You can't be President - you took a nude photo 10 years ago! So you're a bad person!
January 28, 2008 6:13 PM   Subscribe

Does doing anything sex-industry-related (from taking a nude photo to actually working as a prostitute or exotic dancer) actually damn you from ever living a successful life in another area? Has anyone ever managed to be known and respected in their field without falling into "OMG SHE POSED NUDE" controversy?

I've noticed lately that no matter how successful or respected someone is in their field, if they've dabbled in something vaguely "sexually deviant" in the past, it comes back to haunt them and suddenly their respect level goes down (for example, Heather Mills or Vanessa Hudgens). Often it's something as innocuous as an old nude photo taken years before they were famous.

I personally find this a bit disturbing as it implies that nudity/sexuality is something terrible and disgusting, and since it affects women more, I find this rather misogynistic. However, I would like to know if anyone has ever managed to beat this societal expectation by not being "tarnished" by past sexual activity.

All those people that pose for artsy nude photos (or heck, even porn) - is it possible for them to get a more respected (by society) career or life without those old photos haunting them? I know of people who supported themselves through grad/law school by stripping, but does their past strip club job affect their future career negatively?

I'm sure that people who have worked in the sex industry in the past can (and do) move on to careers and lifestyles that are more society-supported (in a sense). This isn't a question of "are strippers really smart enough to study law". I'm wondering more about the societal impact - whether any of their work now would be tarnished by their past work.

(I'm also curious because I've been thinking about getting some artsy semi-nude or nude photos for personal reasons, or even getting involved in art projects that involve some level of nudity - but my family is somewhat in the public eye locally and we come from a conservative society, so I dread the idea that my dad could be knocked off his job or that all my activism work becomes useless because of one photo someone dug up from years ago. People have dug up old comments about my financial situation to use against me, so this is very possible.)
posted by divabat to Grab Bag (49 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

Say hello to Diablo Cody.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:15 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sure former strippers etc can have successful careers -- in which they keep their past quiet. Are you asking for examples of former strippers etc whose past is an open book, but who are still mainly known and respected for other work? That is, examples where the past sex work doesn't affect how they are publically perceived?
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:21 PM on January 28, 2008

So you are after men, or women specifically? It implies women from your question, but if not:

That guy that played Billy in Predator was a seventies porn star and had a successful acting and producing/directing career afterwards.

I think that era is important here - seventies porn wasn't so ... nasty. Or, at least, much less of it, by volume and proportion was, so I imagine it was easier to shake off - not least when so little of it was easily searchable.

The further on we go with accessibility and 'permanent memory/archive' with porn, the less I think that shaking this kind of thing off will be. Someone, somewhere, will always be able to find it, and so can use it against you if they so wish.

It's a risk, and as time goes on, becomes more of one, I think.
posted by Brockles at 6:22 PM on January 28, 2008

Does doing anything sex-industry-related (from taking a nude photo to actually working as a prostitute or exotic dancer) actually damn you from ever living a successful life in another area?

In an interview, Joanna Angel of, said something interesting. Namely that the best advice she ever got, after getting some success in porn, was to be completely straight arrow i.e. pay her parking tickets on time, have her financial books spotless etc, etc. Because people would be gunning for her left and right and she needed to have her shit totally together or they'd ruin her and her business, just because she was in porn and doing well. Make of that what you will.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:23 PM on January 28, 2008 [4 favorites]

Vanessa Williams went on to a successful mainstream singing and acting career following the revelation of her nude photos that ended up in Penthouse
posted by The Gooch at 6:25 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Vanessa Williams was stripped of her title as Miss America after it was revealed that she had posed nude in the past. But in subsequent years she has built a singing career and has, I think, overcome that association -- i.e., for many people it's not the first thing they think of when they see her, mainstream companies like Radio Shack sign her as an endorser without feeling like she's tainted, etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:25 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by LobsterMitten at 6:25 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

you owe me a soda
posted by The Gooch at 6:26 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Move beyond? Diablo Cody? Isn't she making her money off (besides that movie) her book about, among other things, being a stripper?

I have several friends who put themselves partway through school via sex-work (no actual sex, but related fields). One isn't respectable because she's messed up in other ways; the other has a perfectly legitimate job as an editor. We're all under 30, so I can't speak for the long-term or fame effects, but in neither's case do their previous 'lives' come up.

As for the artsy photos for yourself, a respectable photographer who does these won't let them get out of your control. They know what kind of sensitive work that can be.
posted by cobaltnine at 6:27 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

is it possible for them to get a more respected (by society) career or life without those old photos haunting them?

I think the Internet makes this a lot harder. I discovered a few years ago that someone I worked with had been on TV. So, I googled her to see what she'd done. I found out about a couple sitcoms and films she'd been in... and I turned up a lot of photos that I wish I'd never seen. I felt too embarrassed to ask her about them, especially since they may have been photoshopped. And even if they were legit and she *was* happy at the time she had them taken, I'm sure they're not the type of thing she wants to pop up on the first page of her Google results.
posted by web-goddess at 6:29 PM on January 28, 2008

Response by poster: LobsterMitten: Are you asking for examples of former strippers etc whose past is an open book, but who are still mainly known and respected for other work? That is, examples where the past sex work doesn't affect how they are publically perceived?

Yes, or those who may not have necessarily made their past public, but any mention of their past doesn't affect them negatively.

Brockles: I'm after both sexes, though I feel that there may be a big difference with how either sex is treated in this respect.
posted by divabat at 6:29 PM on January 28, 2008

I'm not sure if this counts (because I'm not talking about what's generally thought of as a sex industry), but tons of actors have done posed naked and have thriving careers. An extreme example: Cloe Sevigny gave a guy a blowjob in a film; now she's starring in a hit HBO series.
posted by grumblebee at 6:40 PM on January 28, 2008

Rapper Eve was a stripper at one point.
posted by cmgonzalez at 6:40 PM on January 28, 2008

I think it depends on what you are doing in your future. If you are famous or a politician or a teacher, then someone somewhere is going to dig it up and try and make a buck off of it or get you fired. In other professions I don't think it would matter so much, like you being an activist or if you were an artist or worked in a car wash. If you are worried about it, give the photographer a fake name or something so if it ever makes it to the internet it isn't quite so searchable.
posted by 45moore45 at 6:43 PM on January 28, 2008

Sylvester Stallone seems to have done pretty well for himself.
posted by deadmessenger at 6:55 PM on January 28, 2008

Ilona Staler aka La Cicciolina was elected to the Italian Parliament in spite of -- or possibly because of...? -- her hardcore porn career.
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:57 PM on January 28, 2008

Make that Ilona Staller
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:57 PM on January 28, 2008

Move beyond? Diablo Cody? Isn't she making her money off (besides that movie) her book about, among other things, being a stripper?

Juno isn't about strippers. Neither is the Spielberg project, "The United States of Tara," that she's writing for. She became known for writing a book about strippers, but the other work stands on its own merit. No one's saying, "Oh, that Juno movie is pretty good, but we won't give her any more work because people saw her naked." Which is kinda the point of the question.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:13 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

A well-regarded professor in my department at a highly regarded university used to be an exotic dancer in college, although she certainly doesn't advertise that fact. And now she's a well-regarded professor at a highly regarded university.
posted by svenx at 7:16 PM on January 28, 2008

Schwartzenegger did it too. (if you google "arnold schwarzenegger nude" you can even see little arnold in the first link...)

I think it depends much more on who that person is as a person. A nice, smart, intelligent, humble person is always going to do better than a jerk no matter what the backstory. And how one feels about and reacts to their past.

There will always be the snickering. But those kinds of people will snicker no matter what.

(And I think it's a little early to tell how this has affected Vanessa Hudgens' career.)

I personally find this a bit disturbing as it implies that nudity/sexuality is something terrible and disgusting, and since it affects women more, I find this rather misogynistic.

That's just because way fewer people want to see nude guys. Double standard, maybe. But not misogynist.
posted by gjc at 7:17 PM on January 28, 2008

There are a few notable exceptions, but in American society you can't have nude photos in your past and expect people to ignore them.

It sucks, but there you go.
posted by tkolar at 7:28 PM on January 28, 2008

I don't think Diablo Cody counts. Diablo Cody was a middle class woman who decided to be a stripper for purposes of writing a book about it in an anthropologisty sort of way. She was a stripper like Gloria Steinem was a playboy bunny.
posted by moxiedoll at 7:36 PM on January 28, 2008

Without explicitly referencing past comments you've made, I'll say that if I were in your position, and my parents lived where yours live, then I'd be a bit concerned about what would happen if any nudie pictures got out. You know the culture best, though—I only know it through the media—I can only directly speak to what your experience in the U.S. would be like.

And in the U.S., I think you wouldn't have much need for concern about truly artistic art or some personal photos. I mean, no one (that I'm aware of) suffers for having been an artist's model, for example. It's not nudity, but lewdness that tips the scales, which is why porn is another thing entirely. I don't think you're asking about what'd happen if you cut some hardcore videos, but if you did, I wouldn't like your chances at the presidency (even if you had, as is required by law, been born a U.S. citizen), much less as a teacher.

Keep in mind, what matters most here is whether you're a public figure or not. Politicians are probably all ruled out because of the size of their constituency: they have to appeal to so many people, and the power of their office is sufficient that their opponents will look for whatever leverage they can use against them, if need be. Really it's often unnecessary, though, as the mere fact of someone's perceived kinkiness can be enough to put the kibosh on their political aspirations. See, for example, Jack Ryan, who was looking very good as the Republican candidate for the Senate seat that Barack Obama won in 2004. Until Ryan's wife (Seven of Nine) sued for divorce on the grounds (among others) that he kept trying to get her to go to swingers' clubs. Bang. Dude just withered-up and withdrew from both the race and the public eye.

If you're not in a public position, however, I'd say it matters much less. Keep in mind that if someone isn't a public figure, you're much less likely to hear about them, so the thousands of former strippers who are now successful doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs go unsung.
posted by mumkin at 8:00 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Can't you just use a stage name when you're taking nude pictures? No one could prove they were pictures of you, could they?
posted by onepapertiger at 8:26 PM on January 28, 2008

Cupcake Brown was supposedly an addict and a prostitute before becoming a lawyer at Bingham McCutchen. This is all detailed in her book, I imagine.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 8:28 PM on January 28, 2008

Poet/musican Jim Carroll (of Basketball Diaries fame) worked as a prostitute when he was a teenager to support his heroin habit.
posted by scody at 8:50 PM on January 28, 2008

I think Cameron Diaz was in some bondage film or something. She seems to be doing pretty well for herself.
posted by brittanyq at 8:58 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

mumkin, that was also because it was handled abominably by Jack Ryan. He was (and may still be) sort of smarmy and weird. One of those "sneaky" guys my mother talked about, he had a really untrustworthy vibe about him. Sort of a rich frat-boy with a dash of roofie.
posted by gjc at 9:02 PM on January 28, 2008

Marilyn Monroe?
posted by thebrokenmuse at 9:14 PM on January 28, 2008

Given the furor over the ex-Health Minister Chua Soi Lek, it seems like future revelations would be very damaging rather than easily shrugged off. This idea might be something to reconsider. (I chose this particular example as appropriate based on previous comments by you.)

I suspect that while people may have overcome their "deviant" past, they tend to be from either more permissive cultures, or have jobs whose internal cultures are more forgiving (artist or writer vs. politician).
posted by Upton O'Good at 10:35 PM on January 28, 2008

Glenda Jackson was a British actress who did nude scenes, and later became an MP and junior minister. Not sure if that would have been possible in the US though.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 10:37 PM on January 28, 2008

I think the internet changed everything. I went to colelge in teh early 90s and lots of people I knew worked as strippers to pay the bills, either nearby or by taking a semester off to go to Alaska. That was pre-google. I doubt that many of them would risk having naked pics pop up on a search these days.

Interestingly enough it was always the ultra-conservative girls who stripped. Half of them got MBAs.
posted by fshgrl at 10:56 PM on January 28, 2008

Hehe, a bunch of the kids at my school were sitting in studio during an all nighter, surfing the net on their laptops, and they found a rear nudity shot of a woman who looks just like the younger version of one of our profs. Needless to day the whole studio knew about it by the next day. Everyone was talking about it, the guys were saying dirty things, it was hilarious.

We never did find out whether if it was the prof.
posted by BeaverTerror at 11:08 PM on January 28, 2008

What everyone else has said, but also: don't expect to keep it secret. The internet isn't as big as you think. My brother found nude photos one of my best friends did for some quick cash years before. She was never going to be able to go into politics, though...

Actually, the most disturbing thing is that he told me. What am I meant to do with the mental image of my brother surfing porn?
posted by Lucie at 1:02 AM on January 29, 2008

Well, if User #20966 is right, it won't be a problem for too much longer. On a talk regarding the implications of Moore's Law, he suggested that quite soon there's likely to be a lot of hitherto embarrassing information available about a lot of folks. When that happens, this kind of problem starts to become a little like the love life of a French politician. People will just shrug and say 'Doesn't everyone do that?"

We're also in some danger of losing the concepts of privacy, and warping history out of all recognition.

Our concept of privacy relies on the fact that it's hard to discover information about other people. Today, you've all got private lives that are not open to me. Even those of you with blogs, or even lifelogs. But we're already seeing some interesting tendencies in the area of attitudes to privacy on the internet among young people, under about 25; if they've grown up with the internet they have no expectation of being able to conceal information about themselves. They seem to work on the assumption that anything that is known about them will turn up on the net sooner or later, at which point it is trivially searchable.............

.......You know something? Keeping track of those quaint old laws about personal privacy is going to be really important. Because in countries with no explicit right to privacy — I believe the US constitution is mostly silent on the subject — we're going to end up blurring the boundary between our Second Lives and the first life, the one we live from moment to moment.

posted by Jakey at 2:51 AM on January 29, 2008

Related: The film, The Contender, is specifically about a female presidential candidate who refuses on principle to respond to these kinds of accusations about her past.
posted by dgaicun at 3:03 AM on January 29, 2008

Sibel Kekilli seems to be doing quite well for herself. All the press I read for Gegen die Wand seemed to mention to mention her pornography career within a sentence or two of a paragraph of rave acting accolades.

I believe a esponse to one reporter's inquiry into her past was "I was young and needed money."
posted by hototogisu at 3:06 AM on January 29, 2008

Sook-Yin Lee was saved from CBC wrath by the popular voice after her role in Shortbus, in which she acted through full blown unsimulated sex scenes. Oh, Canada!
posted by roygbv at 3:17 AM on January 29, 2008

I think you'd have to be relatively flexible in your definition of "success" and being "known and respected in their field ". With that, I'd have to say Traci Lords would qualify, perhaps, as the prime answer to your question.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:57 AM on January 29, 2008

I think you'd be surprised how many people - especially women - have posed nude sometime in their life. Since I've started doing nude photography and have talked about it with people not only of my generation (I'm 30), quite a few of them have mentioned posing when they were in their 20s and none of them mentioned any negative repercussions.

Among my younger models, their biggest problem is usually their male friends getting all beavis and butthead: 'huhuhuhuhu, booobies, huhuhuhu!'
posted by jedrek at 4:14 AM on January 29, 2008

Elizabeth Wurtzel posed nude for a book cover, and is Yale Law '08 with a job already lined up at a corporate firm.
posted by availablelight at 6:44 AM on January 29, 2008

1) Susan (!) Sarandon's film debut had a nude scene.

2) An old friend (no details will be given) was once a Playmate of the Month. She went on to a successful professional and high-visibility activist career. I don't know if anyone knew about her past, or even if she had any enemies, but Google would have revealed it if anyone had been looking.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:21 AM on January 29, 2008

NotRelatedFilter: This reminds me of an Everclear song.
posted by 53B3L1U5 at 11:11 AM on January 29, 2008

Maya Angelou was both a prostitute and madam early in life and is now just about as respected as a person can be.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 1:47 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

famous feminist Andrea Dworkin was a prostitute.
posted by jannw at 2:43 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've been following this list with interest, but it seems like once you take out the artists (writers, actors, etc.) it's a pretty short list. Seconding mumkin's observation that the vast majority of people never get noticed one way or the other (we've got a "famous people" list here, so by definition, they're people whose backgrounds have become public) but it seems like there aren't a lot of folks you can point to if some future employer has a problem with your hypothetical past.
posted by moxiedoll at 5:10 PM on January 29, 2008

This is a pretty optimistic list, focused on the success cases of people who had prominent careers in spite (or because of) their earlier nude work.

But might there be a much less cheerful list, of people who had career or family problems because of their involvement in controversial art? I can think of some actors (like the boys in the Kite Runner) and authors who have had real problems because of this; every so often in the US there is a minor scandal where a teacher or similar will have to resign because someone finds her nude photos.

If you will be living for the rest of your life in Australia, the US, Europe, etc, and you are not going to be a politician (or the spouse of one), a teacher (at least in the US), or other more scrutinized careers, sure, go for it and you will have lots of company and no one will ever know or care. But if you might be living in more sexually conservative countries, where your family might come under increased scrutiny, I think you are taking a much greater risk than your counterparts in other places.

Worst case is that an asshole ex-boyfriend or a dishonest photographer posts your photos on the web and they get linked all over the place, perhaps reprinted in the local press if you or your family are at all prominent. The important question is, what would the consequences be for you, not for some famous actress living somewhere else and in a different situation.
posted by Forktine at 7:50 PM on January 29, 2008

This is a very interesting question.

I don't have any examples to offer except Kerri Hoskins, a Playboy model-turned-actress. I believe she left acting/modeling to care for her sons who both have cerebral palsy, and has been active in those circles since then. There's probably a lot of other Playboy models who found some degree of success in acting and/or being active in charitable causes.

I do believe that as more teenagers naively put naked pictures of themselves on the internet the stigma attached to doing this will lessen over time. When just about everybody has nudie pics floating around somewhere, the fact that a few of them resurface will be more or less meaningless.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 7:20 AM on June 21, 2008

Actually, Dr. Laura Schlessinger seems to have done just fine despite having to address her own nude photography.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 7:25 AM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

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