Former Playboy playmate pleads not guilty in body shaming case

An attorney for a former Playboy playmate pleaded not guilty on her behalf Monday to charges that she secretly photographed a 70-year-old woman in the nude in the shower area of a Los Angeles fitness center.

Dani Mathers, 29, faces a misdemeanor count of invasion of privacy, having been accused of posting an image of the woman on her Snapchat social media account in early July. In addition to the photo, Mathers included the comment, “If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either.”

Mather’s posting sparked public outrage as well as a national discussion about “body shaming.” Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer said he hoped the case sent a message to others about such behavior. 

Prosecutors often use invasion of privacy charges against peeping Toms and people who conceal cameras to take sexually suggestive photos of women. But legal experts said this marks a rare instance in which authorities have brought charges against someone over photos making fun of someone’s weight.

Outside of court Monday, defense lawyer Thomas Mesereau said Mathers regrets the events and apologizes for her behavior and he expects the matter to be resolved in a fair manner.

Shortly after she posted the image and comments, Mathers issued a statement saying it was absolutely wrong and not what she meant to do. “I know that body-shaming is wrong. That is not the type of person I am,” she wrote.

Mathers said the photo was meant to be sent as a private message, but was posted publicly.

Mesereau has said his client did nothing illegal. “She never tried to invade anyone’s privacy and never tried to violate any laws,” he said.

Last month, Feuer condemned Mathers’ actions saying, "body-shaming is humiliating, with often painful, long-term consequences.”

“It mocks and stigmatizes its victims, tearing down self-respect and perpetuating the harmful idea that our unique physical appearances should be compared to airbrushed notions of 'perfect.' What really matters is our character and humanity. While body-shaming, in itself, is not a crime, there are circumstances in which invading one's privacy to accomplish it can be. And we shouldn’t tolerate that," Feuer said.

Los Angeles police began an investigation in July after receiving a report of “illegal distribution" of the image. L.A. Fitness officials reported the posting to police as well, officials said.

Digital technology has made it easier to secretly capture others in their most private moments. Last year, a prominent Washington rabbi was sentenced to six years in prison after he pleaded guilty to secretly recording 52 women as they prepared for a religious bathing ritual.

In California, a U.S. Border Patrol supervisor admitted in federal court that he secretly recorded seven female co-workers in the bathroom of the Chula Vista office. Some states have increased the penalties for taking secret images, making it a felony. In New York, offenders can receive up to four years in prison for a first offense.

richard.winton@latimes.com

Follow @lacrimes on Twitter

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