Why Nudity Doesn’t Bother Me

Am I missing something?

When I first decided to re-watch Xena recently, I looked around the web a bit for other people’s opinions on the show. One complaint that kept coming up was: too much nudity. Costumes shrinking as time went by. More and more exposed female skin, pandering to the objectification of women. I wondered if I would see what they saw in it as I watched.

I watched. I saw exactly what they were talking about. But I was lost on why they found it so offensive. I had to wonder why it struck me so differently. Here’s the best theory I came up with.

It’s that damn Victorian era.

Most people seem to associate nudity with sex, first and foremost. This is odd to me, because don’t we all get partially or fully naked at least a couple of times a day for purposes as boring and non-sexual as showering and changing clothes? Didn’t ancient people in warm climates – and some modern – manage to wear next to nothing on a regular basis without finding themselves in a state of perpetual arousal? Was the statue of David meant to turn people on, or was it, you know, an artistic representation of the male human form in its most potentially perfect state?

How did we get to the point where any glimpse of a partially exposed breast or stomach or thigh means something sexual? Simple: lots and lots of programming. It took billboards and commercials and saxophone music played over beach scenes, but we managed it. Let’s all pat ourselves on the back for the fact that unless otherwise reminded, most of us think of breasts as genitalia for male titillation (no pun intended) instead of baby food spigots. We’ve made amazing progress on our total disconnect from reality.

Now, all that said, there is no question that nudity is often used for objectification, and I object to objectification (no, I will not say that three times fast). I’m also adamant that men need to shed some clothing and join the party. But nudity does not automatically equal objectification.

A person can be objectified with all her clothes on. So it seems to me, if we focus on a platform like “nudity=bad”, we’ve missed the whole point. Imagine a scene of a woman bathing naked in a pond. There is no one else around, and she’s not acting particularly sexy. Now imagine a scene of a woman, fully clothed, letting her boss know that if he’d like to give her a performance review on the couch instead of at the desk, she’s all for that. Which one is sending an uglier message about women? Which one offends you?

Here’s a thought. Maybe we need more non-sexual nudity on screen, to get folks over their Pavlov’s dog response to exposed skin. More nudity involving ugly people should help with that, too. And maybe a real quick way to get things equalized would be to have a few male characters who simper around with no purpose other than to keep fit and twitch their pecs at any woman who’ll have them.

Comments

  1. Anemone Cerridwen says

    I agree that there’s nothing wrong with nudity in a non-sexual context, but I have a huge problem with writing it into someone’s job description.

    Maybe I shouldn’t bump such an old post. There’s that prostitution thread from this year. Oh well.

  2. says

    Feel free to bump. I agree that making it a requirement for a part in a film or show is pretty problematic. Especially since it’s not a fairly distributed requirement – it’s almost always women being asked to disrobe. Actresses are even advised by agents to do sexy lingerie photo shoots to demonstrate their willingness to be sexualized on film in that way, to get jobs. Male actors not only don’t have to do that (and may get through their entire careers with nothing more than a shirtless scene or two); they would be viewed as insufficiently macho if they did, and lose work.

  3. Anemone Cerridwen says

    I found a research article that looked at nudity in 16 R-rated films from 1981-1983. 81% of the nudity was female nudity. Oh, and 2/3 of film roles overall are male roles. Men have it easier, for sure.

  4. says

    Yep. Especially in the US. I watch a lot of British films and TV, and I have formed the impression they show off male bodies more than we do. Not always with full frontal, or even naked backsides. They also focus on or pan slowly over naked male torsos in a way I can never seem to recall from American film and TV. Now, I haven’t crunched and numbers on this, and it’s quite possible these shocking little differences have made a big impression on me and I’m overestimating the difference. But I think there is some difference.

    Interestingly, I wrote about The Full Monty a while back (not one of my better articles), and the comment thread got rather interesting in that one commenter kept arguing that there’s more to see on a frontally naked man than on a frontally naked woman, and that’s why male frontal nudity shouldn’t be shown without an X rating. I pointed out that this boiled down to saying “Naked men are more naked than naked women”, which doesn’t make sense. He clarified that seeing a penis is somehow more revealing (of what?) than seeing a woman’s crotch hair, and I countered that the better comparison was penises versus adult breasts: about half of children know what a penis looks like from early on, because they are boys and see their own. But no child has anything resembling adult female breasts. Penises can only shock half the kids; women’s breasts are a shock to all kids. Yet you wouldn’t know that from living on earth, because women’s breasts are everywhere, sometimes totally uncovered, sometimes just uncovered enough that we can work out the details on our own.

    We are so inured to the idea that sex means women and nudity means naked women. That puts everything on a footing of something that’s done to women, not with women.

  5. Anemone Cerridwen says

    Sometimes I wonder (mostly while looking at the cover of Men’s Health) whether slow pans over male torsos are meant for women or for other men. Men seem to like making each other feel a little inadequate in the muscle department.

    I tend to see it in terms of power. In the past, powerful people got to keep their clothes on, less powerful people generally wore less. Post-industrial revolution, with clothing being a lot less expensive, it’s less true, but still, we still get men in tuxes and women in strapless evening gowns with slits up to here. And all those naked women are like some harem on display. It makes me wonder how things will ever change.

    I keep wondering what it will take to get the studios to change their policies. How audiences feel? How performers feel? The financial bottom line? Some sort of change in the definition of art? A lot more women in decision making positions? It’s like there’s some key trigger point, like in acupressure, only I can’t figure out where it is.

    For me it was the research on prostitution. Before that, I didn’t trust my instincts.

  6. amymccabe says

    I know this is an old post, but I just stumbled upon it.

    I agree. Nudity does not equal either sex or objectification. I rather enjoy sunbathing naked at a place not to far from my house where numerous people go for the purpose. The first time I did it, for about the first 10 minutes, it like you mind was screaming “OMG! NAKED PEOPLE!” But after that mere ten minutes, it stops registering. It really begins to fail to show up on your mental radar. Surrounded by nudity, you stop seeing the nudity.

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