Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lessons :: Nudity / Naughty or Natural?

The movie Titanic burst into theatres when I was 10 years old. I remember seeing the trailer and realizing that it would be opening during my Christmas break. The music, the costumes, the romance -- it looked like an incredible story to watch.

When I got back to school after the new year began, my fifth grade teacher asked the class if we had gone to see this epic tale. Each hand was raised but mine. Why? My parents wouldn't let me watch it. It wasn't because of the abusive relationship that our protagonist, Rose, had to suffer through with her fiancé; it wasn't because the horror of a sinking ship would give me nightmares; it was because of the famous scene in which Jack draws Rose wearing only a necklace.

For years, I didn't understand the logic. Was I, as a 10-year-old, going to run around town, asking men to draw me naked? No, I could barely muster up the courage to say "hi" to the boy who sat next to me in class! So why wasn't I allowed to see a woman's partially nude body? I was about to grow into a woman myself.

I revisited that moment recently, when I contacted a popular blogger about advertising. She thanked me for my interest, but said that "due to my blog's readership, I'm afraid we would not make a good match." I wanted to know exactly what she meant because I'm always looking for more feedback about my blog. She explained: "I do have some younger readers. And though there are parts of your blog that I do love, I would not be able to promote a blog that contains any form of nudity." She was referring to this post, in which I featured photos of Kim Kardashian wearing nothing but silver body paint.

I wasn't offended, of course. It's her blog, and she can do whatever she wants! I respect that. I also love that she took the time to research potential advertisers (Elle Enchanted discusses the importance of that here). But it got me thinking, and as the wheels turned in my head, an entire list of questions and topics began to form: Nudity in movies. Nudity in fashion. Nudity in advertising. Nudity in fashion advertising! What's right? What's wrong? When does it make sense to include nakedness? Why does it matter? How do other countries portray the naked woman? What about other time periods!?

I had to stop myself. Between the lines, I realized, was one big question that I was dying to ask: At what age is it okay for a woman to see another woman's nude body and in what context?

Let's go back to the aforementioned example. Would my parents have let me see the movie if I was 15? I thought about this, and decided that who would know better than my parents themselves? I called them up and had them put the phone on speaker so I could ask both of them.

Me: Remember when you wouldn't let me see Titanic?
Them: Uh-huh.
Me: Why?
Them: Because of the nudity.
Me: But why?
Them: Because we didn't want to normalize teenage sex.

Bingo! A sexual context. It was all coming together. It wasn't that they didn't want me to see the nakedness; it was more than that, and my age wasn't exactly the issue. My parents were doing their job -- as parents -- to protect, teach and discipline me, as much as I hated it. They were simply raising me the way they believed they should. My mom couldn't help but remind me that I'd probably seen her boobs a time or two (thanks for that). But, in all seriousness, I'd also been to museums and, hell, I went to Europe when I was six and saw all kinds of naked sculptures. Those were art; this wasn't (at least to them, but what's art and what's not is another topic altogether).

From what I've seen in my life thus far, society shows the nude woman to be sexy or dirty (sometimes both). How is it possible for us, in the world we live in, to perceive nakedness as purely beautiful? It's either sexualized and lusted after or portrayed as immoral and shunned. How does anyone expect the low rate of female self-esteem to improve if we don't know how we're supposed to look at our own bodies? Check out these alarming statistics:

75% of teenage girls felt "depressed, guilty and shameful" after spending just three minutes leafing through a fashion magazine.

70% of girls ages 15 to 17 avoid normal daily activities such as attending school, going to the doctor, or even giving their opinion "due to feeling badly about one’s looks."

Only 2% of women describe themselves as "beautiful."

We may not be able to change society as a whole, but we can change the way that we react to it. I urge you to not only accept your naked self, but adore it. I'm not saying we should all form a nudist colony, but I want you to feel comfortable in your own skin, whether or not it's hidden.

And for the record, I did eventually see Titanic.

PS: I've been asked if that's me in the last photo -- I would never post nude pictures of myself on the internet! As much as I want us to love our bodies, I'm not encouraging that level of openness. She is an incredible model named Crystal Renn. Click on the photos for their respective sources.


  1. What a thought provoking post. As a mother I can understand the desire to shield one's children. Body image is important and accepting oneself equally so. My best friend told me today about her friend who at 5ft 4in tall and 122lbs - she underwent surgery today for a tummy tuck and liposuction! Truly a sad state of affairs when normal weight women find this necessary!!

  2. Hey Steph, thanks for linking my post! Very thought provoking post. My parents would have done similarly... I'm not sure where I stand on the situation- there's exceptions to everything and this subject can very greatly with context... I love your honesty here.

  3. What a fantastic post! I like how it gently raises some questions regarding the answers we THINK we have regarding nudity. And nakedness.

    I agree, it's the sexual charge in an image that makes hinges on whether its an appropriate image for children. Myself, I would prefer it we, as a whole were more ok with nudity, the variety of it, the all shapes, all sizes of it, without the repressed/sexual charge that seems to come from most of the image we finally do see.

    A blogger friend recently emailed me asking for advice. She had taken a series of half nude photos of herself, in a way to show the acceptance of her female form, an over 40 form, showing age marks, scars etc. Which is pretty incredible and mindblowing that she was/is willing to put it out there. There were however some poses that I didn't think were appropo for a fashion blog, and it was hard to explain why, but yes, some could be perceived as being more sexual in nature, although it was obvious that wasn't her intent. And I had to remind her, internet publishing means it could be out there forever, and that might be something to give it more thought. She edited her picture selection, and published.

    So I guess she can't advertise at ---'s blog either. -Bella Q
    the Citizen Rosebud

  4. Your parents hit the nail on the head. Nudity isn't naughty, but the context can be!

  5. As a parent, this is certainly an interesting take. As a mother of both boys AND girls 4 of them teenagers)... it makes it really difficult to ride the line in entertainment. Especially since my husband and I really don't have issues with language in general (as long as the kids aren't copying the attitudes, we don't really care if they hear the f word, etc) but we also don't want our boys to be getting any more sexual tempations or for our girls to think that the hyper sexualization of all the super skinny girls is the norm either.

    Its all in the context and I think your blog post is much better at explaining that than my rambling, distracted comment!

  6. Yeah, I dunno. I guess I just feel that the naked body is private. Women's bodies are exploited so much, I think it's best to keep things relatively under wraps. If women dressed more modestly I think that would actually help the teenage body issue quite a bit, but a young girl's role model these days is "Lady" Gaga. (NOT a "lady" by any stretch of the imagination). I hope to build up my daughter's self-esteem in a way that isn't reliant on her looks, one way or another. Youth, "beauty", our bodies- all of these things are fleeting. It's best not to stake a claim on any one of them. There's a cool "modeling" program for young girls called Pure Fashion that teaches girls how to dress modestly, apply make up so they don't look like hookers, & it also teaches them interviewing skills, etc. It's really cool! Google it.

  7. This is a phenomenal post - one of my favorites that I have read recently. Please submit to LALM immediately, if you haven't already!

    I think Bella hit the nail on the head in her response, and I echo what she, and you, said. In today's society we have almost been conditioned to think "sexual" as soon as someone utters (or types) the word nudity. And some nudity is just that - very sexual or erotic in nature. But not all of it is, and it certainly doesn't have to be.

    I know it's a cliche statement to say that the human form is a work of art, but it truly is. The shapes, sizes and lines found in the human body are remarkable, and deserve to be celebrated. That being said - I do have issue with the increasing number of fashion editorials that feature - simply - naked models. With no fashion. Huh? It's not that I have an issue with the images themselves, as they are often quite striking, its just the context. I don't necessarily see what they have to do with FASHION.

    If it is an editorial re: the beauty of all shapes and sizes, OK, I get it. But more times than not, that isn't the case. They seem to just be there to sell magazines because, as we all know, sex sells. In the minds of most, naked = sex.

    As for your parents, I can understand why they didn't want you to see the film, but at that age it's difficult to tell how the nudity in Titanic would have impacted you. When I was ten, it wouldn't have even registered with me. In today's society, however, the erotic nature of that scene might be perceived quite differently by a ten year old. Instead of protecting them by not allowing them to see something like that, perhaps parents should focus on teaching their children the difference between the different facets of nudity.

    And now I officially apologize for writing a book in response to your post!

  8. P.S. Sometimes I wish Crystal Renn still looked like that today. She is still stunning, without a doubt, but has lost some of what made her soooo unique.

  9. I'm so happy this post sparked conversation -- that was my intention completely. I love that everyone has different viewpoints on this controversial subject!

    Nudity is such a complicated, interesting, broad topic that it was hard for me not to write an entire book, so I'm sure I'll revisit it in the future.

    Thank you for the comments!

  10. @beautifully invisible...yeah she has...i wasn't sure what it was that was different about the new crystal, but i think you hit the nail on the head with the uniqueness issue.

    @loudmouth, very interesting post, i saw this movie when i was 12/13 and honestly didn't even remember the nudity. i think in the states we don't celebrate the body as much as we's definitely looked at differently than european countries (topless beaches are like the norm).

    Girl Meets Handbag

    Murval Paris

  11. Wow, I love those images.
    I grew up flipping through my Mom's Vogue magazines. She never tried to hide them from me, and if I had questions about some of the editorials, I could always ask her. It's hard for me to pinpoint where exactly it stops being artsy and starts looking exploitative. I guess it depends a lot on how the photographer presents the image....??
    As a yogi I find this debate spilling into Yoga editorials as well. For example, some "controversial ads"
    Personally I like these images. Beautiful photos of a strong woman. Some of the fury also seems to be directed at the yoga model's size also. i.e. not representing the curvier woman's figure.

  12. Titanic was released ages ago now and I'm guessing it was a PG which means parental guidance so you parents were acting in good faith as you pointed out in your post.

    One thing that is almost ironic though is that certain scenes of nudity in films may warrant a higher certificate such as a 12 when as we've pointed out nudity can be used from an artistic point of view rather than to express the erotic. However, then you have some music videos on MTV that while may not contain nudity do contain strong sexual themes yet there is no censorship nor would a parent think twice about their children watching it.

    BTW I liked your post on Kim Kardashian

  13. I liked your post on Kim Kardashian and you make a very good point too about nudity and how people don't look at in a "beautiful way".

  14. love this set of pictures!!

  15. Very good thoughts! I really enjoyed reading this, and I agree with you completely. We have to stop sexualizing nudity all the time, and we have to stop equalling sex with evil all the time, too. I didn't get to see Titanic either - because it opened in Germany as a 12-and-above movie, and I was 11 years old... after spending a year listening to my girls swooning over Leo and picking apart the plot I never quite felt I needed to see it :)


  16. I really enjoyed reading this post! It's thought provoking,and while I'm alright with nudity, as you said, its all down to the context of it. For instance is it necessary for so many fragrance commercials to feature people in the nude? Is THAT art?
    I was saddened to see those statistics, I would hate to think that many young girls feel inadequately about their bodies.

  17. To me the problem with nudity is that it's so often women and it's so often objectifying and sexualized. Especially in advertising men are shown fully clothed in action and women are just sitting around naked. It's kind of ridiculous but we are so used to these images we accept them. Even in museums and art galleries, all the nudes are female. In the Toronto Art Gallery there is a pamphlet which makes viewers think about the sexism inherent in this very fact. Naked is vulnerable and it wouldn't bother me if both sexes were portrayed that way, but they're not.

  18. What a thought-provoking post. I've been fortunate to grow up with enough French culture in my upbringing that nudity was never an issue. French women sunbathe topless, I didn't wear a bathing suit top until I was 7. It was not sexualized, it was us just being us without clothes on. Then my teens hit and I became more self conscious. Then I got a little older and the foundation of my upbringing reared its liberated head!

    I consider myself fortunate that I live amongst best friends who have never considered nudity shameful. There's been plenty of skinny-dipping and changing of clothes in front of each other that it practically goes unnoticed. This goes for both the men and women of my group of friends. It's funny how little attention we pay to it because it's not within a sexual context. There's nothing unnatural about it and we're all used to it.

    Bodies are often more beautiful naked, in my opinion. Clothes don't always flatter but the naked form is pure. Thank you for giving us a forum for this topic.

  19. I love this post, absolutely love it. I don't know if you're an American, but I'm European and we never really get how a lot of parents in America would rather DIE than have their youngsters see a bit of nudity before they are of age, but they do allow those same youngsters to see violence.

    Sex = bad, violence = entertaining? Huh?

    I personally think that teenagers are thinking about sex anyway, and you won't be able to keep it from them with the internet nowadays, so you'd best just be open about it and be there for them when they have questions.

    Your parents probably disliked the scene where Rose and Jack escape to have steamy carwindowsex more than the one where you saw her boob. :D

  20. Thank you for a lovely, sensitive post.

    I'm sorry I don't have as much to say as everybody else seems to, I just wanted to express how good it is to read something like this.


  21. I definitely think nudity, in many cases, is beautiful and can be considered art, but at the same time, I'm iffy about nudity in fashion. I think of fashion as being about clothing, but I see completely naked models in fashion magazines all the time. I mean, an accessory, or a hat or jewelry coupled with a naked body is acceptable, but I'd like to know how you feel about nudity in fashion when it is nothing more than body paint, or a sheet wrapped around the body. Does it count as fashion? Or is it simply gratuitous?

  22. Fantastic Post!! I grew up in a house where my mom walked around nude all the time.. No biggie. I thing the more we stop only associating nudity with sexuality the more we will all feel more comfortable with our nudity.

  23. Hello, fellow Link Love Lady! This is such a deserving and timely post. I've been considering it lately; every time I watch 'How to Look Good Naked' there is a warning about the nudity content. It horrifies me that a programme promoting pride in ones body is categorised in this way, yet there is still a proliferation of lads' mags, porn and even suggestive pictures and comments in the daily newspapers.

  24. This is a spectacular commentary - I truly enjoyed reading it. I was the same age when Titanic was released, and rather a strange little girl as I was the one who refused to watch it for the nudity. Looking back I don't think I even entertained the sexual context - it was just about the nudity then.

    I grew up, though, and developed a keen interest in culture and the arts. It's hard to truly immerse yourself in those subjects without first coming to terms with the reality of nudity and appreciating the difference between nudity in a sexual context and...well, otherwise. My sister is a professional ballet dancer and in the course of her training she, myself and our mom attended many different productions featuring many different forms of dance. I remember one in which the women danced topless. I opted out as I was still working through the nudity-in-art concept, but my mom and sister saw the show and enjoyed it. As I recall, my mom's only question was Why? It is a rather good question and one that I still ask occasionally when I see nudity brought into media - particularly in fashion editorials or advertisements. As B said, if it's an editorial about size and body image then I can understand, but if you're actually trying to market clothes and the model isn't even wearing any? It's not about any sort of offense, it's about the why. On the other hand, Kim Kardashian's spread for W? LOVED IT! It was bold, beautiful and honest. It was art and it gave me a new appreciation for her and for my own bigger-built figure.

    Anyway, I'm sorry for rambling on. Thank you again for this wonderful post! (By the way, I stumbled over here from Beautifully Invisible's Link Love with a Twist post, in case you're wondering where I popped up from. Ha!)

  25. Thanks again for the comments everyone! The response to this entry has been incredible.

  26. I found this post confusing. Nudity should be normal, but you agree with your parents for not letting you see another WOMAN naked (not doing anything sexual in the scene, just posing for a painting) and don't encourage anyone to post images of themselves naked. Also, you seem to think images of overweight naked women are OK but thin ones are damaging?

    Nudity isn't weird to me. I have seen my mother naked a million times and my friends and I were frequently naked around each other. I don't see anything wrong with non-sexual nudity in the media at all, even in a G-rated film. Bodies are bodies and everyone has one.

  27. Hi Janine, thank you for the input.

    I think the context of that specific scene in Titanic could be perceived differently based on the viewer and their background, beliefs, etc. To me, the scene is sexual because the two characters are sexually attracted to each other and in fact, end up having sex later in the movie.

    Whether or not I agree with my parents, however, was not really the point. In the end, I understood where my parents were coming from -- that doesn't mean I agree with their view. My parents were disciplining me the way they believed they should, and I respect them for that. The point was that, after years of being confused as to why they wouldn't let me see the movie, I finally understood why -- but that doesn't mean I agree. That may seem like a confusing concept, but to me it makes sense. I can respect and understand others' beliefs and viewpoints without agreeing with them.

    Also, I never said that I "think images of overweight naked women are OK but thin ones are damaging." I'm not sure how you came to that conclusion. I posted photos of both overweight and thin women in this very post, and did not address any of the photos except for the screen shot from Titanic and the last one of Crystal Renn.

    I don't encourage people to post photos of themselves naked on-line because of society's perception of and reaction to nudity. The photos could be altered, stolen, photoshopped, posted on sites that you wouldn't want them to be on, etc. It's not that I don't think you should post nude photos because I think it's wrong, but that it could backfire on you.

    Hope this clarifies things!

  28. The movie I wasn't allowed to see at age 10 was Jaws. When I did see it, I became forever afraid of the ocean. So maybe there's something to parental concerns ;-)

  29. great topic for a post! I really enjoyed reading this. (I babysit and it wierds me out when people have nude pictures on their walls... just going to throw that tidbit out there)

  30. You just had to ruin it with the fat chicks, didn't you?

  31. I don't know how the heck I ended up here, on this blog post. I was on A Beautiful Mess and then linked it here and...bam, nudity. Anyway, I found your blog to be quite awesome and this entry, oddly, is going to be the first one I comment on. My mom's Korean and nudity is not a big deal AT ALL in the Korean culture. At the Korean saunas you are buck naked, young and old, fat and bony. You said you've seen your mom's boobs once or twice. Seeing my mom's body is seriously no big deal (or other women's) and I don't think it should be one either (even though I get not being comfortable about it if you're not used to it). Bodies are beautiful, of all shapes and sizes, truly. In the presence of other women, though, I mean, we all know that we have boobs, a downstairs, etc and how that all why is it a big deal? Being comfortable with your body is so important and I think you made a great blog post about that. I just think early exposure to it (say seeing your mom naked or even Titanic at age 10) actually helps you not care about other people's perceptions of your body. I've never been shy about it, and I know tons of people are shy or against showing themselves off. But it's the way we came into the world. People didn't always used to cover up everything and I don't know exactly when it started becoming taboo (Holocene maybe?) but c'mon. It's nothing you've never seen before.

  32. Awesome and well said ma'am and I admit, I too thought that was you lol I was like 'Wow! She uh...was really uh...committed to uh...making that statement there...' Lol but i also like your answer as to why its not you.

    This post is great, already trying to figure who I can share it with. This mentality of self hate really bothers me too and I hate how women lend themselves to the self condemnation...


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