I just read an online article that featured two well-known personalities posing nude. Both women said they had stripped to empower other women, by letting them know they should never feel ashamed of their bodies.
The younger of the two women, a 29-year-old lawyer and former reality TV star, talked about the importance of a healthy body and how she hoped to inspire younger women to have a positive body image.
While their sentiments are good, I feel they missed the mark a little.
When I was a young woman, I hated my body. I thought my hips were too wide, my breasts too small, my arms too doughy, and don’t get me started on my Barney Rubble feet.
At that time, my best friend had the face of an angel and a slender body that was the envy of most of her friends. Whenever she walked into a room, all eyes would swivel in her direction. She could have been dressed in a gunny sack and people would still have stared at her.
But whenever we were alone and the topic of conversation turned to our bodies, she would almost always complain about her knobbly knees.
“They stick out so much it looks as if I’ve got a couple of potatoes stuck to the front of my legs,” she would wail. “Life is so unfair. Maybe there is some sort of surgery to make them smaller.”
“But no one notices your knees,” I would say.
“It’s okay for you. You’re not the one with the potato legs.”
I would look at my Neanderthal feet and think it unfair that she thought her lot in life was somehow worse than mine. I would have gladly traded places with her.
Way back then, if you had shown us the photographs of the two personalities posing in their birthday suits, we would not have felt empowered in the least by the sight of them. Quite the opposite.
The older woman, who looks as if she is in her fifties, is seen perched on a backwards-facing desk chair. The back of the chair conceals all her pertinent parts, so only her head, upper chest, arms and legs are on display. The younger woman is sitting on the floor with her knees pulled up to her chin and her ankles crossed in front of her, with nothing on show that could embarrass her family or friends.
I have to admit that both the photographs are as tasteful as such shots can be. Heck, the older woman even sent a copy of her picture to her two sons, both of whom are in their twenties. I think this was supposed to be an indication of her photograph’s tastefulness, but I suspect most adult children do not want to see their mother in a state of partially covered-up nakedness, tasteful or otherwise.
But I do have one complaint about these photographs: they both look heavily airbrushed. There are no thick ankles, or Barney Rubble feet, or pimply complexions, or potato-like knees, static-ridden hair, or breasts that might fail to make the grade in their owner’s eyes. The women’s teeth are white and even, and their smiles somewhat dazzling.
If the aim of a photograph of a naked woman is to empower other women, regardless of their age, the publication needs to make sure that their models look like real people. My younger self and my girlfriend would have looked at those photographs and groaned. Or at least, I would have groaned. These women displayed a certain level of physical perfection that would forever be out of my reach.
If I disliked certain body parts before, these shots would only serve to confirm how undesirable I really looked. If you really want to empower girls and young woman with nude photographs, at least show them what real people look like, warts and all. No airbrushing, no impossible standards of perfection.
And if you really, really want to empower them, leave the nudes alone. Any woman who takes her clothes off in public is leaving herself wide open to scrutiny by the collective public gaze. She will be subject to a certain amount of ogling and objectifying. There’s nothing empowering about that.
I’m fed up with people stripping off and calling it empowerment. I don’t see men getting their kit off to make themselves or others feel empowered or to get a message across.
Young women need to know that they don’t need to be naked to be heard. They need to see powerful, fully dressed women who are admired and respected for accomplishments that have nothing to do with the size of their breasts, or the smoothness of their skin, or the plumpness of their lips.
I still have my Barney Rubble feet, and I’m proud of them. They have carried me through life, bore the weight of two children, helped to keep me fit and allowed me to go places I never dreamt of as a girl.
And they’re still not done.
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