Laura James

The Politics of Nudity

We were all born naked; we each have a body that is capable of being so. There is nothing shocking in this, and yet nakedness has always been a taboo for various reasons. The Victorians created (presumably lacy) trousers for their table legs whose resemblance to bare human limbs was considered too risqué. A recent conversation that a close friend of mine had with an Omani woman revealed that the reason she prefers to cover up her body is so as not to tempt the men around her, to maintain a powerful air of respectability. Yet take a look at the ever increasing popularity of nudist holidays. People flock to camps and resorts, for many of whom suits and ties are the daily norm, to shake the shackles of clothing and embrace their natural state. Their holiday choice may provoke a smile or a raised eyebrow from those who prefer 18-30s holidays or SAGA cruises, but on the whole it is now considered natural and void of sleaze and sexuality. This brings me on to my main question: why then, has the nudity in music videos (particularly that in Justin Timberlake’s new tune Tunnel Vision) ,angered so many viewers? It is demeaning to the women dancing and gyrating around him at an unprecedented level, but is it just nudity after all? If nakedness can be innocent for some and lewd for others there must be politics behind it: the politics of nudity.

When is it least offensive ?
When it is mutual. Rosario Dawson’s naked body in the film Trance mesmerised cinema-goers worldwide. There was not one inch of it left covered, and some may say not one scrap of her dignity left intact. Yet as a part of a romantic, albeit twisted sex scene alongside James McAvoy’s partial nudity, Rosario was objectified without being demeaned. I had previously never imagined that to be possible, but it can only be derived from the mutuality of their encounter and their subsequently equal nudity. They were both in a similar state of undress and vulnerability, for to be naked is undeniably to be more vulnerable. Clothes are not just an accessory, but an armour.

When is it more offensive ?
Page 3 . We are accustomed to seeing the naked female body everywhere. Boobs adorn the top shelves of our newsagents and the pages of widely read British newspapers. This has undoubtedly desensitised us to the sight of them , and ultimately disconnected us from the reactions appropriate to witnessing them. This harmful notion has somehow crept into a harmless position in the national consciousness from which I question whether it is possible to return.

When is it most offensive ?
When there are politics at play which actively degrade the woman to bolster the powerful , virile image of the man. JT’s Tunnel Vision video shows a bunch of almost faceless women whose boobs are the main feature of the show. They gyrate around all scantily clad while he gets to look all dapper in his suit and tie. It took a while for me to figure out why this was so infuriating. Unlike the equal nakedness of Dawson and McAvoy, and unlike the distance between the Sun’s ‘readers’ and the page 3 model, the implication is that these women are dancing just for Justin. He’s a pimp-like sorcerer’s apprentice commanding his ample-breasted mops. Their nudity feeds the image of his powerfulness, which only detracts from their own.

The politics of nudity are complex. Most of us are naked (at least momentarily) twice a day. It seems to me that if it’s mutual, its fine, even recommended. If it’s for one person’s personal satisfaction then it’s sordid. If, however, it is to boost one man’s power at the expense of female integrity and respect, then something needs to be done about it.

3 thoughts on “The Politics of Nudity

  1. This piece is a commendable effort since it seeks to address a rather complex issue. However, I do find it ironic that an article that seeks to challenge the ‘politicisation’ of nudity, is itself fraught in a politics of judgement and morality. To categorise certain kinds of nudity as least, more and most offensive is to fall into the very trap it seeks to rid the representation of women’s nudity from. There is no one ‘appropriate’ response to nudity – there cannot be and should not, either. To assert that the only ‘appropriate’ way to react to women’s ‘boobs’ in British newspapers is with heightened emotions – shock, disgust, wonder, awe, excitement, etc is, in my opinion, the exact indicator of how caught up we still are in a Victorian sense of prudishness.

    I sometimes wonder if any of the models who have been featured topless in Page 3 have been interviewed – and what their economic options now are, considering this ‘puritanical’ campaign to cleanse mainstream paper of nudity, thereby stigmatising it further, has rendered them unemployed. As feminists, we should embrace the fact that it is up to every single woman to define the politics of her own nudity, and how she chooses to express it – whether at home with her partner, or in a strip club as a means to economic independence. Any attempt, from the outside, to define the politics of such an expression, is exactly what the feminist movement has been struggling to combat – an imposition and prioritisation of the views of a certain group of people over another.

    To conclude, what form of nudity do I find offensive? FEMEN’s libertarian use of their own nakedness as a tool of political protest AGAINST sex work – a profession where women often choose to use their body as a means to economic empowerment. This privileging of a certain kind of nudity over another is frankly, a brand of ’empowerment’ politics, we can do without.

  2. Okay, so I just watched the ‘Tunnel Vision’ video, and I have to say, I quite enjoyed it. The choreography is beautiful and sensual, and the women dancers have bodies that seem incredibly ‘real’ to me. The lyrics of the song are all about the singer being unable to assert any power or control in the presence of his muse/s – quite the opposite of any assertion of virility. For me, as a female viewer, the women, in all their gorgeous, ethereal nudity take centre stage in the video – JT seems more like a prop here, than them! If anything else, JT, is completely ridiculously powerless in his clothed attire – unable to match the women in their incredible sensual expression.

    This video is clearly meant to be a visualisation of the artiste’s deepest fantasies – think it is a little unfair to disallow anyone to fantasise about nudity, and/or represent it!

  3. Eventually, after spending a long time on the internet finally We’ve found an individual in which definitely will know what these are discussing thank you a great deal wonderful post

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