Why Aly Raisman's Nude Photo Doesn't Negate Her Importance in the #MeToo Movement

aly raisman
aly raisman

On Tuesday, Aly Raisman, an America gymnast and two-time Olympian, shared a photo to Instagram of her nude body with the words, “Women do not have to be modest to be respected” lining the right side of her body down to her ankle. The word, “fierce” is also written on her right arm. The photo appeared in Sports Illustrated Swim.

Accompanying this powerful black-and-white portrait of Aly is a caption just as thought-provoking.

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While I love this message and her Sports Illustrated photoshoot, many disagreed with Aly’s choice to “bare it all” after facing Larry Nassar, the doctor who sexually abused her and over 156 other gymnasts. From my perspective, Aly Raisman already did her job; in fact, she went above and beyond what she was expected to do.

As a sexual abuse survivor, it is incredibly upsetting for me to even be reminded of my past trauma. To be in the same room as my abuser and confront them like Aly did takes true courage and strength. I applaud Aly for fighting back. And I support Aly in her decision to fight back with this Sports Illustrated photoshoot in a different sense. She set a great example then and she sets a great example now.

As a fellow survivor, the message Aly is sharing empowers and encourages me greatly. I personally enjoy sharing photos of myself on Instagram. I sometimes share lingerie or revealing photos myself because as a plus size woman, fat people are solemnly respected or taken seriously in this day and age.

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For myself, I enjoy reclaiming my body through more revealing images of my body despite people who deem me as, “ugly” or “gross” or “too fat.” I also enjoy reclaiming the body my abuser made me feel so incredibly self conscious of. I spent much of my childhood and teenage years being modest and feeling uncomfortable in my body. During that time, I also avoided physical contact. I felt so ashamed of my body due to my childhood abuse. I wanted to cover up because I thought it was my fault, as if my attire somehow contributed to my abuse.

I know now though that my abuse was not my fault. I distinguished this idea in a recent Instagram post of mine because it is so disheartening to continue to see that somehow one’s clothing choices have anything to do with their assault or abuse. “A revealing outfit is irrelevant when an act of sexual violence is committed. The problem is, and always will be, the perpetrator.”

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This is a very difficult conversation — for us survivors to open up about and for everyone else to hear — but it’s also a necessary one. As both a child and an adult, I was sexually assaulted and it’s absolutely sickening to live in this world where many are still misinformed about the basics of sexual assault. A common myth is that one’s attire (clothes, makeup, etc.) contributes to a “justified” act of assault. “Provocative” clothing is not invitation to be sexually assaulted. “Well they shouldn’t be teases. They should cover up if they don’t want to be bothered” is nonsense. Yet, we still see people holding onto this myth as a valid reason. At the same time, no one would argue that same “reason” when the role is switched from “adult” to “child”. Because of their age, a child cannot consent. Even if a child says “yes”, it is never consensual because a child can be coerced (for example, be “rewarded” by the perpetrator if they comply with the act of sexual abuse). In a child’s eyes, they may not realize the abuse is wrong. Or, perhaps the child does realize it’s wrong, but what can they do to safely escape it? There are resources for children, but if there is a threat or they can’t comprehend it being wrong, many stay silent. Similarly, an adult who has been sexually assaulted may remain silent — if their safety is a threat, if they repressed the trauma, if shame prevents them from coming forward, etc. While there is a stark contrast between a child being sexually abused and an adult being sexually assaulted, I’m addressing both here to connect the commonalities so we can break the myth that one’s assault has to do with what they are wearing. If a child is sexually abused, you would never dare say they “asked for it” based on what they were wearing. A revealing outfit is irrelevant when an act of sexual violence is committed. The problem is, and always will be, the perpetrator. We can read into a story to hypothesize reasons why such a crime was committed, but shifting the blame from the perpetrator to the victim is never the answer. No one, not a child and not an adult, “asks for it”. #timesup #metoo #iwillspeakup #huffpostgram

A post shared by Lexie (@lexiemanion) on Jan 9, 2018 at 2:06pm PST

While this topic of nude photography results in two contrasting “sides,” I believe it is important to remember this powerful quote, “Nudity empowers some. Modesty empowers some. Different things empower different women and it’s not your place to tell her which one it is.”

At the end of the day, we must remember that human beings will simply not agree on every single issue present in today’s society. Whether you feel strongly about the topic and land on one side over the other, it is important to respect other’s decisions.

Aly is capable of making her own decision regarding nude photography. I personally believe she, her team and Sports Illustrated did an excellent job depicting her stance. I see so much power in reclaiming my body after being violated. I felt so ashamed and hid my body for many years of my life following my trauma.

Now, I don’t mind just being myself. I sometimes wearing revealing clothing. I sometimes wear modest clothing. I wear clothing to express myself. Clothing is just clothing and our bodies are just bodies. It doesn’t matter if you choose to wear revealing clothing all the time, modest clothing all the time, or a mix of both; it is your body, your choice — end of discussion.

The truth is, Aly (or any other sexual abuse survivor) choosing to take back her power in her own way by posing for a nude photoshoot will never negate the powerful work she has done and will continue to do. Posing for nude photography does not negate the powerful work Aly has done in the #MeToo movement. Posing for nude photography does not negate Aly’s powerful testimony against her abuser.

As Aly summed it up perfectly, “Women can be intelligent, fierce, sexy, powerful, strong, advocates for change while wearing what makes them feel best.”

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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Photo via Aly Raisman Instagram

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