The Justin Bieber Photos: To look or not to look?

There’s been another celebrity nude photo scandal, this time it’s Justin Bieber who has been photographed au natural by the paps in while vacationing with his lady friend (Jayde Pierce) in Bora Bora. Pretty much the exact moment the photos hit the internet every single blog and magazine told me not to look at them. (Too little too late though ‘cause lil’ perv that I am, I clicked the very first link to the photos I saw.) These well meaning sites likened the Bieber Leak to last year’s “Fappening” when nearly 500 photos of female celebs, many of them entirely or partially nude, hit the web after a massive data breach. If we got so up in arms about those photos (as we should have, because it was gross and disturbing), they argue, it is hypocritical to peek and the Biebz. This, however, is not the case. It’s apples and oranges. While what happened to Bieber was unquestionably wrong, it’s not the same as last year’s photo leak, and equating the two does a disservice to all the victims.

First of all, love him or hate him, Justin Bieber is still a human being who deserves respect and a modicum of privacy (in my defense I didn’t read the entire click baity headline and thought he’d released the photos himself, that one’s my bad). There is no question that his privacy was breached on the most basic level, which is inherently wrong no matter how many albums he’s sold. In that aspect, his is a similar plight as Jennifer Lawrence. While they both implicitly agreed to give up some privacy in exchange for fame (as do all celebrities and people of note) there does come a point where we’ve gone too far. Celebrities walking their dogs might be fair game, but celebrities nude for their own pleasure and enjoyment (or the pleasure and enjoyment of others) is not and we shouldn’t become complacent enough to think it is.

The paparazzi will do anything to quench the public’s insatiable thirst for celeb photos, clothed or otherwise. These photographers play a dangerous game and sometimes people die. The paparazzi go too far time and time again and we continually reward their bad behaviour. For this reason, it might be a good idea to avoid the Bieber photos, but you can’t unring the bell and the damage has already been done. The ante’s been upped and every photographer out there is gunning for something to top the Bora Bora photos.

Though he too had his privacy violated, this is where the similarities between Bieber and the female celebs of last year’s hack end. Lawrence, Scarlett Johansson and the other victims of the breach all had photos they personally took (or were taken for their own private use) stolen and distributed. This is different than being spied upon. Though it’s debatable which is the worse offense, there is no denying that these are different crimes. Intimate moments taken for personal enjoyment were no longer theirs. Lawrence referred to it as a sex crime which is an accurate description but does not apply to Bieber’s situation.

Once these photos got out there, these women were blamed for it. They were repeatedly cruelly slut shamed. They were threatened. They were attacked for daring to have confidence in their bodies or be sexual entities on their own terms. While the ripples from Bieber photos are still yet to be fully felt (though the photos and their subject matter got repeated mentions on October 10th’s Saturday Night Live), it’s a safe bet that no one will slut shame him for walking around naked on vacation. No one will assert that if he didn’t want those photos out there, he shouldn’t have gone on vacation. The photo leak had the potential to ruin their lives. As Amy McCarthy wrote in Bustle last year, “ Sure, male celebrities are pissed about having their private phones and emails hacked, but there is little discussion about whether or not leaked dick pics could mean the end of a male celebrity’s career.” Society does not punish men in the same way it punishes women.

We don’t live in a vacuum. Though I dream of the day when men and women are treated equally the fact of the matter is, we’re still not there yet and men still have an easier time of it than women. So while it’s still not admirable to look at the Bieber photos (even when I do it) it’s not the same as looking at Lawrence or Johansson or any other woman, famous or not, who’s had her private, personal photos stolen and disseminated without her consent. When those photos leaked it was a reminder that this is a man’s space that women walk through every day. That some men still believe that they have the ability to grant women permission to be in public spaces and out in their world, to decide what she can and cannot do. Justin Bieber and in fact every male pop star or actor, has an easier time of it than their female counterparts. It shouldn’t be that way, but it just is. So while I don’t think it was right for the photographer to get out his long lens to sneakily capture Bieber’s long lens, it’s not in the same ballpark as the great celebrity photo leak of 2014. Not by a long shot.

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