selfies to their boyfriends or male friends. Most are well-educated, come from different social classes, all are very well groomed: “They would be the type who would go to a barbeque dressed up in high heels and cake-tin make up.

“For the girls, this is part of the ‘cute’ culture. Just as they like Hello Kitty, they like taking selfies,” he says. He thinks there is pressure among girls. “If you don’t do it, it means you have low self-esteem. If you do it, it helps you become even more confident.”

He admits that a girl would not really share her naked pictures on an open platform but normally sends it to a boyfriend.

However, he thinks they would have an inkling that the photos might be shared.

“Well maybe they wouldn’t think that they’d be so widely shared,” he says, explaining there are about 100 ‘threads’ – online spaces on apps – where photos of Maltese girls are shared. When a new photo comes in, lads tend to do an active search on Facebook to trace the girl so they can check her profile.

On Facebook, the photos they post are milder, but still heavily suggestive: cleavage and legs are always on show, but – perhaps an indicator of their naiveté – their photos are interspersed with photos of their families.

As we conclude the conversation, John’s mobile pings again: it’s another set of naked selfies. “This week’s been a real bonus.”

That same day I meet Lexi*, 18, for her take on the nude photos spreading virtually. “I have never taken or sent anyone a nude selfie, but some friends who have in the past are really scared this past week,” she says. They’ve all figured that boys are unearthing past photos from their hard drives. “It’s like a trading card game for them.”

She says, that since last week, when photos were uploaded on a blog dedicated to Maltese girls, they’ve talked of nothing else. The photos have since been removed from the website which was closed down shortly after it was reported in the mainstream media. However, the photos have been widely shared through social networks and mobile phone apps.

“There is this ‘revenge’ plot going on by ex-boyfriends,” she trails off. But why would the girls take the photos in the first place and send them to their boyfriends? “Oh, you know how it is – when you’re going out with someone you think you can trust them and that you’re going to be together forever sort of thing.”

There are girls, she says, who send nude selfies to boys they fancy in order “to get them to fancy them”. But they think that boys will sort of treat the photo with confidentiality and not pass it on.

According to Lexi, boys are the first to ask for nude selfies and girls feel they are under pressure to “do something provocative to hold on” to the boy. “It’s like to be a good girlfriend you need to send your boyfriend a photo of you in the nude,” she says. “It’s all about guilt tripping.”

*names have been changed.

Additional reporting: Ivan Martin

Distribution illegal but difficult to police

Distributing, circulating or publicly displaying pornographic material in Malta is illegal but lawyers said this was difficult to enforce. Although the sharing of explicit material without a person’s consent is a clear breach of data protection, the Data Protection Commissioner has no jurisdiction over websites based in the US.

Because of this, the Social Dialogue Minister is considering amending the law to make it a crime to share explicit photos without the consent of the person depicted. This step will mirror recent legislation introduced by the Israeli government which two weeks ago made it illegal to post sexually explicit material online without the subject’s concern.

How should parents tackle this sensitive subject?

“We are all sexual beings and therefore parents should start talking about sexuality from an early age so they can provide an environment where children can have the opportunity to explore one’s own values and attitudes about their sexuality and develop a positive outlook about their sexuality,” says education officer Stephen Camilleri.

“Parents have to take every opportunity that presents itself to teach their children about life, growing up, feelings and different relationships. They can do so in an informal way, through stories or discussion when seeing a film, birth of a puppy or kitten and so on.

“The best protection from the psychological harm due to repetitive exposure to pornography is a loving, nurturing and affirming formative environment for the child and learner, both at home and at school.

“Home-school links should ensure that such an environment is promoted and supported in every way possible.”

Porn by numbers

• 36 per cent of the internet is pornography

• 1 in 4 search queries is about porn

• A third of all downloads are porn

• Online porn makes €2,285 a second

• The largest child consumers of internet porn are the 12-17 age group

• Eighty-seven per cent of university students in Canada are having sex over webcams, instant messenger or the phone.

• Ninety per cent of porn access is from the internet; 10 per cent is from DVDs or pay-per-view

Learn the lingo

• Selfie – a self portrait

• Belfie – a photo of the belly button

• Nakie – nude selfie

• Fakies – when people share a photo of a nakie but the girl is not Maltese

• Duck face – when you pout for a selfie

• Teasers – a photo of a girl in which she is not yet quite naked

Selfies and the dangers of social media will be the main topic of discussion in Times Talk on TVM this Tuesday at 6.55pm.

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