In the nude

For my class on women and the media, we recently attended a film festival featuring the work of female directors. Some of the films focused on women’s issues, but many didn’t. In our discussion the next week, the topic of nudity in film came up, and it’s got me to thinking again.

One girl in class attended a movie on a woman’s struggle with cancer, and in it the woman appeared naked in order to showcase her body’s fight with the disease and the artistic aspect of her victory. My classmate said it made her uncomfortable, and I have to think I would’ve felt the same way. This woman was older (probably 50s or 60s) and battling a disease, so her physique would not be anywhere near the ideal our society sets for female beauty.

Which got us to the larger issue of nudity in films, both documentary and fiction. The only female bodies we see are the perfect ones so rare in reality but so ubiquitous in the media: tiny for the most part but generous in a few essential areas. The trouble is, these aren’t real. Only a minuscule fraction of the female populace fit this mold, so why is that all we see? And why is that the only physique we can accept? The woman in the documentary was real and healthy – that’s the kind of body we should be able to embrace. The fact that I probably wouldn’t on first reaction makes me feel a little ashamed of myself. But we’re not conditioned that way. We expect to see that model figure, and it’s jarring when the image is something else, no matter how much I respect and appreciate natural women with healthy body image.

And what about male nudity? It’s pretty rare. Most of the sexy shots in movies are targeted at guys, which is really just a rip-off for the female audience. I think most movie-goers are surprised when they see a guy without clothes, but the naked girl doesn’t stir up that reaction. What’s more, male nudity – when it does show up – is more often used for humor than for sexuality. It’s not required that bodies fit the perfectly chiseled mold.

This could maybe be attributed to the fact that most directors are male. Only a small fraction of films are made by women. But are male directors only targeting their films at men? Because that makes no sense. Women are frequently the larger spending body at the box office (interesting fact: horror flicks are much more popular with females), so male directors should want to draw them in as well. Why don’t we get hot naked guys?

To bring this to some sort a point, it ties back to the objectification of women prevalent in our culture. We are used to seeing female nudity because the media so often exploits women sexually as objects to be desired and attained. At the same time, the standards are incredibly high, which sets unrealistic expectations for girls’ bodies and contributing to our nation’s body image crisis. Really, it’s quite contradictory that we are used to seeing naked women, yet they represent so few of us. I guess we just need more women comfortable enough with their bodies to put them out there, no matter what, because they are real and strong and confident and beautiful.

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