Posted in Features, Top Features

The time I accidentally became a Tumblr porn star

Being reblogged by a porn account without your consent really makes you think

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Tumblr is a huge website. According to Wikipedia, it hosts over 290 million blogs, with over 45 million new posts created daily. With such a huge site comes a huge diversity of people and interests, and like any community so complex, the world of Tumblr has a secret underbelly: porn.

I’ve been on Tumblr since the beginning of high school. With over 8,000 posts, my blog is full of images that reflect me. I find collecting these images useful as an artist and film student: anytime I need inspiration for colour or camera angles, I can turn to my blog. On the rare occasion I upload personal posts, they are usually random thoughts or pictures from my life — but on one fateful day, I posted something different.

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At the beginning of last year I grew my armpit hair out. To me, it was just another hairdo, but to almost everyone else, it was much more. My mother couldn’t understand why I would grow the hair out, and tried to coerce me into shaving it. Many friends, co-workers, and strangers thought it was gross, unnatural, or unfeminine. To me, it was truly just hair. It irked me that others felt they should get a say over my body, or that the image of a “natural” woman be hairless. I started to take pride in my armpit hair.

So, while at a public pool, I took a selfie in the mirror. I was proud of myself for going swimming with armpit hair. I wasn’t gonna let other people’s standards hold me back. I posted the picture on my personal blog with the caption: “Armpit hair pride. Gym swimming pride. Curves pride. Pride ride.”

As I was toweling off from my swim, I noticed I had a notification: a reblog. I sat down on the locker room bench, hair still dripping wet, to investigate. I was excited. My group of followers was small, and my posts didn’t get many reblogs. I clicked on to find that my selfie had been reblogged. “Even more exciting,” I thought at the time. Until I clicked the linking blog. . . I was blown away to see my picture on a fetish porn blog filled with hairy women.

Like I said, Tumblr is a huge site with hundreds of millions of blogs and tens of millions of daily posts. What might surprise you is that according to Wikipedia, “over 22 percent of all traffic in and out of Tumblr is classified as pornography,” and 16.5 percent of blogs on Tumblr exclusively contain porn. And now I was part of that percentage. My image was now porn. The notes continued to flood in, reblogs and likes from all sorts of porn blogs filled my notifications. As I scrolled through these sites, all the women started to blur into one single image. Just as my own blog was a collection of single images that collectively represent my aesthetic, these blogs seemed to encompass the owner’s sexuality.

It was weird to be one of those pieces. It was like I was just representational flesh. My armpit hair made me easily searchable and classifiable as a fetish that I never wanted to be a part of. I lost track of all the sites my image ended up on. I even received personal messages from people asking me to write back to them.

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Now, the story could end here: I accidentally ended up on a bunch of porn blogs, I felt what it was like to be objectified without my consent on the Internet, and I learned a little bit more about a fetish I didn’t know about before. The end — right? Well, the story is a little stickier than that.

I, myself, have my own personal porn blog. A blog where I do the exact same reblogging of people’s images to trace out the shape of my own sexuality, like the blogs that used my image. I wasn’t an innocent victim whose image was stolen from her and sexualized by evil porn bloggers. I understood why they used my post, and that as a public image they had every right to reblog it — but it still felt off to me.

It can be a confusing feeling to see both sides of a coin. Of the hundreds of images I had collected on my site — faces, bodies, intimate acts — I had no idea who any of them were, and no idea if any of them had consented to their images being posted on a porn blog. What if all these people, especially the women, felt the same way I did about my image being on porn blogs? Do they feel violated? Do they feel unsafe?

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I thought about closing my porn blog for a while. I thought about trying to delete my hairy armpit photo too, but neither seemed like the right answer. I pride myself on being pro-sex; that’s one of the reasons I created my porn blog in the first place. I want to be pro-sex just in the same way I want to be pro-armpit hair — spreading positivity where there isn’t enough.

I am not ashamed that people found my image sexual. I do not feel shame for myself or for them. The images on my blog are just that: images. They are not the people themselves. I never want to be seen just for my sexuality, but at the same time, I don’t want to demonize sexuality. It isn’t something to hide. It’s unsettling to think that something innocuous that you share with the world can become something else without you even knowing, let alone consenting; but maybe that’s the risk we take when we share things publicly in the Internet age. I want to advocate for a more open public perspective of sexuality, but with that comes risks. Not everyone would be OK with their image being spread on porn sites as I am, and not every image is as seemingly safe-for-work as mine. It’s a double-edged sword that we all have to hold carefully, and Tumblr is just one of those fighting grounds.

  • Milady

    Because you’re privileged and wealthy. Try telling this to a person who has lost their job over your stupid “advice.”

    • Dan Rathers

      Did you even read the article? Good grief…

  • reslus

    Not really an advice column to start with. It was a personal experience and a body-positive advocacy tale. It would be a human rights issue if a company explicitly fired an individual for this type of behaviour online.

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