Brown Bares Boobs!

but mostly dicks

You’ve probably already heard about BrownBares, the new website (more properly, subreddit) that features nudes of Brown students in Brunonian locales: Faunce, the SciLi, and Steinert practice rooms, to name just a few. The site received huge publicity boosts from FemSex and Spotted@Brown when it was founded two months ago—it was through those channels that I first heard about it. I felt some guilt about indulging voyeuristic urges, but that guilt soon gave way to puzzlement and relief: there are no faces on BrownBares. In other words, there’s no way of accidentally running across lab partners or study buddies.

Of course, that’s not entirely true. It’s probably possible to recognize some people on BrownBares, but guessing at their identities or outing them on the site is prohibited in the site’s rules and runs counter to its ethos. BrownBares is somehow less about ogling classmates than it is about creating a place for people to share photos of themselves that reveal as much or as little (see: Box Man, an image on the site of someone decked out in cardboard boxes apparently asleep on a chair) of themselves as they desire with a built-in audience of supportive peers. Everyone walks away satisfied, but not necessarily in the way that people close their browser windows and leave the internet’s red light district “satisfied.”

The fact that people talk about having visited BrownBares with little to no reticence perhaps stands as the clearest signal that the subreddit is not (simply) pornographic in nature. I for one haven’t heard anyone openly extolling hot new videos on RedTube or similar sites. Is it weird that we’re so forthcoming about looking at nude photos of classmates? Probably, but the anonymity also mitigates some of the taboo of talking about naked people. Conversation about pictures on BrownBares sounds less like talking about people and more like talking about the body in the art-historical sense, the way you talk about Christ’s six-pack abs in paintings of the Crucifixion. I’m not trying to say that pictures on BrownBares are art—nor that pornography can’t be art—but I’ll concede that the susurrous posts on BrownBares look a lot more like art than your average smut. We’re avoiding the taboo of (admitting to) using naked photos for sexual pleasure by making visits to BrownBares about the spectacle.

Take “Decided to go {f}or it,” for example. (The letter in curly or square brackets generally indicates the sex of the person in the photos.) A plaid bra with lacy frills greets the viewer in the first photo—the bra is hiding something(s) in a tempting but not entirely sexual way. The next photo in the series (yes, it’s a series—jackpot?) is a sideways shot of the same torso; a sexy bit of pelvis peeks over the figure’s jeans. The third image is boobs, boobs and curves and a glimpse of the figure’s mons pubis—trimmed into what people colloquially call a “landing strip.” (Not to be crude, but they are really lovely boobs.) The final picture in the series is a frontal shot of the same curves with the camera’s focus shifted a bit—south. The set’s vibe is undeniably artsy, but the pictures focus less on beauty per se than on beauty personified: It’s an anonymous Aphrodite; it’s sort of art.

In contrast to the pictures of female bodies, which are generally darkly lit and intimate something along the lines of a secret, the male photos are well lit (if cellphone-camera grainy) and quickly cut to the chase—that is, to the penis. Every so often you run into a more discreet post of the male figure, but looking at the front page of posts (although this subreddit is organized chronologically and not by upvote count), I’m having trouble finding a submission of a male body that doesn’t quickly give up the ghost. Posts of female bodies rarely actually show the bodies’ vaginas. Apparently there’s less to describe in a lot of the posts of male bodies. I’ll venture that male-bodied posts want less to celebrate beauty and more to celebrate penises in all their rigidity—or flaccidity, as sometimes is the case. Put another way, they’re not celebrating the beauty of penises; they’re competing in Brown’s first dick-measuring contest to take place outside the Sigma basement.

I asked the BrownBares moderator about the differences between male and female posts; he confirmed, “The male submissions definitely seem to be more genital oriented, whereas the female posters generally have more of a creative flair to them.” He added, “Male sexuality is a lot more unabashed.” I also spoke to someone who has posted on BrownBares. They (ze?) take(s) a different tack: “For some people, I think it’s exciting to know that there are random people looking at your body without knowing who you are. That’s not the only reason people post, though. Some are looking for compliments on their bodies because they might be insecure, some want to push the limits and see how much of themselves they can show before being recognized, and still others simply post out of boredom.”

This plurality of reasons for posting speaks to the deliberateness that goes into many of the posts: take Box Man again, or any of the artsier shots. One image in a set of two looks like a full frontal shot of a woman; the next shot shows the penis that was tucked between the guy’s legs. It’s stand-up gender-bending; it’s amusing, it’s sexy, and it gives us something to talk about. Why are people willing to admit to visiting BrownBares? (Would they admit to watching porn?) We have to concede that the site has quickly reached spectacle status. You head to the website because everyone says you have to see it. But what makes it okay to talk about in the first place? To a certain extent, the site as a whole is more cultural meme than user-generated porn. And it’s sort of about us, isn’t it? Is it easy to see ourselves in the positions of the individuals in the photos? We’ve all been in the pool room in Faunce, and that’s a hop, skip, and a jump away from posing naked on a pool table—right?

It’s a truism to say that the viewers make BrownBares succeed as much as submitters. The chance of running into someone without knowing that you’ve seen him or her naked can be as alluring for the viewer as the obverse is for the contributor. “Have I seen those legs before?”

At its core, BrownBares is bedroom entertainment with the lights left on. It’s sexy jokes about how awkward sex can be. Sure, some BrownBares posts might be lights-off pornographic. I asked the moderator if the content on BrownBares is porn. He answered, “To cop out in a way, I don’t think it really matters. People can post for a variety of reasons, all of which are valid. Some posters might see it as art and self-expression, while others might use it purely for sexual stimulation. But that is what is great about an open forum: people can use it however they want.” The site recognizes the intentionality of submissions as much as it thrives on the intentions of its viewers, intentions that aren’t necessarily sexual. That raw fascination drives our conversations and lets the site recognize, beyond penises and boobs, a chance at unfettered self-expression.