Words by Freya Bennett // Photographs by Leanne Surfleet
In our modern society, where the female body has become more and more of an object to sell products, we need to stop and look at our relationship with the naked female body.
There is nothing wrong with nudity. Obviously there is a time and a place, but I believe that if a man is able to run topless, then a woman should also have that option. Of course there are some women, myself included, who simply could not do this for comfort’s sake, but women with small breasts who prefer to wear no bra should be allowed to do exactly what men do in the same situation.
What I see is a confusion of acceptable nudity mistaken as female empowerment. Take mainstream pop and RnB music videos, for example.
We’ve all heard it before: “She is expressing her sexuality.” A somewhat fortunate part of today’s liberal society, is that we are more often taught acceptance and openness to sexual expression compared to the past, this phrase is a one-liner that can stop us in our tracks when trying to understand why women, and not men, are often naked in music videos.
Expressing sexuality? I don’t buy it. For if this was the case, men would also be stripping bare in their music videos, but we simply do not see this.
For as long as I can remember, women’s naked bodies were all around. As a child, I would see billboards with nearly naked women advertising shoes; when watching music videos, I would see naked women writhing sexually on the floor; in magazines I would see boobs and bums and tummies and thighs trying to sell products. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with nudity and showing what the human body looks like, it is not as innocent as it seems in these cases.
Let’s think about what nudity represents. Personally, a few words that come to mind are vulnerability, fragility, delicateness, and tenderness. Now, none of these things are bad qualities in and of themselves, but having this image as the resounding representation of women in the media portrays us as these delicate, fragile creatures who are there to be dominated by men.
So, if our excuse for women in pop music often being naked is, “she is expressing her sexuality,” surely male pop stars would be doing the same, right? After all, men are sexual beings too. WRONG. We simply do not see this side of men in the media.
How often have you seen male pop stars naked in music videos? Does Jay-Z sport a thong in any of his music videos? Have you ever seen Usher’s naked legs wrapped around a pole?
What about Justin Bieber? Has he ever braved his birthday suit and ridden on a wrecking ball? Pharrell? Robin Thicke? One Direction? Justin Timberlake?
The answer is a resounding “no.” In fact, in most male pop stars music videos, there are naked women again! And not just naked women– naked women being submissive to these male artists.
Now think about what men in pop music and RnB wear. Most often, they wear suits. And what does a suit represent? A few words that come to mind are; power, control, respect, and esteem. SO, if we team this with the nakedness of women in these clips, we have a pretty imbalanced perception of men and women’s roles and relationship.
Now let’s pair this (no pun intended) with the double standard of breastfeeding in public.
There is constant debate on the acceptability of public breastfeeding. There seems to always be some small minded groups who thinks this is indecent, but I can assure you, we all see a lot more boob on a billboard at a bus shelter, in a shop window, and in music videos, than we do when a woman is breast-feeding. Why does breastfeeding make many people so uncomfortable? We have been trained to see breasts as sexual objects and nothing more. It is ok for women to be (nearly) nude in public, in film clips, in shop windows, and in magazines, on tv etc, if it is sexual. But as soon as a woman is using her body for non-sexual (yet life-giving) reasons, it is like there is a public cry of disgust. Subconsciously (and sometimes consciously), we are trained to see women’s bodies as sexual play-things for men. Once we start using our bodies to perform amazing tasks like breast-feeding or pregnancy, or everyday tasks like going for a run, these men (and women!) are like, “Hang on a minute, those are my breasts, they are meant to be for me to play with, look at, and position in any way I want–what are you doing being useful?”
The message I’m trying to relate here is the importance of keeping an eye on your emotions regarding the constant sexualisation of women in the media. Does your self-esteem drop after reading a magazine? Do you look at your body with a critical eye after watching a few music videos? Do you feel inadequate in your relationship when you don’t get enjoyment out of the popularized way we are meant to express our sexuality? I know I have felt all these things at some point, and many women I have talked to have felt the same.
While we can’t change the whole world regarding this issue (or not quickly at least), we can change our way of thinking and help friends in similar situations. We can help boys and men understand that most women don’t want to feel their bodies’ objectified. Boys who haven’t been in many relationships often act in the way they think girls want, and they get their information from mainstream media. So if you’re feeling disrespected by a male such as your boyfriend, bring it up with him, let him know how you feel, and how you want to be treated. Chances are he didn’t even realise he was doing anything wrong, and if he thinks you’re overreacting? Then he isn’t worth it.
We want to feel empowered; we want our bodies to be respected and not frowned upon. Ultimately, your body is your property and no one should be able to tell you what to do with it. Get to know your body, learn to love your body, and first and foremost, give yourself the respect you deserve.