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Sia robbed the tabloids of a chance to shame her: Teitel

The pop star sent a very powerful message to young fans: no matter the cost, control your own image. Expose yourself on your own terms.

Sia may be one of the only public figures in the world to beat the paparazzi to the punch and release a candid nude on her own terms, Emma Teitel writes.

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File

Sia may be one of the only public figures in the world to beat the paparazzi to the punch and release a candid nude on her own terms, Emma Teitel writes.

Sia, the 41-year-old Australian pop star and veteran songwriter famous for seldom showing her face in public, broke from tradition this week when she showed us a whole lot more than that. On Tuesday, the “Chandelier” singer, who usually wears a wig that masks her eyes, posted a photo of her naked backside to her social media accounts, alongside the caption, “Someone is apparently trying to sell naked photos of me to my fans. Save your money, here it is for free. Everyday is Christmas!” (That last line is a double entendre. Everyday is Christmas is the title of Sia’s forthcoming album.)

The takeaway from the star’s unusual post is that the nude photo in question was taken without Sia’s consent, most likely by a paparazzo. The singer is hardly the first celebrity to be unsuspectingly exposed in the buff. Kate Middleton and Justin Bieber come to mind as recent paparazzi targets, not to mention the handful of famous actresses whose private nudes were hacked in 2014 and released online in bulk.

However, Sia may be one of the only public figures in the world to beat the paparazzi to the punch, and release a candid nude on her own terms.

The question is why would a celebrity deeply invested in her privacy part with it so matter-of-factly? Some speculate that Sia leaked the photo in order to prevent the paparazzo involved from turning a profit. This seems logical. Releasing that photo online was an ultimate FU to the person or people seeking to gain from the violation of her privacy.

But I suspect there’s a more interesting motive behind the leak than sheer revenge or one-upmanship.

That reason is this:

A very large segment of Sia’s fan base consists of prepubescent and adolescent girls. Last year, I attended the pop star’s concert in Toronto. I wasn’t a huge Sia fan at the time, but I got the tickets as a gift, and walking into the ACC the night of the show I had no idea what to expect. What I saw was a predominantly young crowd—girls aged 10-18 (and, of course, their moms). And thousands of them were dressed up like Sia, their faces obscured in replicas of the singer’s signature black and blond wig. I was genuinely shocked — not that Sia fans dressed up like Sia, but that so many little girls and teens were dressed up like a 40-year-old woman. I was shocked by the stark difference between this generation of girls and my own. In the early 2000s, during the reign of Britney Spears, when I was young enough to require a parent chaperone to a concert, the idea wasn’t to conceal your identity, but to show as much skin as humanly possible.

Which brings me back to Sia’s leaked nudes. It may appear uncharacteristic of the singer to expose herself to the public, but I believe that in releasing the photo on her own terms, she sent a very powerful message to the girls who showed up to see her that night at the ACC in their black and blond wigs: no matter the cost, it’s essential that you control your own image. Expose yourself on your own terms.

It’s important to note, after all, that Sia presented the nude photo as a gift to her fans, even though the image isn’t flattering in the conventional sense. (“Everyday is Christmas!” implies “This is a good thing. There’s nothing to be ashamed of here.”) But surely, if a tabloid had had the opportunity to release the photo, it would be accompanied by tabloid style commentary: catty remarks about cellulite and the singer’s otherwise imperfect (i.e. totally normal) beach body.

Sia deprived the tabloid industry of an opportunity to shame her. Of course it’s awful that she was put in this position in the first place, but it’s also commendable that she managed to spin the situation not only to her own advantage, but to the advantage of her young, female fan base who no doubt watched this spectacle unfold.

About that fan base, the girls and young women growing up immersed in online feminism, who look up to a 41-year-old weirdo who doesn’t even show her face on stage let alone her midriff: It’s easy to make fun of these girls. They are sometimes insufferably earnest. But we need them. We need them because they refuse to tolerate the casually sexist crap that older generations regard as unchangeable facts of life. I’m not talking only about sexist barbs in school and at work, or rigid gender norms, but tabloids that rank women’s bodies from fattiest to leanest as a butcher might rank hunks of meat.

It’s thanks to a role model like Sia, who refuses to surrender her image to people who would deface it, that future generations of girls will regard such tabloids as strange relics from a less evolved time.

After all, we are right now entering a pop culture moment where even textbook criticism of celebrity female bodies is considered passé. All the big teen fashion magazines have turned away from the kind of body shaming that was once standard practice in the industry. I feel almost old fashioned that I secretly love those mean-spirited tabloids, especially the cellulite-centric issues. But I suppose in the interest of a kinder future I’d be willing to throw them in the recycling bin. And maybe even read something of substance on the beach. Sia: a boon for feminism and adult literacy both.

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