The Real Problem with Nude Celebrity Photos

It was bad enough when privately stored nude photos of several celebrities were recently stolen and released online. Now, to add insult to injury, a so-called artist is planning on including some of these nude photos—in particular, those of Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton—in an upcoming art show. He doesn’t consider it stealing, and he doesn’t consider it exploitative. In his mind, it is art.

Now, I think most of us agree that his defense is laughable. It is a perpetuation of the invasion of privacy. It is indecent and tawdry, as was the original theft and publication of the photos. But I’d like to ask a simple question: why?

Imagine a slightly different scenario: several celebrities decide to release nude photos of themselves because they want to communicate that they are not ashamed of their bodies. What would be the response from the media and the culture at large? My guess is that it would be largely positive. The actors would be praised for their bravery and transparency. Some would likely even categorize the photos as…art.

Or consider another scenario that often does take place: actors agree to be shot nude in sex scenes for films in which they star. In these cases, it’s not just a still image being presented to the public. It’s much more personal: a naked pair of actors simulating the most intimate of acts, usually with graphic sounds and gestures. In cases like these, there is no outcry from the press, no weeping from the church, no laments at the loss of innocence. Why? Because the nudity is consensual.

Consent is one of the idols of our age. Our contemporaries bow down and worship at the feet of consent all the time—especially in the arena of sexual ethics. Anything sexual is permissive, so long as genuine consent is involved. In fact, it is not only allowable but also laudable.

Now, is the idea of consent evil in and of itself? Of course not. But when we use a good thing as an excuse to violate the prohibitions of God, we’ve suddenly turned that good thing into a substitute god—something we have chosen to obey in place of the Divine Lawgiver.

When we contemplate the theft and publication of nude celebrity photos, are we as Christians most concerned about the lack of consent? To be sure, that is a legitimate concern. But heaven help us if that is our only concern. God has clothed the human body with beauty, dignity, and honor. To treat it as fodder for objectification in the guise of entertainment is to deface a work of God’s art.

The problem isn’t even with nudity, per se. In its proper contexts, nudity is good and right. In marriage, it’s even commanded (and fun). No, the problem is with public nudity. It is an indiscriminate celebration of shame.

As Christians, how should we view this public scandal? With grief, yes. But let’s make sure our grief is aimed at all the right places. Celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton need to be treated like human beings. They are real people worthy of respect and honor. They are not pieces of meat to be paraded before the masses for voyeuristic pleasure—regardless of whether the parade is consensual or not.