Since they were old enough to understand words, I’ve been trying to teach my daughters the nature of permanence, as it relates to the World Wide Web. The Internet is forever, I tell them; the public is brutal, and they need to keep their clothes on whenever a camera-equipped device is around. Those spring break pictures on Facebook will be the first thing the Senate Judiciary Committee sees when it’s deciding whether to approve their nomination.
At least, that’s what I grew up believing. After all, Miss America Vanessa Williams was forced to give up her crown in 1984 after nude photos of her appeared in Penthouse. Nudity had consequences and, for women, they weren’t good ones.
But now, in the worlds of politics and pop culture, boudoir shots and even sex tapes have gone from guaranteed embarrassments to occasional assets to, sometimes, barely mattering at all. Watching the events of the past few weeks unfold, I wonder if maybe I’ve gotten it wrong. When is a naked picture a problem for a woman? Maybe never — so long as she’s the one wielding the camera, or she looks good, and her husband’s not upset.