Editor’s note: Harley Dewald generously agreed to an interview for this story and consented to its publication.
“I was scrolling through Instagram and I saw her post,” Isabella Skelton remembers. “I saw it and I read the caption and was like ‘oh, body positivity’, and so I scrolled over and it was like ‘bam!’ It was kind of a slap across the face.”
The post on Instagram appeared about a month ago on Harley Dewald’s account. Although Dewald is now eighteen, she was only seventeen at the time meaning that the pictures were taken as a minor. Her post consisted of a selfie, alongside another selfie that was considered provocative. The second selfie was of Dewald in just a thong, and no bra. She covered her breasts with her arm to prevent them from being completely exposed.
The caption below the post stated; “The past year or so I have had a very hard time with acceptance and self love. For the first time in awhile I’ve felt happy about myself and the way I look and I want to encourage positive thoughts and remind everyone that they’re beautiful.”
Students started to gossip, and before long, the incident was reported by an anonymous source to Jody Emerson, U-32’s Associate Principal, who sent an email to the entire school.
“I sent out a public service announcement email in response to several incidents that occurred this school year and last,” Emerson said. The email was not directed towards any specific person.
Emerson wanted students to understand that not only is sending nude photos illegal, but it is also illegal to receive nude photos that are then saved or shared.
Because Emerson’s email did not identify any specific incident, rumors started to spiral out of control. Students wanted to know who it was that got in trouble for sexting.
In response to the email and gossip, Dewald sent out a separate email to the juniors and seniors.
“The school is required to respect the privacy of all students. People under the age of eighteen have a legal right to anonymity, but I do not wish to remain anonymous and I believe that everyone who received the email has a right to know what it was about.”
Dewald didn’t realize that the email was based on several incidents that had already happened this school year– hers was just one of them. Dewald claimed that she was confused because Emerson had sent an email to her mom just minutes before sending the public service announcement to the school. In her own email to the student body, Dewald shared her interpretation of Emerson’s email:
“The recent email sent by Jody was in regards to a photo of me in my underwear that I posted, and have since deleted, with a caption talking all about body positivity and the importance of self love. The email is broad but the ‘issue’ is not in reference to an incident of sexting, bullying or nude photographs. The female body is not inherently sexual and a non-sexual photo of a person in their underwear is not ‘porn’. I have no intention of blowing unnecessary situations out of proportion but I refuse to be told that my natural body is pornographic.”
Before long, an email chain was started in response to Dewald and her email. “Actually a photo of an underage girl in her underwear is considered ‘showing something,’” Tony Rowell wrote. “And is still considered porn- actually child pornography considering your age.”
More emails started to flood students’ inboxes. Claims such as “she said it was about body positivity” and “you referred to yourself as ‘not inherently sexual’- so what you posted was literally the definition of porn…” These emails were being sent to the entire junior and senior classes.
Dewald’s purpose in posting the photo still remained unclear to some who doubted that there were good intentions behind it. An anonymous source who played a part in the email chain says that “some girls don’t want to be sexualized, but a person like that who post something and say that it’s just body positivity is just sexualizing herself. I mean the position she was in, the thong she was wearing, she was barely covering up!”
Dewald’s view about body positivity was not impacted by the events resulting from her post. She continues to believe that “there is a lot of stigma around the female body being inherently sexual just because its a female body and I think it’s become a little bit ridiculous that someone’s natural body is sexual automatically.”