It has been called a microcosm of Brunonian culture, a “Craigslist for Brown” and an inspiration for students and alums to pose nude on the roof of the GeoChem Building, in Faunce House, in Sayles Hall, in Steinert Practice Center and in Salomon Center. While much of the hype of BrownBares.com on campus has died down, the site remains active months after its creation in mid-November.
BrownBares is a “subreddit” of reddit.com, a site that allows users to submit photos and comment on others’ submissions under self-created usernames. While certainly not the only site of its kind, BrownBares is one of the only “not suitable for work” subreddits exclusive to a university.
With approximately 1,000 to 2,000 unique hits every day, dozens of users and nearly 300 subscribers, “the place in which Brown bares all” has occupied a unique niche in Brown’s culture of sexual positivity.
Submissions feature Brown-related humor and cultural references — one user posed with his cyclohexane model from organic chemistry, and other posters have censored their faces with photoshopped images of Bruno logos.
Users submit photographs of themselves alone or with others, nude or semi-nude, artistic or pornographic, taken in the privacy of their bedrooms or in public places on campus.
The site’s traffic peaked Dec. 16, right in the middle of finals. Traffic spiked when students returned to campus after winter break and has since remained constant.
For Emily ’13, posting nude photographs of herself to BrownBares was never about receiving “validation.” (“Emily” is a pseudonym. She and several other students spoke on the condition of anonymity.)
“I enjoyed seeing how the photography wasn’t outright porn — it was art,” she said. “I thought, ‘Why not?’”
“If I could see my body in that kind of art form, I wouldn’t feel ashamed,” Emily added. “I would find it beautiful.”
Since then, she has submitted more than 10 photos to the site and frequently comments on others’ posts, particularly ones she finds artistic or inspiring. One of her favorites, entitled “Intruder,” features a female student sitting on a bed in one frame and a male approaching her from behind wearing all black in the next.
“You want to know where that story goes,” Emily said.
Emily was also inspired by a photo of a female student posing nude on the pianos in Steinert. “I’m really into music,” she said, “so that was really beautiful for me.”
Other users were pioneers in the exhibitionist photos quintessential to the site. One user, John ’12, gained campus fame under the nickname “Salomon guy” for posing nude in the balcony of Salomon 101.
Others choose to take more humorous approaches to their photos. A user entitled “Bag_Man_Gone_Wild” has posted various submissions of himself wearing paper or plastic bags over his head and limbs. Another submission, entitled “Just hanging out in my o[f]fice” — the parenthetical indicates the gender of the poster — opens to a file photo of President Ruth Simmons sitting in her office, fully clothed. Indicating a gender in the title of the post is encouraged, as is using something to identify a poster’s affiliation with Brown.
‘Mostly dick pics’
But some of the site’s users are concerned about the amount of more obviously pornographic content as opposed to more artistic photographs. Samantha Cheung ’14 has never posted to the site but has frequented it with friends.
“When I go on it, I’m not looking for sexual gratification,” she said. “I’m bored, and I just want to be entertained.”
Cheung was disappointed to see “mostly dick pics” rather than artistic or entertaining photos, she said, but she added that the “exhibitionist photos were cool.”
John — “Salomon guy” — expressed concern about users becoming “creepy.”
“When the site first started, it was really positive,” he said, “and over winter break it kind of degraded.”
“It’s gotten to a point where it’s like Craigslist,” he added, noting that some users try to solicit “hooking up” with other members of the site instead of posting in an artistic or tasteful manner.
Some users have even reported being blackmailed and having to delete their photos for fear of having their identities revealed, he said.
One of the main values of the site is anonymity, and the moderator promptly deletes hurtful comments or those that attempt to reveal a poster’s identity.
“The fact that the negative comments are immediately deleted to the point that I don’t even see them” demonstrates that “the moderator is doing his job,” Emily said.
But most users said they feel the site represents an important and unique aspect of Brunonian culture.
“I feel like Brown is one of the only places that I feel comfortable being sexual,” Emily said. “A site like BrownBares helps people realize that (nudity)’s okay, it can be artsy, it can be fun and it doesn’t have to be bad.”
Cheung agreed that it is good for students to “have some sort of outlet,” especially compared to other popular Brown sites such as spottedatbrown.com, a site created for anonymous users to post about “spotting” other students on campus that has also functioned as a way to solicit hook ups.
“It’s a lot more beneficial,” Cheung said.
Emily attributed the site’s success to the “open environment” to sexuality at Brown.
“A lot of positive energy feeds into people’s desire to want to be creative,” she said. “I guess promiscuity may have a little bit to do with it. We’re comfortable being naked.”