Sometimes, I come across a photo of a scantily-dressed or not-dressed person who is old, fat, or not conforming to the culture’s ideals of beauty or sexuality in some other way. Invariably, someone else comments: “No one wants to see that.” Bullshit. I want to see it, and I want other people to, too.
Attitudes toward the naked body, at least in the U.S., are messed up and harmful. Almost all of the nude images we encounter are of a young woman conforming to a narrow ideal of beauty, presented in a sexual context. This leads women to believe they ought to resemble heavily photoshopped images of actresses and models. If they don’t, it’s shameful, and they must always cover themselves up.
We don’t compare ourselves to average women, because we never see them naked. Instead, we judge ourselves against people whose actual job it is to have a spectacular body. It’s ridiculous. When I see a pilot or a professional golfer, I don’t feel ashamed that I can’t fly a plane or drive a ball down the fairway, and when I see a Rihanna looking hot in tiny shorts, I don’t feel bad that I can’t look hot in tiny shorts. Why should I? I’m a writer, not a sexy pop star. She couldn’t do what I do, either.
Moreover, the barrage of “perfect” female bodies, almost always presented in provocative poses, encourages women to think of their bodies mainly in terms of sexual utility. My body is important because it carries me around to do all of the awesome things I do, like go to my job, hang out with my husband, walk my dogs, make quilts, and meet friends for drinks or tea. It’s not for decoration, and it’s not, to paraphrase something Zoe Archer said on tumblr, a vagina delivery system. It’s fine to think about bodies in a sexual way; we’re only human. Zoe and I are romance writers, for God’s sake. It’s just a problem when we view our bodies only in those terms.
I’m mostly writing about women, but I think men’s bodies are becoming more objectified in popular culture. While we don’t see guys naked very often, it does seem to me like we see more and more images of shirtless Adonises. Self-reported body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, and muscle dysmorphia have increased sharply among boys and men in the last several years. Yay, equality!
We need to see more kinds of people naked. This can remind us that a variety of body types can be beautiful, and that it’s not a body’s primary job to be beautiful, anyway. I think this is why lots of us were happy to see Lena Dunham walk around in her underwear in Tiny Furniture, and Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, as photoshopped as it was.
So, want to see a variety of naked people? Here are a couple of links!
Greg Friedler’s Naked City project shows a variety of people, first clothed and then unclothed. I don’t like all his projects, but I do like these. Here’s Naked New York.
The Nu Project is all women and has a really positive vibe. It’s where I got the photo above.
If you know of other sources, let me know!