Here’s a poignant follow-up to last week’s response to Tumblr’s adult content ban.
Besides being a huge blow to sex workers and LGBTQ people, Tumblr’s recent decision to ban adult content from its platform is a misguided form of censorship that will remove an outlet of self-expression for those who fall outside of typical Western beauty standards.
I joined Tumblr in 2011 and like many people, my first blog had photos of typewriters and books and maybe the occasional funny meme. It was an innocuous time-suck I used as a distraction while I finished my Master’s degree.
Eventually, as is the case with any social media platform, I started to see porn pop up from time to time as I endlessly refreshed my dash. There were lots of gifs, which was great, because having just moved back home after the end of my relationship, I didn’t have a lot of privacy to watch full videos. (Gifs will get you there, friends, when there’s no alternative. Trust.)
There was something else that I will miss most now that Tumblr has moved to ban adult content from its site: a reason I could write this post!
There was something else, though, and that something is what I and I think many other people will miss most now that Tumblr has moved to ban adult content from its site.
I started to click through to these blogs whose gifs ended up on my dash and noticed that a lot of them also posted and reblogged nudes — selfies taken in various stages of undress and sexy poses. That’s to be expected, sure; but what I was surprised to find was that most of the blogs featured photos of people with all different types of bodies. I’m talking about truly alternative self-made porn: fat people, people of colour, people with disabilities, people with scars, people with body hair — and they all looked fucking fantastic.
Beyond the diversity, something that set these photos apart was that they were taken and uploaded by the subjects themselves. They lacked the skeevy and exploitative gaze implicit in a lot of mainstream porn. These people were in charge of how they presented themselves, and how they posted the photos.
But what was even more awesome? They were getting loads of love from the community. Their photos were being reblogged and “liked” (I don’t think it was “hearts” back then, in the Long-Ago). People were submitting photos to blogs and having the blog owner post them with “Wow, look at this gorgeous photo!!” as the caption.
I spent a decent amount of time on these blogs, and I’m here to tell you I didn’t ever see a single negative comment on bodies that are otherwise not expected or even welcome in porn.
I’m not saying these feelings or comments didn’t exist, but I am saying that they were so rare that they never popped up on my well-trod dash.
So, after getting my nerve up, I used my new, first-ever smartphone to start taking and submitting my own pics. While I’m conventionally attractive in a lot of ways (not a brag, just acknowledging my place in the conversation), I am fat, and I had always assumed this would exclude mine from the realm of Desired Nudes.
The reaction I got was just as positive as those on all the other photos I had seen. The best part for me was the compliments from people of all walks of life that didn’t expect anything in return, sending me messages like “Hey, great bod! Have a nice day!” and moving on. It had been a long time since I had received positive attention from a random person on the internet. Hell, it had been a long time since I had received positive attention regarding my appearance from anyone at all. What’s more, this was attention that the anxiety part of my brain couldn’t say was because of any sense of obligation toward me. These people aren’t my partners, and they don’t even want to be! They just like what I’m putting out there, flaws and all.
The best part for me was the compliments from people of all walks of life that didn’t expect anything in return, sending me messages like “Hey, great bod! Have a nice day!” and moving on.
And I began to realize: why shouldn’t they? Having so many different bodies and looks on my dash every day trained my brain out of the very narrow scope of What Is Sexy, and I started to feel just as empowered by others’ posts as my own. We had made a community, where we reblogged and boosted each others’ pics, adding compliments and sending messages of encouragement. It was fun, sexy, and self-confidence-boosting.
Because I am Ariel’s internet-child, I eventually moved on to monetized platforms for this form of self-expression; but the only reason I felt confident enough to do that was because of what Tumblr once was. It makes me sad that those in that community today, and those who would have benefitted from it in the future, will never have the kind of open-but-closed, safe and encouraging community I and so many others found then. Obviously, terrible things exist on the platform, too, and it is in need of moderation to get the Nazis and harmful shit off of there. But banning sexual expression (and “female-presenting nipples”??) entirely is cutting its nose off to spite its face. The hate will continue, but the empowerment won’t.