In 2006 when High School Musical rocked our worlds, Vanessa Hudgens quickly became the Disney Channel’s poster girl for teen innocence. She was young, beautiful, and presented as conservative to the point where her and Zac Efron’s characters Gabriella and Troy didn’t even kiss in the first HSM film.
So in 2007 when private, nude photos of Hudgens were leaked online, both the media and public reacted with disappointment that she wasn’t the squeaky clean, two-dimensional fantasy that we saw on Disney.
The coverage and conversations around Vanessa Hudgens leaked photos were not about the fact that a man had maliciously and illegally violated her privacy, but about criticising the teen star for taking the photos in the first place.
18-year-old Vanessa Hudgens even apologised for the scandal at the time, which shows the level of shame everyone was comfortable with a young woman feeling simply for privately enjoying her own body and sexuality.
“I want to apologize to my fans, whose support and trust means the world to me,” she said at the time. “I am embarrassed over this situation and regret having ever taken these photos.”
The rhetoric reeked of slut shaming, and the idea that Hudgens had ‘let down’ Disney came from both outside and inside the company. That much is clear from a statement made by Joe Jonas in a 2016 interview, where he recalls working with Disney during the first Vanessa Hudgen’s nude photo scandal.
“We’d hear execs talking about it, and they would tell us that they were so proud of us for not making the same mistakes.” He told E!
In a statement to People back in 2007, a Disney spokesperson said about Vanessa’s photos:
“Vanessa has apologized for what was obviously a lapse in judgment. We hope she’s learned a valuable lesson.”
The victim blaming of Vanessa Hudgens was atrocious, and she honestly deserves an apology from Disney, and every media outlet and person who slut shamed her.
Over the years, Hudgens has been the target of revenge porn at least four times, usually maliciously timed to coincide with the release of her new projects. Her privacy was so frequently violated that it became a cruel joke that her nudes were ‘old news’, leaked by Vanessa herself, or that she should know better by now.
Vanessa was one of the celebrity victims of the large-scale 2014 illegal hacking and release of nude photos known as ‘The Fappening’, though thankfully by then the rhetoric around these incidents had changed dramatically to lay judgement on the hacker.
While slut-shaming is far from being erased entirely, the increased awareness of the problem with victim blaming means that those victims at least have some support. We would not expect them to apologise the way that Vanessa Hudgens was made to in order to continue her career. There has also been progress in the legal system cracking down on punishment for the criminals who share revenge porn and private photos.
Even though we have a long way still to go, we can be thankful that we have progressed past the point where the general consensus is slut-shaming victims of revenge porn. But it helps to remember the people we condemned within our lifetime, who we can now see with the benefit of hindsight, absolutely deserve our apology.