Lawyer by day, dick pic critic by night, Madeleine Holden knows how to multi-task. The New Zealander (and Noiseycontributor is the curator and commentator behind Critique My Dick Pic (link NSFW), a virtual Day of Reckoning for the world's crappy dick pics, which went viral almost as soon as it began last September.
While the title alone was strong enough to garner tumblr attention, Holden's blog is far from a gimmick. Submissions are assigned a letter grade and judged based on composition, lighting, and creativity, but the site has a strict no body- or size-shaming policy, and accepts submissions from anyone with a dick—men, ladies with strap-ons, and trans people are welcome to send in their artfully put together cock shots. Critiques are thoughtful ("Your dick pic is different in that your dick is soft yet you've managed to make it visually appealing by cupping it intimately with your hand"), funny ("Dude, this isn't good. Your own girlfriend has given you a five and she loves you and knows about all your good qualities and likes that cute thing you do with your mouth"), and dripping with feminist swagger, much like Holden's Twitter presence.
As a sender and receiver of the occasional sexy message myself, I appreciate Holden's efforts. There truly is a dearth of imagination out there when it comes to ways men choose to photograph their dicks. For a long time I held that against them—why was I messing with lighting and angles when I was getting sent the photographic equivalent of that comedy boner boi-oi-oiiing noise? I recently realized, however, that I was sending back full bod shots—this is where I had them beat. Turns out it's hard (pun intended, forever) to take a pic of just genitals. Solo gens do not a cute pic make. At least not without some work. I thought it might be time to consult an expert. Can the vag pic have a renaissance like the one @moscaddie is helping bring about with the dick pic? We caught up with the dick pic critic, currently traveling around the States on a break from balancing criminal defense with Female God's work to ask about logs, unsolicited sexts, and the future—if any—of the vag pic.
Note: The interview is safe for work, but consider this a blanket NSFW warning for the links.
VICE: Hi, Madeleine. So, Critique My Dick Pic started in September, inspired by one particularly well-done dick pic. Why do you think the current state of dick pics is so dismal? What are the main mistakes holding dick pics back?
Madeleine Holden: I think that the main problem with dick pics is that men are preoccupied with using them as an advertisement for their size, rather than as a piece of erotic material intended to turn someone else on. That's the reason that most dick pics are logs, and why an alarming number of them contain an inanimate object provided for scale. Pictures like this reek of insecurity and they're extremely dull. Dick pics should include some non-dick body parts, and a dispiriting number of them don't.
Another reason that the current state of dick pics is so dismal is that there is a culture of non-consent that surrounds them. Dick pics are often thrust at women unsolicited on dating sites and social media, and they are widely reviled for this reason. We need to encourage senders of dick pics to share them strictly with people who want to see them.
About how many pics do you get sent per day? Has the quality of submissions improved as you've continued to spread the Good Word?
Shortly after I started the blog I was receiving so many hundreds of pictures a week that I had to remove my email address to stem the tide of submissions. I have recently reinstated it and I receive fewer submissions than that now, but still a steady supply. There has been a tangible improvement in submissions over time. I still receive dozens and dozens of awful submissions, and I think some men will always be impervious to my recommendations. But the general trend is towards higher quality dick pics.
The real reason I'm seeking you out is to discuss something that really doesn't get talked about, at least not in a positive, non-shame-y way that I'm comfortable with: vag pics. It feels to me like when ladies sext pictures it's full body shots and tits and butts and things. Is a full vag pic the final frontier?
Pussy pics certainly aren't a phenomenon the way that dick pics are, and most women I know will draw the line at sending a nude with their pussy in it. I think part of that is the double standard, reputation-wise: if a dude sends a dick pic and it gets leaked, he's gonna be laughed at for five minutes, if a girl sends a pussy pic and it leaks then she's a whore and it will follow her around like a hungry dog.
Another reason, though, is that women tend to be doubtful about the appeal of a picture of straight-up genitalia, and there's something in that. A bit of context and nuance goes a long way, although I'm sure pussy pics could work in principle.
Photo by Flickr user Larry Hoffman
What is your personal philosophy on vag pics? Do you think as sexting and sex-through-technology becomes more popular, we might see a pussy pics renaissance?
My personal philosophy on pussy pics is to do them if you feel comfortable with it and have a receptive receiver but bear in mind the consequences of some ain't-shit dude leaking them. Pussy pics will probably get more popular, yeah.
Full disclosure: in the interests of "journalism" I tried to take a mostly vag shot yesterday and it involved a lot of weird angles and no finished product I felt good about. Do you think maybe they're simply too much work when we've got breasts and hips and things to photograph instead? What do you think might make a good vag pic? (Help)
You may be struggling in the same way that dudes struggle with dick pics, in that you're trying to capture your genitals in a sexy way and that takes a fair bit of effort and skill. Breasts and hips are easier in the sense that they're less shocking, and taking a pussy pic is always going to feel a bit crude and seedy simply because of how we're socialized to think about pussies and the act of sharing them. I think most of my dick pic tips would apply to taking a good pussy shot: include your hands in the picture; use gentle lighting; make sure the background is visually-appealing and clear of clutter; include some of the rest of your body. Use an angle and level of zoom that isn't too in-your-face. Send it to someone who wants to see it, and whom you trust implicitly.
In your piece for the Hairpin you said the dick pic project "confirmed to [you] just how fragile men are; how crumblingly insecure and self-conscious so many of them are about their bodies." Can you expand on that? What conclusions (if any) have you drawn from this window into male insecurity?
Men are remarkably open with me about their bodily insecurities. I'm not sure whether it's the anonymous format or the novelty of the outlet or the anti body-shaming ethos of the site, but men will write me paragraphs about how much they hate their hairy chests, or their circumcised foreskins, or the entire package that they're working with. Often men will tell me that my site helped them to surmount their insecurities, which warms my heart.
I've come to the conclusion that men face similar (although less intense) pressures to look a certain way, but they are afforded fewer outlets to discuss how it affects them. Traditional masculinity requires men to be stoic about their emotional issues and men risk being called pussies and fags if they are openly self-conscious about something as "frivolous" and "feminine" as their appearance. Basically, men are a simmering heap of raw nerves and unexplored emotions.
Why do you think we talk so much about dick pics? I feel like they get a lot of press but we are so used to naked pictures of women that sending one via text doesn't make a difference, really. It's not notable, you know?
I'm not sure that we do talk about dick pics a huge amount, or at least not critically. It seems to me that half the reason Critique My Dick Pic blew up so quickly is because it was an under-discussed phenomenon. I agree with you that we expect to see naked pictures of women; we are surrounded by them and we're used to viewing women as sexual objects. We're less used to viewing men as sexual objects; on a societal level we still seem to find that comical and unserious. Dick pics are noteworthy because they invert that dynamic, they're the opposite of what we're used to from men: they're vulnerable and they're premised on a female gaze.
What are some of the more common faux pas committed via text-based sexting? I've seen some true horrors. Like, what is the verbal equivalent, to you, of a log?
My friend Priya did a good tweet about this the other day.
The kind of dudes who are terrible in bed are usually terrible at sexting for the same reasons: they lift all their moves directly from porn; they try to be too tough and showy; they ignore the things that actually lead to pleasure for you. The worst kind of sexts are the ones that are just about how hard some dude thinks he's gonna fuck you, e.g. "I'm gonna get right up in those guts. I'm gonna have you screaming." Pass.
Would you ever consider starting a pussy pics blog, get an empire going?
Men ask me this all the time. I'm not really interested in catering to the male gaze and it wouldn't be the same kind of public service Critique My Dick Pic is, given that artless, unsolicited pussy pics aren't thrust at men on a mass scale the way dick pics are. The whole ethos would be different; it's not something that really interests me.
Follow Monica Heisey on Twitter