Bella Thorne was only able to leak her own nudes thanks to her huge privilege – all women should be able to do the same
Women in the same situation as Thorne are losing their jobs and the law is failing to help – because they're not famous for their rebellion
Anyone surprised that Bella Thorne “leaked” her own nudes does not know Bella Thorne. Personally, I can’t imagine her doing anything more on-brand given the situation.
Yet her actions would likely have only been known within the circle of Bella fandom had Whoopi Goldberg not weighed in. The actor-turned-pundit used her huge platform on The View to suggest that if Thorne didn’t want the pictures leaked she shouldn’t have taken them to begin with. Thorne’s response, delivered in a series of Insta stories, hit the nail on the head when she said: “I hope you’re so f***ing happy. I can only imagine the kids who have their s*** released and then they commit suicide. [...] So if I go out to a party drinking and I wanna dance on the dance floor, do I deserve to be raped too?”
Of course, the internet revelled in her clapback, and her attitude is being upheld as peak feminist icon, much like Jennifer Lawrence’s response was when she was subject to something similar back in 2014.
Hacking someone’s private accounts and then blackmailing them with the information are serious crimes, and the only person responsible is the one who committed them. It’s shocking that this bears repeating yet again, but apparently some of us are still not past blaming the victim of a crime – when the victim is a woman and the crime relates to her sexuality, that is.
Thorne’s choice to tweet out her topless pictures in order to shut down the blackmail she was subject to after being hacked is highly admirable, and completely in character. She is the ultimate Disney-girl-gone-bad, notorious for her expletive-laden Insta stories and polyamorous relationship with rapper Mod Sun and YouTuber Tana Mongeau, with whom she’s filmed various videos, make-up free, giant spliff in hand, preaching the importance of “being herself, dude”. She was also one of the influencers touted to appear in the disastrous TanaCon last year, which Mongeau organised as a massive screw-you to VidCon but ended up going the way of Fyre Festival when tickets were oversold and fans were left standing in the blazing California heat all day with no food, water or end in sight.
You would think Thorne’s followers may lose support for her given her controversial presence, but it seems that the scandals just make her more appealing. Her 2018 single aptly entitled “Bitch I’m Bella Thorne” chronicles her exploits: “Been in the club since I was hella short”, she sings. And: “doing shots in the car, I’m so crazy!” Or what is perhaps the most prescient line of all: “Let me show my nipples, what I need a shirt for?”
This whole nudes debacle will surely only serve to cement Thorne’s status as generation Z’s most beloved subversive influencer and while this never should have happened to her, she will likely benefit in the long run. And this is why we need to think carefully about the privilege that allows her to have the freedom to post naked pictures.
Earlier this year, a New York middle school teacher was fired after a topless picture of her which she’d sent to her then-boyfriend (who also worked at the school) surfaced. She is now suing the school, meaning her story is public record. I would like to believe that this won’t hinder her ability to get another job, but that seems naive.
In the US, there are still 10 states which have no form of revenge porn laws, meaning someone who distributes naked pictures of you without your consent cannot be prosecuted. It’s worth noting that this is a crime which typically leads to the shaming of women, not men.
Women in the same situation as Thorne are losing their jobs and the law is failing to help. The difference is that they do not have a personal brand based on rebellion that will be solidified by posting the images themselves.
While Thorne is being upheld as an inspiration for posting naked pictures of herself on the Twitter, sex workers are forced off the internet and onto the streets due to Fosta-Sesta – laws introduced by Trump which make it illegal for platforms to publish anything which could be deemed as “advertising prostitution”. As a result, women’s lives are at risk, especially women who live in poverty, trans women and women of colour.
None of this is to say that Thorne shouldn’t have posted her pictures, but our attitude towards female sexual agency needs to change. Women should be able to freely send or publish pictures of their bodies, or information about what they’re willing to do with them, even if they’re not rich, famous, white, and conventionally attractive.
Until we allow all women to own their sexuality, they will continue to be exploited and punished for doing so. Hopefully the collective embrace of Thorne’s actions and backlash against Goldberg’s slut-shaming is the start of such a shift, but let’s not pretend it represents real collective change.