Gita’s phone vibrates. She swipes the screen and an image pops up on WhatsApp. It’s a classic mirror selfie from her best friend – completely naked. Gita laughs and sends five fire emoji back with the message "On fire girl."
There is nothing sexual between Gita and her best friend. But several times a week, they send each other nude selfies.
“I first started when I was single,” says Gita, 26. “I felt left out of sexting because I had no one to send nudes to. It’s a way for me to show my friends how good I look naked – because I seriously do right now. Lately, I’ve also started doing it as a joke. I might send a normal selfie but just happen to have one random nipple poking out. It makes us laugh.”
She and her friend are not the only ones sending each other non-sexual nudes. What was once a way to sexually incite a partner has now become an expression of solidarity and empowerment among women.
“Nude selfies are a way to champion my own self-confidence,” explains one of my friends, Daisy Walker, a 27-year-old fashion photographer.
I think for a woman to grow up in our society and get to a place of body acceptance is a success, and I want to share that with my friends.Daisy Walker
“It's taken me a long time to shed the restricted, socially inflicted ideals of female beauty, and accept my own body. Now, I’ve got to a place where I don’t care whether people view me as beautiful or sexy. I look at my body naked and think, ‘HELLS YES.’”
I am often the recipient of her nude selfies, typically sent post-shower or while brushing her teeth, and I no longer bat an eyelid at full-frontal images of her. Daisy's reasons for doing it are inspiring. “I think for a woman to grow up in our society and get to a place of body acceptance is a success, and I want to share that with my friends," she says. "I hope it catches like wildfire.”
She created a WhatsApp group specifically for her girlfriends to share nudes. One of the members, 29-year-old writer Poppy, says: “I have countless nude selfies on my phone from friends. It’s about sharing the beauty of our bodies with each other as an art form - or just for a laugh.
Sending nudes is always risky. You might be friends with the person when you send them your naked pictures, but what happens if you fall out? Vengeful sharing of compromising photos isn't something that's limited to angry exes. And there's always the chance of someone other than the intended recipient seeing them.
"I have thought about that," says Gita. "But I trust my friends, and to be honest, even if a nude selfie of mine was somehow leaked, I wouldn't mind. To me, it's just a body and the selfie is a picture I've taken in an empowering way. If someone does something negative with that, it says a lot more about them than it does me. Some of my friends are less relaxed though, and they send pictures with their faces cropped out."
Emma Rose, a social media expert and professor at the University of Northampton, thinks the trend for nude selfies among female friends ties in to young womens' rejection of the idea of ‘perfect’ female beauty – the super-skinny models and airbrushed images seen in advertising and traditional media.
The ‘body-positivity’ movement, which started on Instagram and honours all kinds of female bodies, is another example of this.
She says: “Women are starting to feel quite empowered and there’s a big movement to desexualise the female form – to show it in ways that aren’t all about appealing to men.
“These nude selfies are an extension of that celebration.”
To some of us who are more squeamish, it could seem overly confident and intimate.Professor Emma Rose, University of Northampton
Emma sees this trend as the opposite of posting public Instagram Stories. These are private messages, creating a more "intimate echo chamber" in which friends boost each other’s confidence (or just make each other laugh).
“To some of us who are more squeamish, it could seem overly confident and intimate,” she says. “But these women may develop a better connection with themselves and their bodies as they get older.”
Some of the women sending nudes will be doing it out of insecurity, though.
“Some see it as art, or trying to shock their mates, or taking back ownership of their naked form,” says Emma. “But it’s still feeding into this relationship we have with social media - wanting the notifications to come rolling in and the feeling of validation that gives you.”
None of the nude-senders I spoke to admitted this explicitly, but they did talk about the "confidence boost" they get when they send the photos.
Unlike normal sexting, where you have to wait for a response from a sexual partner who may or may not say what you want them to, a friend is much more likely to reply with the message you’re hoping for - be it lit fire emoji or a funny nude of their own.
Photographer Steph Wilson, 25, uses her friends to "vet sexy nudes before she sends them to men I’m sleeping with". But she also deliberately sends them selfies “that are NOT sexy, but often horrendously unattractive” for a laugh.
She explains: “I think nudity is put on a bit of a pedestal, when actually I find being naked pretty hilarious sometimes, especially when you’re wearing nothing but a face mask.”
Mum likes to send me pictures of the dog, and flowers in her garden, and I send her pictures of my boobs in Japanese hostels...Steph Wilson
Steph even sends nudes to her mum whenever she’s on holiday. “I get a friend to take them while posing extravagantly,” she says. “Mum likes to send me pictures of the dog, and flowers in her garden, and I send her pictures of my boobs in Japanese hostels and hotels in Barcelona."
"The general response is, ‘Oh, getting brown!’ or ‘Not your best angle’. But, being a nurse, she's hardly fazed, and it makes me laugh.”
Comedy sexting is something that men are doing too. ‘Nutscaping’ – sending a photo of a landscape with testicles just skimming the top of the photo – has been a popular trend, with some young men now sending non-sexual nudes to their mates.
“I think it's hilarious,” says Noam, 20, who often sends his friends photos with his penis just poking out of his clothing. “I only send these photos to people who I know will find it funny.”
But even the comedy nude selfie is a statement of sorts. “It shows that we don’t need to always sexualise the naked body, especially the female body,” says Gita. Women - and, increasingly, men - face relentless cultural pressure to be 'hot' - so much so that being naked can seem terrifying. These selfies are a way of fighting back against all that.
"Obviously, it isn't going to work for everyone, but for me and my friends?" says Gita. "It's just a fun way to share the love."
Need advice on all things sexting? Take a look at Radio 1's guide.