To file in this week’s WTF folder, supermodel sisters Bella and Gigi Hadid posed naked together in British Vogue. The black-and-white stoic shot was highly Photoshopped, but that’s not what outraged most fans. If we could summarize most fans’ very vocal reactions this week into three words, it’d be: Gross, they’re sisters.
Clearly it’s not the nudity itself that is offending fans—the Hadid sisters have posed nude separately many times, to the dismay of few. And it’s not two women together, either. One need only flip through any issue of Vogue to see scantily clad women hanging over each other suggestively. It’s that we know these two are sisters, and they’re totally nude, entangled in a strange suggestive pose. Many seem to be wondering: What exactly was British Vogue going for here?
If you asked me, I would say it’s likely someone behind the decision was a consumer of porn. Only to a consumer of porn would a suggestive photo of two sisters be attractive. Think twin girls asking some guy for a good time and jumping into bed with him.
This is not reality, and it’s not even beautiful, but distorted ideas that push the envelope of appropriate relationships are what make up the much-consumed fantasies in porn. Many people consume such images as often as daily and as a compulsive habit. Further, there’s reason to believe porn is influencing much of our hypersexualized mainstream media.
This Goes Way Beyond the Hadid Sisters
Consider just the many news headlines from the last three months in the entertainment industry. We know from actor Salma Hayek’s December New York Times article that she was cornered by Harvey Weinstein into doing a topless lesbian sex scene in her film “Frida” or else risk him shutting down the whole film. We know that comedian Louis C.K. was in the process of producing a film called “I Love You, Daddy” that included a storyline of older movie execs preying on minors and a masturbation scene not unlike C.K.’s own allegations of sexual misconduct when his scandal broke in November.
Most recently, in January we read allegations against actor James Franco from former acting students who say he told them to undress for bonus sexual scenes on film or be kicked out of his acting school and lose their chance at a big break. One student later found her topless scene had been uploaded by someone onto a porn site. And these are just the stories we’re hearing about.
It’s fair to say that a portion of our sexualized media is influenced by boundary-pushing men, some of whom face credible sexual-assault allegations, and by porn, which displays assault-like behavior as attractive in most scenes.
Porn Emphasizes Violence Against Women
The research on what porn does to the brains of its consumers supports this theory. One 2010 study found that nearly 90 percent of porn scenes depict aggression against women, and a 2011 study found that consumers of porn were less likely to identify a rape as a rape when it was described to them. It seems the imagery on repeat influenced what they considered normal behavior.
Our culture hasn’t even scratched the surface of understanding how much aggression and coercion happens on porn sets in real time. Interviews with porn actors suggest as much, not to mention the words of formerly sex-trafficked women who tell us it happened to them.
Could it be possible that all the sexualized content in our media may not reflect women’s empowerment and freedom so much as its opposite? We have a lot more work to do to get to the full answers, but suffice it to say there’s reasonable doubt.