Is nudity empowering?

Is nudity empowering?

If you haven’t seen the photo shoot where Kate Moss whipped off everything but her fishnets for Playboy’s 60th anniversary, we’re not going to post it here. It’s a bit X-rated for What I See. But although there’s nudity – a lot – is the shoot more complex than your standard glamour modelling?

Grace Dent wrote a pretty unequivocal condemnation of Kate’s decision to model for the publication, saying that ‘her support and endorsement of Playboy and Hugh Hefner’s vile empire is disgusting and marks her down as slow-witted, easily bought and naff.’ Ouch.

But there were some other opinions flying around too – opinions which may surprise you. Rosie Boycott, co-founder of famous feminist magazine Spare Rib, wrote a (semi) defence of Playboy in this fortnight’s Stylist. While acknowledging how problematic sexualised photo shoots can be – including those of Playboy – she argued that Hugh Hefner’s assertion of female desire actually helped revolutionise the sexual landscape of the time: ‘[he] always insisted that women had desire, indeed that we had a right to desire, just as society assumed men had.’

It’s difficult to square dressing women as bunny rabbits with feminist progress, sure. But the Playboy debate has got us thinking about nudity in general. Where is the very fine line between empowering and degrading?

Boycott defended the decision to show breasts in Esquire while she was editor by saying the models were ‘clearly in control, proud of their bodies, up for some fun, never with that look of submission that characterises so much top shelf pornography.’ It’s a convincing argument: naked, even sexualised women in a position of control is empowering. But worringly, it’s the same one that was used to defend Robin Thicke’s monstrosity of misogyny, Blurred Lines: the director Diane Martel said that she ‘directed the women to look into the camera…They are in a position of power.’ So where's the line? (No pun intended).

And then there’s a whole other kind of nudity. The non-sexual kind that removes itself from the male gaze, or undermines it with humour and confidence. After the Daily Mail published the gleeful headline: ‘Making a boob of herself! Amanda Palmer’s breast escapes her bra as she performs on stage at Glastonbury’, the musician responded with a videoed song where she ripped off her entire kimono and performed half of it naked: ‘it appears that my entire body is trying to escape this kimono.’

This kind of jokey, heartwarming, all-hanging-out affirmative nakedness is the same brand of clothes removal that has made charity advent calendars such a smash hit. They were made famous by Calendar Girls, a film based on a true story, where WI members stripped off and made bags of cash for charity. Those calendars tend to get the nod of approval from people, while the leer-inducing versions such as the Ryanair one (don’t Google it. Just don’t) are almost universally condemned for being about as anti-feminist as you can get.

So what’s the deal with getting naked? Where is the line between empowering and degrading? Is Kate Moss supporting a vile empire, or proudly showing her naked body and sexual desire? Which naked calendar will you be buying come January?

Over to you. #WISPchat us tomorrow from 2pm GMT, and tell us in what context nude is lewd, crude or… gooood (not our best rhyme, we admit).

Image source - Flickr: Amanda Palmer


2 Comments - Add yours


I’d imagine Kate Moss my have been motivated by a big cheque from Playboy to do those pictures. Plus the fact she is a ‘celebrity’ folk will in this society will purchase the aformentioned, it’s all about money, as someone else once said.

Now the WI ladies using nudity to raise money for charity, it was an inspired idea, much repeated since.

Something will be lewd or crude if it’s sexual in manner, if it’s just a naked person for example, baking cookies in the kitchen is that erotic? More down to the mind of the viewer, and that will always be an unknown factor.

By Kevin on 6 December 2013 at 14:16

Personally, I think nudity is rarely tasteful. Playboy is a magazine meant for men to lust after a woman’s body. So do you really think the intention of that photo-shoot was for the empowerment of Kate Moss or the desire of the men purchasing the magazine? She did it for money, which is understandable because that’s what models do. They model clothes with their bodies, this time she is just modeling her body. I don’t think it empowers anyone. Playboy is meant for the objectification of women.

By abby on 15 February 2014 at 23:40