Jessie Nizewitz, Nude Celebrity Selfies, and Contrasting Discourses of Victim-Blaming

Curator's Note

In late August, Dating Naked participant Jessie Nizewitz sued the show’s parent company Viacom for $10 million after they broadcast an uncensored shot of her vagina. Nizewitz’s lawsuit has received derision from sites like The AV Club, TomoNews, Jezebel, and The Huffington Post due to the irony of a naked reality show participant suing that show for appearing naked on-screen. This discourse suggests that Nizewitz is to blame for the incident, although she only agreed to reveal her naked body to the other participants and crew, and not to the entire world, to whom she believed it would be blurred. A few days later, the “Celebgate” incident occurred, in which stolen nude selfies of female celebrities were illegally distributed online. After an initial wave of victim-blaming, a feminist backlash occurred on sites like Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, and Jezebel asking viewers to not search for these photos, stating that the photos violated these women’s’ privacy, and arguing that these women are victims of these attacks and not to be blamed. Although there are certainly differences between them, each incident is essentially concerned with the distribution of a woman’s nude image(s) across the Internet without her consent. Like the female celebrities, Nizewtiz had chosen to whom she would reveal her naked body, only for others to reveal it to a larger, unintended audience. The contrasting discourses between Nizewitz and the hacked celebrities are deeply troubling as they position celebrities as victims, but view the average person in the same situation as a joke. The remaining question becomes why these discursive differences occur. Why are Jennifer Lawrence et al treated with more respect in their situation whereas Nizewitz becomes Internet fodder for jokes? It appears that these attitudes mirror cultural attitudes of legitimation. That is, because the celebrity selfie victims are established stars in the media industry and appear in “quality” productions, they become “worthy” of this defense. Meanwhile, Nizewitz, as a participant in the culturally-delegitimated realm of reality television, is looked down upon by the same news organizations for being placed in the same situation.


Thank you, Michael, for pointing out the importance of class bias in these media (and more generally cultural) distinctions between how women are perceived as victims or, alternately, as having "asked for it." Note how even the terms used to refer to Nizewitz's genitalia are indicative of this: the video's announcer refers no less than three times to her "box" (with a bumper proclaiming the same), while reporting with barely concealed derision Nizewitz's claim against Viacom for having revealed her "lady parts" -- the implication being that she was thinking much too highly of herself (and her "box") in seeking restitution.

Thanks for the comment, Maria! Yes, the tone and word choice are definitely contributing factors to how each is presented different. I doubt that any news sources would refer to Jennifer Lawrence's "box" or "lady parts" being shown in her pictures, but treat her and the other female celebrities with a greater level of respect due to their higher social class.

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