Eryn Ramsey, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Fall 2016 Mass Communication Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the following essay in response to the prompt: We recently heard in the news that an ex-playboy bunny used Snapchat to publicly body shame an overweight woman in her gym. Do you feel it was within her rights to share the nude photo of the woman? How should she have been punished?
“If I can’t see this, then you can’t either.”
So went the caption on the controversial Snapchat that playmate Dani Mathers published in July. She meant for it to refer to the appearance of the subject of the photo: an unaware naked woman changing outside the glass sauna door through which Mathers snapped the pic. Well, I do wish I could unsee that photo, but not for the reasons Mathers seems to imply. It isn’t the photographed woman’s appearance that offends me; it’s the existence of the photo itself, taken and published without her consent or even her knowledge. In viewing it I am made an unwilling participant in a crime.
Surprisingly, much of the outrage in the wake of the photo’s publication seems to be centered on the fact that Mathers was “body-shaming” the woman rather than the fact that she published this nude photo without consent. Most headlines about the event emphasize that Mathers is facing backlash for her cruelty, not her crime. While I agree that the incident demonstrates a disturbing malice, narcissism and lack of basic respect on Mathers’ part, the expression of her opinion about the other woman’s appearance is not illegal. “Body-shaming” should not be a legislated issue.
Taking and publishing nude photos online without consent, however, is an extreme breach of privacy, and should not go unpunished. I believe Mathers should face legal action for this.
Reportedly, after the incident she issued an apology by saying she had intended to send the photo privately to a friend, and made it public by mistake. Why she thought this would be an appropriate announcement is beyond me. It not only confirms her status as a terrible person who mocks women’s bodies at the gym, it is also still a crime to take the photo in the first place.
If the justice system responds as it ought, the next photo Mathers takes will be her mugshot.
Eryn is a senior at Pepperdine University majoring in Media Production.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.