Deepfake: When the Nudes Aren’t You

By Rebekah Hardy

A few years ago, I was sitting at my teacher’s desk while my students took their religion test. I was going back and forth between grading papers and checking my email when suddenly I saw one, then ten, then twenty friend requests come in to my Facebook inbox from men that I didn’t know. I checked my page to see what was going on and if I was getting spammed. When I checked my inbox there were messages… gross ones. 

I didn’t know what I did to bring all of this creepiness into my life. I ignored the messages and just deleted them thinking it was some kind of awful mistake that all of these people were messaging me. The next day I received even more friend requests and then finally a message that made my heart stop. Someone was kind enough to send me screenshots from a couple of popular sites… it was a picture of my face photoshopped onto a naked woman’s body with all my contact information listed. I couldn’t believe it.

I was struck with absolute horror and my stomach turned in disgust that someone would do this to me. I had never taken a naked picture in my life! I felt so shameful knowing that all of these men in my friend requests were looking at a picture of someone who they thought was me. People were lusting after this picture of someone they probably imagined was a consenting adult. I was horrified at the thought that one of my students, my boss, my friends, would come across this and how much damage that would produce- even though it was fake. 

I felt like it was real. The person who sent me the screenshot to me said they were so sorry someone had shared my pictures… but they weren’t even mine. Somewhere in the world, however, there was someone who did take that picture of herself. My heart broke at the thought that she was also being exploited through this. I felt for my poor sister in Christ.

For weeks I would report these pictures and they would be taken down only to pop back up a couple of days later with more raunchy captions. I felt like I wasn’t safe when I would think about the ill-intentioned people who might be on these sites seeing the place I worked next to the naked picture of “me”. I would have nightmares about them showing up at my work and following me through the parking lot. Out of fear for my safety, I told the priest who was my boss at the time about what I was going through. Thanks be to God, he took me under his wing and immediately reached out to the police in our school district to report everything that happened. He told them to keep an eye on me and make sure I was okay- and told me to call him if I ever felt unsafe.

That same day I went to my hometown police station with my dad and received so much kindness and concern from them as well. I got several calls from the lieutenant who took down my story over the following days to ensure that all was well and to give an update of the status of things. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t do this earlier. It was partly out of shame. I was so embarrassed at the thought that they might not believe my story. For fear of being misunderstood or disbelieved, I suffered in silence.

The whole time this was happening, my only consolation was that I knew it wasn’t me. Even if everyone else didn’t know that, at least I did. However, something else was weighing on my mind at the time… I thought of everyone in the world who this actually happens to. Revenge porn is a real thing and I know people who have actually had their real nudes circulated online by an ex or a spiteful friend. To this day, I pray for those men and women. The human body was never made for this.

To all of the women and men who have been lied to and made to believe that sending nudes is a normal thing- I am sorry. To all of the women and men who have been exploited because of nudes they have sent- my heart breaks for you. To all of the people who are reading this and are tempted to judge those who ask for and those who send nudes- don’t. None of us are perfect but all of us can be better.

For anyone who might be feeling pressured to send nudes, I would just like to encourage you and tell you that it isn’t worth it. I promise you that anyone who’s love or attention might be hinging on the requirement that you show them something so personal and sacred as your naked body is not the kind of “love” or attention that you deserve. While that may sound arbitrary, believe me, I know. I have had pressure to do the same thing from people I’ve dated and people who weren’t even looking for a relationship with me. Looking back, I am so thankful that I didn’t give them what they were looking for.

If you’ve sent nudes before and you feel like you can’t turn back now- that’s a lie from Hell. We know from Saint Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians that “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17). It is never too late to start over when you have Christ. Start today. Let Him make you new. That isn’t you anymore.

Leading With Who You Are

After experiencing one too many disappointing relationships and “situationships,” I found myself painfully single in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Having just moved into a new house with a couple of my girlfriends, I suddenly had a lot of time to think about those things that I really wanted in life. As I mulled over past relationships, I was faced with a stark reality— I had never really led with who I was. In the early stages of my past relationships, I hadn’t honestly communicated my desires, boundaries, or interests. I was always more focused on being agreeable— the perfect match for the person in front of me. This approach inevitably led to disappointment after disappointment for me, and thank God that it did.

A few months after realizing this, I was on vacation in Cape May New Jersey with my family. We had invited a close priest friend to come and spend time with us while we were there. Early one morning, after he said a Mass for us, I asked him for confession. As he counseled me, he gave me a piece of advice that will always stay with me. He told me that when I first meet someone and things seem to headed in a romantic direction, to ask myself, “Is this person, in the way they are living right now, capable of providing me with the life I imagine for myself?” This is a question I hadn’t been brave enough to consider in the past. Or maybe I didn’t want to consider it, already knowing that the answer was no. 

I held this question in my heart throughout that whole week of vacation, letting it transform my expectations. It seems like such a simple thing that someone should probably already know at 25 years old, but the idea had never been presented to me like that before. Just days later, I began chatting with a handsome and kind person on a popular dating app. We had similar interests, and I knew from the very start that he would treat me the way that I had always wanted to be treated. He had this gentleness about him, and I could see myself sharing a joyful and fulfilling future with him. I’m not going to lie—the wholesomeness of it all really freaked me out at first, but that’s a blog for another time. 

Mindful of the advice my priest friend had given me, I wanted to be sure that this man and I were truly compatible. So from the very beginning, I was honest about my values and passions: I let him know that I went to Mass daily, that I wanted someone who would pray with and for me, and that I believe The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is unequivocally the greatest movie of all time— the essentials. And as I grew to know him better, I wasn’t afraid to ask those tough questions that before, I would never have dared to let out of my mouth.

At every turn, I expected to be disappointed, but instead, I found someone who exceeded all of my expectations. I couldn’t believe it— for the first time, I felt that the picture I presented of myself actually lined up with who I was. After nine months of dating this wonderful man, I can say with complete confidence that we know each other. We support each other’s dreams and ambitions, and there is not a day that goes by without us praying together.

Sometimes it won’t work out so great. Sometimes we share who we are only to be rejected, or to have someone tell us that they aren’t willing to live according to our values. There is one truth that stands in this— the sooner we move past those things that are not meant for us, the sooner we will encounter what has always been meant for us. Dating isn’t easy, but it is much easier when we realize how important of an element it is to be true to ourselves.

Not everyone in the world is meant to be with you or appreciate the gift that you are. It only takes one.

Entrusting the Past to God’s Mercy

By Rebekah Hardy

I was watching a college basketball game the other day, when I was struck with a vivid flashback of shooting a basketball over the backboard during one of my high school games.

I immediately cringed remembering how laughably terrible that moment felt as everyone watched my over-calculation. The referees didn’t know what to do, the opposing team was in shock, and my whole team immediately started cracking up. Our coach had to call a timeout to settle the team down. My teammates affectionately called me “rocket arm” for the rest of my high school career and we belly-laughed about it more than a couple of times. Looking back on this moment almost ten years later, I can safely say that my pride still crumbles when I think about it.

Unfortunately, the past can be a difficult place to revisit. Shame, regret, fear, hurt, betrayal… these are all feelings that play a part in our stories. Our relationship to our past can corrupt our present and future if we aren’t willing to submerge our every experience in the ocean of God’s mercy.

We see examples of this time and time again throughout history, literature and art— the tragic past that corrupted the villain is an all too common theme. From the jealousy of Cinderella’s stepmother, to the resentfully vindictive lifestyles of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations and of Michael Goob in Disney’s Meet the Robinsons, to our own difficulties to move on from things that have happened, we see how this can be true. We see that our pasts need God.

When I taught middle school, there was a religious sister whose classroom was a couple of doors down from me. I’ll never forget the words she had written above the chalkboard in neat penmanship:

“My past, O Lord, to Your mercy; my present, to Your love; my future to Your providence.”

If you’ve ever struggled to reconcile with your past, I recommend taking these words of Saint Padre Pio to be your own. Sometimes the temptation to live in the past will arise, fear or guilt or shame will try to overtake you and steal your joy and put you down. Please know that this is not from God. God exists in the present moment. Do not buy into the lie that your past is unforgivable or that your past hurts are indicators that your future will also be full of hurt.

Whether the damaging or shameful things happened years or minutes ago, don’t try to carry them any longer. Our loving God didn’t suffer and die so that you would have a life of misery. God’s promise to Jeremiah the prophet is also a promise to us:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

My embarrassment in that story I described earlier wasn’t the only thing that came out of that awful display of athleticism. While that play may not have been my brightest moment, it sparked an inbounds play that no other team in our conference had. My co-captain and I decided to put that strength to use and while everyone on the other team was worried I’d bounce the ball in, my sights were at the opposite end of the court where she was waiting to catch the ball I was about to launch. It worked every time— no one ever saw it coming. We took a certain sense of pride in our “rocket arm” play. God wants to transform your shame into victory in this same way.

The hard question for us to answer in all of this is— are we willing to surrender our grips on the past in order to live in unimaginable joy? I pray that we can say yes to that.

Help us, O God, to entrust our pasts to Your mercy.

Hard Christmas

By Rebekah Hardy

Christmas can be such a dreamy time of year: houses and churches take on new beauty with the lights and garlands, love seems to be in the air as couples post romantic pictures, we give and receive gifts–all of this is bright and merry and beautiful.

What happens when the most wonderful time of year is crossed with suffering? With loss? How can we navigate a time of great joy when it is overshadowed by great sorrow?

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