Life and Style columnist for the NZ Herald

Lee Suckling: Understanding sexy selfies

Think twice before taking that sexy selfie. Photo / Thinkstock
Think twice before taking that sexy selfie. Photo / Thinkstock

Oxford Dictionary wasn't unfounded when it named 'selfie' its international Word of the Year.

Selfies are daily expressions for many; a way to show your friends where you are, how you're looking, and what emotion you're currently expressing. So, what does the modern generation do when we start feeling a little bit sexy? Take a selfie, of course.

Sexy selfies can range from the demure and alluring to full-blown nudie pics. Facebook and Instagram are often the platform for the former, while more "private" image sharing is done via one-to-one instant messaging. Mainstream commercialism is even on the bare-yourself bandwagon; evidenced with Calvin Klein underwear's new campaign #MyCalvins.

Nicki Minaj is one of the biggest celebrity fans of the sexy selfie. The rapper, certainly no stranger to capturing cleavage on camera, posts bootylicious self-snaps to her Instagram page on an almost-daily basis. E! calls her "the queen of the sexy and super-scandalous selfies", though, arguably, many of these aren't selfies. In early March, she posted several naked shower photos to her Instagram account, but in many of the images, it's clear someone else is holding the cameraphone.

Dangers abound with sexy selfies. Does Minaj's shower escapade verge on pornography?

Does she care what people do with her sexy selfies, and how widely they are distributed? Will they ever come back to bite her in the arse, so to speak?

Hereby presents the moral dilemmas of sexy selfies. Are we too quick to click?

Sexy selfies existed far before the modern era of smartphones. Way back when Polaroids were all the rage, people could photograph themselves doing naughty things with the confidence that only one copy of an image would ever exist.

With 35mm film, too, it was possible to photograph yourself starkers with the belief that results would only ever be in your hands. 35mm security was flawed, though; the pharmacy clerk who processed your roll likely had a cheeky look before handing back your 24 developed prints.

Come the turn of the 21st Century, digital cameras were popular (as was the prospect of photographing yourself without clothes, and the self-assurance no pharmacist would see your bits).

Then in 2003 Vodafone released its Sharp GX10, the first cameraphone to go mainstream in New Zealand. Its 110k pixel in-built camera and "PXT" capability enticed curiosity from the photogenic among us. But photos were grainy, unflattering, and nothing to be proud of - therefore never had much potential for wider distribution.

Then came the social media era, and everything changed. Not only could you share photos with friends, but you could share them with strangers too.

Importantly, sexy selfies have become part of the e-courting process. Potential partners want to know what you look like with your shirt off before they think about sleeping with you.

At the time of sending, further distribution of such selfies isn't usually thought through. We assume the recipient will keep photos private. In reality, once your saucy snaps are in the hands of another, you've exposed yourself in more ways than one. Your security is at risk, because you can't know where or with whom your snaps will be shared.

Moreover, we live in a world where hacking happens. Just ask Scarlet Johansson - her phone was hacked and nude selfies leaked in 2011 (how quick can you Google that, lads?). And let's not forget how trust issues come into play. Your sexy selfie might stay confidential now, but what happens when your relationship sours?

In light of all of this, let's set some sexy selfie ground rules:

Keep your face out of the picture. Whether you're going full-nudie or framing just a fragment of stripped skin, future identification can be avoided by keeping your head in the shadows.

Use Snapchat. This image-sharing app lets you send "combustible" images that can only be seen for 10 seconds or less. (Having said that, there are ways around this time limit, so have your wits about you.)

Employ good lighting and angle techniques. If you're going to do it, do it well. Side lighting will flatter you more than ceiling. Also, the closer you are to the camera, the more flaws you'll expose.

Don't use other peoples' sexy selfies as your own. It doesn't look like your body. Not even remotely.

Share with your mum. Well, not explicitly. But if you're posting something sexy into the public forum, even if your Instagram/Twitter/Tumblr page is protected, don't be so naïve to think only your intended audience will see it. If you wouldn't want your mum viewing it, don't put it up.

Don't fish for recipient compliments. If you're taking a sexy selfie, you're narcissistic enough without encouragement.

Don't use mirrors. Nothing says creepy frat boy like the guy that takes a selfie in their gym's changing room mirror.

Take ownership. In making the decision to take a sexy selfie, you accept all ramifications. If your pic comes back to you, don't deny you're the source.

Take the photo yourself. If one of your hands isn't clearly holding the phone, it's not a sexy selfie. It's porn.

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Life and Style columnist for the NZ Herald

Writer Lee Suckling pens his opinionated thoughts every Wednesday, covering issues surrounding Generation Y, New Zealand's gay community, and the ethical dilemmas presented every day to those living in a tech-centric modern world. Outside of the New Zealand Herald, Lee writes for a range of magazines and newspapers across New Zealand, Australia, and the UK.

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