By Viv Steele, Sex Correspondent
I didn’t think I was making too much of a splash when I tweeted a photo of my pedicure that I took on Instagram. But then the re-tweets started happening, just a few, but from people I didn’t know whose Twitter feeds were entirely full of re-tweeted photos of women’s pedicures. These Twitter feeds are an example of what I’ve come to call “fetish collections,” and they are increasingly more apparent on a variety of social media outlets.
Fetish collections can be found elsewhere on social media, like Tumblr or Facebook, but most notably on the photo sharing site Flickr. I spoke with Jhayne Holmes, a local photographer and long-time user of Flickr, about this new social media phenomenon: “I’ve had people ‘creeping’ my images for almost as long as I’ve had a Flickr account, since 2004 or 2005.”
Flickr is a website where users can upload and share photos with their friends and family. Users upload photos such as foot shots (new shoes, pedicures) that seem innocuous, but can be added to ‘groups’ by any member of the site, including fetishists who trawl for the kind of images that pique their interest. Holmes tells me that even the most mundane of subjects are targeted and can be made pornographic, such as stockings, freckles, collarbones, and even something as ubiquitous as denim. Holmes adds that “The theme is specificity. They don’t care the context of the photo, as long as it contains their particular trigger.” The vast majority of the time, the photo is of a woman.
So what do fetish collectors mean for people who just want to use the website for its intended purpose? Is it necessarily a bad thing if people collect your photos for their own pleasure? You could say that easy access to massive amounts of photos of ordinary people, combined with a simple tagging system and an interface that makes it easy to browse photos, makes for a hotbed of activity for collectors.
I felt a little strange when my toes caught some attention on Twitter. The photo alone wasn’t pornographic—at least its intent wasn’t, but perhaps its eventual purpose was. I chose to just ignore it, but Holmes spoke to me about her experiences dealing with collectors: “Whenever someone adds me on Flickr or I see that someone has batch added my photos to their favourites and I can see a suspicious theme, I investigate.” More often than not, her suspicions are confirmed, and she ends up blocking the person. “They can still see my pictures,” Holmes adds, “but [they] can no longer interact with them in any way, nor can they contact me again.”
“I think the Internet has revolutionized a lot of things, with kink being one of them, but I feel that people who are on Flickr for sexual purposes are misusing the site, like people who save photos of their friends from Facebook for their spank banks,” says Holmes. I’m inclined to agree—while I am pro-sex and pro-kink, I’m also pro-consent, and when people don’t consent to having their images coopted by a stranger’s sexual gaze, there is a dangerous victimization and objectification. Holmes adds to this: “I feel that we should have the right to exist online without sexual harassment, and as soon as they involve anyone else (without permission) in their sexual exploration, there’s a victim.”