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Bella Thorne’s stolen nude selfies spark a debate about blame and slut-shaming

By Robin Abcarian • Updated Jun 23, 2019 at 12:08 AM

Celebrities, it does not get any more basic than this: Live by the nude selfie, die by the nude selfie.

I am always befuddled by the outrage of (almost always female) celebrities whose phones or cloud storage accounts have been invaded by (almost always male) creeps who try to profit somehow from the stolen (almost always naked) images.

We live in a world where there is no privacy anymore.

At some point, all of us have had our information hacked, whether it was because we shopped at Target, got our medical care at UCLA or signed up for a Facebook account. In a world where our identities are nothing more than exploitable commodities, we are all potential victims. I can comfort myself about this only by knowing that everyone is as much a victim as I am.

Which is why I would never take or send a naked selfie. I know you are probably expecting me to make a self-deprecating joke about my age here, but everybody is sexy to somebody, folks.

Anyone of age should feel free to take or text a nude selfie of themselves.

But noting the risk does not make anyone else a cynic, a pearl-clutching hand-wringer or, more relevant to the latest kerfuffle over a celebrity phone hack, a victim-blaming slut-shamer.

This week, a portion of the social media world became inflamed when “The View” host Whoopi Goldberg pointed out that individuals who take nude selfies should not be surprised if they end up purloined by hackers.

“If you’re famous, I don’t care how old you are. You don’t take nude pictures of yourself,” said the 63-year-old Goldberg. “Once you take that picture, it goes into the cloud and it’s available to any hacker who wants it, and if you don’t know that in 2019 that this is an issue, I’m sorry. You don’t get to do that.”

The object of her harsh judgment was 21-year-old Bella Thorne, who has been in the public eye since she was a tiny child, first as a model, then as a Disney Channel star, now as a poet, film actress and aspiring musician.

Thorne has 20 million Instagram followers and 6.8 Twitter followers. Her Instagram feed is awash in sexy half-clad selfies. She has also recently revealed that she was “physically and sexually abused since the day I can remember until I was 14,” though she did not identify her abuser.

Her exhibitionism and honesty seem entirely normal for a now-adult Disney star trying to shed the suffocating image of a chirpy teenager.

Last week, Thorne announced on Twitter that she was posting some graphic nude photos of herself because her phone had been hacked by someone threatening to release them.

In her own posts, she often flaunts her body, and her breasts are often half exposed. But in these photos, her breasts are completely exposed, and show nipple piercings.

“I feel gross, I feel watched, I feel someone has taken something from me that I wanted only one special person to see,” she wrote on Twitter. “I can sleep better tonight knowing I took my own power back.”

Her book of poetry, “The Life of a Wannabe Mogul: Mental Disarray,” is to be released July 23, and is already a best-seller on Amazon. Some cynics wondered if there was a connection between the hack, which has generated tons of media attention, and her book’s release.

In my view, that is the worst kind of victim-blaming, but if she can profit from this unbidden privacy invasion, more power to her.

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Neither Thorne nor her fans were happy about Goldberg’s criticism.

In a reply to Goldberg that Thorne posted on Twitter, the young actress seemed distraught: “I don’t want to be beaten down by a bunch of older women for my body and my sexuality,” she said, weeping. “Shame on you for putting that public opinion just out there like that for every young girl to think that they’re disgusting for even taking a photo like that.”

I don’t blame her for being upset, but although there may be something of a generation gap at play here, this is not about beating someone down for her sexuality or her body. It’s about the wrongheaded expectation of privacy in the age of digital exposure.

We do not — or should not — blame young women who get drunk at college parties for getting raped. We do not — or should not — blame women who wear sexually provocative clothing for being sexually assaulted. Assault is never a victim’s fault. Getting hacked is never a victim’s fault.

Still, we have the right and the obligation to talk to our daughters frankly about how buying into the pervasive, Instagram-amplified sexualization of girls and young women can harm them. We need to talk about the dangers of being hacked, or of being betrayed by people they once loved.

That is not slut-shaming.

That is teaching young women the truth about a world that tells them so often and in so many ways that their value lies in how they look. We need to remind them, early and often, that this is not true.

Hackers like the one who threatened Thorne must be made to pay the legal price for their crimes.

In 2014, four men hacked into the iCloud accounts of scores of actresses, including Jennifer Lawrence, and stole intimate photos. All were sentenced to prison.

Thorne’s anguished note on Twitter ended with the promise to her hacker that the FBI would soon be knocking on his door.

I hope he’s identified, and prosecuted.

And I hope that other young women will see this story for the cautionary tale that it is.

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©2019 Los Angeles Times

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