[Written by Julia Hegele (she/her)]
[Art by Ella Edwards (she/her)]
Content Warning: Sexual Assault
I used to imagine that the pixelation of a body removed the sanctity from its form. A photograph, a video; those weren’t bodies of power, they were mere reflections of the physical entities that had pressed send. A body online wasn’t real, there was no harm in viewing it. I believed in a mutual agreement between man and machine, that once you submitted your body to the Internet, it was gone forever. I believed you had no control, no autonomy and for that reason I was tantalized by the idea. I thought that if I were to break my body into trillions of pixels, rocket them into space and plummet them down at a speed faster than light into someone’s iPhone, I would build a bond through my supplication. I thought I would be celestial, that I would be empowered and most ironically, safe.
When I sent pictures of myself to a stranger on the Internet I was a student at the University, who was bored and had found someone I liked talking to. I never knew who I was sending them to and I didn’t really care. I felt sexy, powerful, and more in control of my body than ever before. I didn’t need someone to love me as a person, to care about my taste in music or my favourite books. I found someone who wanted something that I could easily give to them. I loved sex, and I loved the trill of their notification, the reaction it provoked in my body; but what I had wasn’t real. I’ll never forget the utter fear I felt at seeing them save my videos, my fingers fumbling along the glass to press delete, or how I pleaded to an unresponsive number to delete the footage. The cold realisation that I couldn’t do anything, and the burning panic as I locked all my accounts, blocked their number, but knew well that they’d be able to view my body forever. I remember my hands shaking as I pelted questions into my search bar: how can you prosecute a fake name, a burner number, a false relationship? How can you delete a video that’s likely been uploaded to hundreds of websites already? How could someone do this to me? How could I let someone do this to me?
That shame held me in its grasp for a year. The fear of having an old connection see my body posted on some website, the sting of my own stupidity and carelessness, the reconsideration of my career. On the outside I was fine, but on the inside my world was collapsing. I had no one to go to, no explanation for my actions, no way to escape the hypocrisy of being a “strong woman” in real life, but a naive victim online. My body didn’t belong to me anymore, it was owned by whoever took those videos and by those who objectified it. I was resigned to know I had no control over the situation and, for a year, I thought that was my reality.
It was a midriff covered in topaz crystals that broke me. The most beautiful, toned, ferociously posed body in a Twitter header, her name proudly beaming on her bio, her Onlyfans link nestled beside a Gemini emoji. I saw this woman and burst into tears. Her strength, her beauty, her power – all the things that I couldn’t see in myself – simply radiated from her profile.
I scrolled through her feed: pictures, promos, videos, tweets about her cat. She was the embodiment of confidence to me, her body was her own. Where I felt I had failed, she had succeeded; she felt no shame, nor should she. Praying to the same God that had smitten me for my trust, I once again begged an online stranger to absolve me of my sins. And this time there was neither wrath nor painful repercussion. Her profile told me all I needed… that my body was worthy of praise too.
I’ve never heard her voice, I’ve never held her hand, but that brilliant being with the 5% sale to her OnlyFans will always be the woman who saved my life. I’ve since been able to cover my own torso in gemstones and photograph it for my own pleasure. I’ve been able to release the blame from myself and instead direct my anger at the person who took advantage of me. I’ve been able to see bodies online as reclaimed vessels of power. And I’ll never again be ashamed to claim my body. You can see it on the Internet if you search my name. It has sex and climbs hills and walks home at night with music on and kisses its friends and holds power. My body online is still my body and I love it no matter the context. I am proud to see it move and thrive and exhibit beauty: whoever sees it has been treated to a holy occurrence. It is sanctified in pixels and it soars through space and time, forever ageless and, most importantly, forever mine.