Earlier this year Playboy model Dani Mathers got into trouble. She took a photo of a naked woman in the locker room at her gym and posted it on Snapchat with a snide and mocking comment about the woman’s appearance.
The reaction to Mathers’ Snapchat was immediate and overwhelming. She got kicked out of LA Fitness for life for violating a firm policy against photography in locker rooms, and the gym also reported her to police. She lost a long-standing radio gig. And Mathers faced withering criticism on social media for “body shaming” an unsuspecting older woman who was just at the gym for an innocent workout. Mathers apologized, saying that she knew that body shaming was wrong and that the ill-advised posting of the photo was not an indication of the kind of person she was. And there the story seemed to end.
But now there are reports that the woman Mathers photographed, who previously had not been identified, has come forward and spoken to police to indicate that she would be willing to testify against Mathers, and the LA city attorney’s office is reviewing the case. Should Mathers be prosecuted for violating the woman’s privacy? Under California law, taking a photo of someone in a private setting in which they have a reasonable expectation of privacy is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.
It’s not an easy question, because Mathers’ Snapchat gibe stirs up some strong emotions. It was a callous display of precisely the kind of airheaded contemptuousness and sense of superiority that normal people associate with the brainless “beautiful people.” Mathers has all day to work out and stay fit; she makes her living solely on the basis of her appearance. Most of us don’t have that luxury. We have to work, and we don’t have personal trainers and dietitians and assistants to help us keep the weight off. And when we do get to the gym, we shouldn’t have to put up with mean-spirited mockery from the hard body brigade. On the other hand, though, should hardworking prosecutors be spending time on privacy issues rather than prosecuting more serious crimes?
In this case, I would leave it up to the woman whose privacy was so appallingly violated. The California law was written to protect her rights, and if she wants to bring charges I think the prosecutor should follow her lead. She may well decide to be kind — kinder, certainly, than Mathers was in sending her Snapchat in the first place — and accept Mathers’ apology. In either case, Mathers should be the one who is ashamed. And we should give some thought to who people like Mathers really are the next time we see some pretty face endorsing a product or a politician.