It is a fact: I am not a big fan of selfie-taking. I wish to put this disclaimer right out there at the forefront. (See my previous post “On Selfies and Vulnerability.”)
Nonetheless, I recognize that it has become a part of the fabric of our culture today, and I have tried to make my peace with it since it is clearly here to stay.
However, can we please, as a society, draw some lines, people?
Today, after my run at the gym, I was half-naked, air drying, when I noticed a fellow gym member taking a multitudes of selfies in the dressing room.
Now I know that people, for whatever reason, have come to believe that bathrooms are the ideal place for self-taking. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I even took one myself, which I never posted as it just seemed absurd to me.) It is a standard selfie location nowadays.
But, seriously, the dressing room at the gym?
I wondered as I watched her taking photos in front of the mirror – both aiming in to the mirror and also with the camera flipped standing in front of it – which meant that there was the possibility that I, in my half-nakedness, stood a chance of being in the background of aforesaid selfies, either in the reflection of the mirror directly behind her.
I have to say that I immediately felt my privacy had been invaded.
As calmly as possible, I walked over to her after I dressed and said I’d noticed he’d been taking selfies and that I was concerned that I may have inadvertently been in some of the shots topless. I was going to ask her to delete and retake if so, out of courtesy to my right to privacy.
Well, you would have thought I had demanded her phone and then smashed it.
She quickly swiped through the 8 shots she’d taken, none of which I could properly see because she as going so fast, though I did see that the top I’d been holding was in the background of 1 or 2, as it was a very colorful print.
She starting yelling at me then, telling me that she wasn’t taking pictures of me. I said I didn’t think she was taking pictures of me, but I feared my naked torso was in the background, caught accidentally.
She got even louder and angrier, and told me I was crazy. I asked to see the pictures again, she refused and continued to yell at me.
Someone intervened and asked us to stop yelling. She also tried to explain to the lady what I was concerned about, to no avail.
I went down to speak to the manager, who wanted to go find the lady, but while I was waiting to talk to her, the woman left through the side door. (I know this because when we went to look for her, another woman came forward and said she had seen her leave.)
All I really wanted from the manager was perhaps a sign to go up in the dressing room that selfies were not allowed in respect to the privacy of other members.
(Of course, as I asked for this, a part of me wondered if anyone really takes anything a middle-aged white lady says with a grain of salt. It is embarrassing to bring up in a world where so many are fighting for equality, but I will say it: women over 45 are, for the most part, invisible and/or treated like we are crazy much of the time. I am not saying we need a movement like many other much more maligned parts of society; I recognize the advantages and the privilege that my being a white, American, middle-class woman have afforded me. Still. Just saying. But I digress.)
To her credit, she listened and gave my concerns attention.
What I wish to propose here is that we, as a culture, recognize/remember that there are still places where photography is not legally welcome. Even in the Age of the Selfie.
Don’t believe me? While it is legal to take pictures just about anywhere, there is a line drawn. “Basically, anyone can be photographed without their consent except when they have secluded themselves in places where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy such as dressing rooms, restrooms, medical facilities, and inside their homes.”*
I think that a dressing room is a place where I can reasonably expect privacy, am I right?
Yes, legally I am. I am not just another crazy middle-aged lady ranting, it is illegal.
Now, I know this lady had no desire to take a pic of me. I have no fear that she is now circulating the photos on the Internet! (This has actually been a big thing and prompted Congress to address the issue of privacy by enacting the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act of 2004.
According to the West Virginia State Privacy Office website: “The Video Voyeurism Prevention Act prohibits the photographing or videotaping of a naked person without his or her permission in a gym, tanning salon, dressing room or anywhere else where one expects a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” Violators can expect fines of up to $100,000 and/or up to a year in prison. This doesn’t necessarily make it illegal for someone to snap your photo without your permission though. For instance, if you’re just walking down the street and someone takes a picture, they’re well within their rights no matter how violated you might feel. If you see someone taking your photo without your permission, it’s your right to ask him or her to stop. Never take photos of people without their permission, and try to be aware of your surroundings.”)
So I do have the right to not be those photos, and I could (and perhaps should) have called the police. Now, not if she had been willing to have a discourse with me. But as she felt no social obligation towards my concerns or privacy whatsoever – perhaps.
After all, we are all living on this big ball together, right? We do have to work together to some degree, don’t we?
How about this: I’ll put up with your self-taking everywhere else if you respect my privacy in restrooms, dressing rooms, medical facilities and inside my own home. If you just HAVE to get that shot of yourself in one of these places, just make sure that no one else is in your background, okay?