The Hypersexualization of Jesse Pettibone
If you follow me on most social media outlets, you have definitely seen this photo of me. Earning a spot in my top five Instagrams in less than half a day, related interactions started more than a few conversations around water conservation and highlighted the need for a larger discussion around the sensationalizing of our bodies. What was all the fuss about and what should we learn from it?
Campuses Take Charge is a month long campaign challenging students to pledge to make 3-5 small lifestyle changes. It’s lead by the OSU Student Sustainability Initiative using Energize Corvallis’ online platform that looks a lot like online shopping. However, instead of the latest trend piece that you’ll surely toss out next season, the pledges you make aim to become a lasting lifestyle.
Pledging is only the first part of the challenge though. To highlight the community of sustainable actors on campus, Take Charge asks participants to post photos of themselves doing their pledges on any social media and unite them by tagging #TakeChargeOSU. This is awesome in intent, but our social media presence is an extension of our identities and we don’t just jump into something unless we’re really invested – or being paid off. We have messages blasted at us all the time, from the problematic propaganda of the “Our OSU” campaign on our lampposts and in our campus coffee shops, to the innumerable ads snuck between posts by our actual friends. If we were not highly trained to filter it out, we’d waste a lot of our time.
To break through this, even within my own friends and family, I knew I had to up the ante to show that my passion for this cause is not just another hyperbolic best thing ever. Campuses Take Charge isn’t the best thing ever, but it is a valuable tool in getting us to adopt necessary habits that should be basic planetary housekeeping at this point.
Obviously one of my pledges was to take shorter showers. It’s super simple and literally takes less time from my day than not participating in Campuses Take Charge. The burdensome part of it was taking the time to snap a photo. Quite frankly, I don’t trifle with half-trying photos and I’m always intentional. So instead of giving up on something I believe in, I challenged myself to make it worthwhile for me. 1) I love attention for doing things that are positive, and 2) I want to inspire others to believe they can do their own thing, whatever it may be, as long as it does not harm anyone.
So I got attention for a positive cause, my friends and family loved it, and enough people paid attention that I was able to have conversations about sustainable living and Campuses Take Charge. And now that I accomplished my initial goal, I also get to have a conversation about hypersexualization.
I knew that nudity would get everyone’s attention, and I’m glad I could use that to my advantage, but I also hate that me showering could go small-scale viral. I’ve always thought it was ridiculous that we treated common human experiences as something worth hiding. We have an entire book called Everybody Poops! Like, no s#!t – pun fully intended. On the same premise, comprehensive sex education is linked to a reduction in STI and pregnancy rates. If we don’t talk about things, we’re creating barriers for people to talk about issues related to their bodies, sex, and even poop.
You’re shocked about seeing me naked in the shower because nudity is perceived as this shameful state of being that we pretend doesn’t happen. We’re indirectly perpetuating this weird lie that people don’t shower naked. Fun fact: Most of us shower naked. Sometimes we’re naked when we’re getting dressed and sometimes we even swim naked. Your boss, teacher, parents, and even your grandparents have naked bodies. When visualizing that, you’ll probably tell everyone you’re grossed out, but when we impulsively call naked bodies disgusting or worth shaming, we’re opening the door for judging which type of people we want to see naked. I hate to burst your bubble – that’s obviously a lie because I’m about to – but you don’t get to choose who can be naked because literally everyone is naked. That’s how we come. We need air. We need water. Our base layer is skin and thus everyone is naked.
When we believe we get to decide who can be naked, we choose who we think is attractive and we sexualize people who aren’t being sexual – that’s hypersexualization. There are so many situations in which someone can be nude non-sexually. Any activity that is not a sexual act can be done nude non-sexually. Grocery shopping naked is not sexual, though pretty uncommon. However, I, like most Americans, am naked in a shower on a regular basis and people still hypersexualized me.
I received a lot of support, especially from my close friends and family, which I appreciated. I also got hit on a lot which I appreciated less while also resenting those folks’ inability to see through my using their hypersexualizing ways to market a good cause. And then there were people who were straight up upset.
Someone reported my photo on Facebook – and if I was on the fence about writing a blog post about hypersexualization before, this sealed the deal. I hope whoever reported the photo takes the time to read this; then I hope they’re willing to entertain new ideas about how to not oppress others and continue educating themselves before reporting more photos.
Just so we’re clear, Facebook’s Community Standards – which it helpfully links you to when it notifies you your post is under review and for why – are intentionally ambiguous about nudity saying:
Facebook has a strict policy against the sharing of pornographic content and any explicitly sexual content where a minor is involved. We also impose limitations on the display of nudity. We aspire to respect people’s right to share content of personal importance, whether those are photos of a sculpture like Michelangelo’s David or family photos of a child breastfeeding.
First of all, Facebook, not wanting to be a porn site, clearly understands the difference between sexual nudity and life nudity: a man casually nude captured in stone, a woman breastfeeding, and me showering. Yes, after 10 hours of review, Facebook let me know my photo does not violate the Community Standards.
Second, it is neither mine nor Facebook’s fault that you can’t see my body without sexualizing it, even with my genitals covered.
Third, you should have seen this coming. With how open and body positive I am, in combination with the numerous underwear on the beach photos over the years, it was really only a matter of time.
And last, people have been much more naked for no cause at all, and that’s okay too – just maybe not always on Facebook.
There is not a lot we can do about what it takes to break through the endless media blitz, but we can take steps against hypersexualization and allowing people like me to use nudity to sell you things.
Think critically about your perception of nudity and whether or not something is actually sexual. And if you’re really up for the challenge, spend less time in the shower and more time casually naked. You might just decrease your clothing use enough to lessen the frequency of laundry day and that’ll be good for you, your wallet, and our global water supply.