First, there were college meme Facebook pages. Students submitted edited photos telling jokes, promoting their school or dissing other schools. Like the fad it was, the jokes soon became repetitive, the material ran dry and the pages have since become afterthoughts.
The urge to post photos supporting your particular school is still strong, but the medium used is different. Welcome to SUNY Boobs, the biggest thing to happen on Twitter in New York in the last three and a half weeks.
The idea is straightforward. Pictures are sent to an email address, where changes, such as including the name of the school on the photo, are added and then posted to the Twitter account, which as of Wednesday, Feb. 27, has over 8,200 followers.
Since the first photo was sent from a student at SUNY Albany on Feb. 5, nearly 550 tweets have been sent from the account, most of which are submissions from students across the state, baring (almost) it all in support of her—and occasionally his—school.
In theory, there is nothing wrong with this form of expression. Many would be repulsed by the idea of distributing sensitive photos of themselves on the Internet for the whole world to ogle, but assuming that all participants are of legal age and consenting, then anyone is within his or her own right to express his or her own body as deemed fit.
The motivation behind the posts often differs and, in the case of SUNY Boobs, the competition tied to it leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Rather than simply being an outlet for expression, it has become an outlet for competition between schools, between sororities and fraternities and between friends to see who the collective mind of the Internet deems most worthy.
On the Twitter page, the description notes that “nudity is not promoted.” In this effort to distance itself from pornography and more toward healthy competition between rival schools, the site fails miserably. To say that nudity is not promoted, while at the same time encouraging girls from across the university to post their photos and represent her school or Greek group is both illogical and ludicrous.
But even then, even if near-nudity is actively promoted, it is still the girl’s choice to post a photo. For some, it is the thrill of posting a risqué photo. For others, it is the positive comments and publicity that the photo receives. Either way, it is assumed the women who submit a photo want to be a part of this popular trend and are perfectly within their right to do so. Some would argue that it is not the healthiest way to gain self-respect and positivity, but I am in no position to speculate on the individual motive or factors at play with each submission.
I can, however, criticize the reactions and comments received by each photo. So far, almost every tweet has been “favorited” or “retweeted.” Many others are commented on as well. This would not be so bad if the comments were positive, complimenting the girl on her appearance or giving her support for expressing herself in such a bold way. (That is, if she is attractive enough not to be condemned for submitting.)
One post from earlier this week showed three girls wearing what appeared to be sports bras, exposing only their abdomen. They were not the stick figure-shaped girls everyone demanded, nor were they exposing their whole chest. The three girls have painted their respective school, as well as the “hashtag” for the SUNY Boobs account on their abdomens. No nudity, but still a fun, lighthearted way to promote their school.
That is, until five comments from four different people criticized the trio, with comments such as “might want to throw a situp [sic] into the workout,” “nasty bitches” or simply “ew.” With feedback such as this, the idea that any girl—regardless of body type—can freely submit themselves to the site is preposterous.
Even when the collective naysayers approve of the submission, the privilege of anonymity is always challenged. Firstly, the photos are emailed directly to an email address operated assumingly by the unknown creators of the account; in essence, the participants email sensitive photos of themselves, using their school’s email and full name, to a complete stranger. So far, however, no such information has been leaked.
But when the more than 8,200 followers come together, guesses are made, rumors are spread and information is exchanged as to who is in the photo. In a recent post from Oswego, one commenter wrote in response to a picture that “we have to find out this young lady’s true identity.”
The woman in the photo had written a particular fraternity on her chest, in support of “Rush Week” that swept through the campus this past week. Sexualizing one-self for promotion of an organization is an additional problem, but that will be touched on later.
This comment was not unique. Such searches to delve information are rampant; some commenters jokingly ask friends if it was he or she in the photos, but others, like the comment above, make a serious inquiry, seemingly not understanding the fact that these photos were designed to remain anonymous.
In the haste to condemn the male followers for perverting the trend and criticizing the photos, it is worth noting that female followers do much of the same. Female commenters critique the appearance of the other girls, make snide comments and support the site seemingly just as much as their male counterparts.
Is this a backward way of viewing women? There is no doubt that it is.
“When I look at it, I simply feel frustrated,” Victoria Brodeur, Co-President of Women’s Center, said. “To me, this is objectification at its best. Women label themselves (literally) as representing their entire school base. Therefore, they aren’t people anymore but tools of propaganda.”
If recent activity indicates anything, Oswego has jumped right onboard. Every week, whichever school has the most submissions is declared the winner, and Oswego won in what SUNY Boobs described as a “landslide.” This is largely in part to the “rush” of photos of girls supporting different fraternities. If this is winning, then what is the prize? Another feather in the cap for the school that boasts how hard it parties, and now how many sexual photos it can submit in a week.
All this considered, this is not a clear-cut case of male dominance over females, as it would be easy to write it off as. The people behind the page are unknown and, for the sake of debate, could very well be female. Does it mitigate the negative connotations? Absolutely not.
“Anyone who doesn’t think SUNY Boobs shows a backward way of viewing women isn’t paying attention,” Michael Dolan, a senior history student, said.
In its ideal state, the Twitter feed would feature women and men of all shapes and sizes, showing their school pride in whichever way he or she is comfortable doing it in. Not overtly sexual, but rather light-hearted. In its current state, however, the pictures are used as propaganda for a particular school, a term that SUNY Boobs has shown no reluctance in using, describing a recent post from the University of Buffalo as “UB propaganda.”
“I just don’t like the idea of women being removed from their person and represented as ‘SUNYBoobs,’ Brodeur said.“It feels wrong.”