We Need To See More Naked People

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!

By Bryn Donovan

Romance writer, poet, quilter, and dog cuddler.

18 replies on “We Need To See More Naked People”

Also, a lot of the mainstream bodies are heavily photoshopped with their imperfections erased. A young girl that sees a hauntingly thin model at home doesn’t see the brittle hair, the skin problems and other physical manifestations of people who are not getting enough nutrition. That girl only sees the makeup and the artificial glamour and that’s an added layer of harm.

I started taking burlesque classes two years ago, and I’ve performed in a couple of group numbers (and will be doing it again in two weeks!). I’ve taken dance my whole life, but what’s gratifying about burlesque is it’s all about working what you got – and it’s hot. And everyone has a different body: there are big girls and small girls, and everything in between. That was such a relief for me: even taking ballet classes as an adult, I often feel much larger than the other girls/women and it makes me self-conscious (I have big shoulders and hips and boobs). Not the case in burlesque. I remember once at a rehearsal looking at the whole group, most of us just wearing bras and tiny shorts, and being like, wow! Everyone’s so beautiful!

What I also wish we’d see more of in the media? Tattoos. It’s getting a little better than it used to be, but man do I love some good skin art.

A few weeks ago I went to a Korean spa with some of my lady friends.  In this spa, there is a very large hot tub room attached to the women’s locker room, with hot tubs of various temperatures and different kinds of jets.  In the hot tub room, nudity is mandatory, supposedly for hygiene.  It was GREAT to see so many normal people with normal bodies just doing their thing in a totally non-sexualized, non-self-conscious way.  I was delighted to see even some small children (like, maybe 6 or 7) there, because it seemed to me like a great way to learn from a young age that most people don’t look like models when they take off their clothes.

I had an epiphany moment in a spa a few years ago: the only people in the changing rooms were me and about 30 Japanese women, all of whom were naked. I was still at my Irish Catholic try-to-change-under-a-towel stage when I just looked around, saw everyone else naked, and thought, “Well, who here looks ridiculous? Because they don’t”.

Also I’ve noticed women who do team sports are more casual about nudity – I remember wandering in to talk to female relatives after they’d played a match and women walking around in various stages of dress, with no-one giving a shit about it or the small child running around.

To me, women that should be my role model featured in mags and stuff, are nothing more than dolls. They can look gorgeous, but I don’t want to and can’t look like them. I wish more people could see it like that. Take a brain as a role model, not a clothing hanger (saying this in a completely unsubtle manner, I know).

I so so so agree w/ this. Do you remember when Lizzie Miller was naked in Glamour? (2009:

I use that image of her in a body image workshop I conduct with teen girls and their first reaction when we discuss it is disgust. It’s so sad how much I have to break down their visceral negative reaction to Lizzie’s body. Then, after a lot of discussion, they begin talking about how her body is very realistic (like their moms–like themselves). They’ve just never seen someone with a stomach like hers exposed in a magazine.

Even the ‘perfect’ bodies we see are a very narrow definition of ‘perfect’. One of things my family enjoys when watching SYTYCD is the variety of body shapes even among the very fit.

Cherri already linked to the Adopositivity Project, but Kate Harding’s BMI project is also a great resource for unphotoshoped figures.


I would humbly suggest that you most likely do, in fact, look hot in tiny shorts!

Also, specifically for larger bodies in various stages of undress, the Adipositivity project simply can’t be beat: The photos are incredibly beautiful, and when I’m having a shitty self-esteem day, I go through and click through the archives til I feel better – it works every damn time.

I remember back in art school there was this one model we all loved. I think she was in her sixties, she was quite large, and she always wore this glorious fur coat. I remember the first time I got to draw her. She draped that fur coat over the modeling platform, and draped herself over the coat. She was just so confident and awesome.

I’m generally in favor of everyone taking a life drawing class at some point in their life. It goes a long way to normalizing nudity and bodies. Truth be told, the only time I ever remember my classmates getting uncomfortable around a model was when a rather young female model tried to do “sexy” poses. It just wasn’t what we were looking for. We didn’t want to be titillated while we were trying to draw.

Totally agree. I was an artists’ model through college and I think it really gave me a more healthy attitude about my body.

When I started out, though, I had no idea how to pose, so I would just make up things like, “Tying my shoe!” “Getting a book off the top shelf!” Haha.

I’ll take “getting a book off the top shelf” any day. I’m pretty sure one of our models used the 30 second gesture drawing warm ups to practice her yoga. “Stopped half way through a sexy chair dance,” was kind of off putting though.

“Stopped halfway through a sexy chair dance” …that sounds really embarrassing. Probably not what most serious students want in their portfolio, either.

I did work with an artist once who wanted me to dance around his apartment until he saw something he liked and yelled “freeze.” We had not discussed this before I disrobed, and I didn’t feel comfortable with it so I said no. He got super mad, but too bad. He could have talked about it beforehand.

Agree too. The best life model in the drawing class I took was a woman in her 50’s: tall, wide, fat, shaved head, and she was just fantastic to look at and to draw.

It’s so fucked up that people think they can’t be naked because they’re not some weird ideal of “sexy”. It’s not your job to be sexy at all times too everyone everywhere!

Or you could go to a museum. I remember a pre-Raphaelite painting from the Indianapolis art museum, and I remember college age me looking at her for at least half an hour as she stood gracefully nude, with her smallish breasts and her non-tiny waist and slightly rounded belly, drinking in the fact that people thought my body type was beautiful enough to hang in a museum.

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