Last week, I did a photo shoot with a very talented photographer/stylist couple. I’ve worked with them many times before, and I trust them completely. After we were finished shooting for the day, I spent some time discussing concepts that the photographer and I had envisioned that involved partial or complete nudity. I should preface this anecdote with the fact that up until very recently, I had been completely against taking my clothes off in front of a camera, though not because of any moral opposition on my own part. I had been with a man for two years who had been extremely anti-nudity, likening it to prostitution, saying that it was dirty to allow someone to photograph the curvature of my own body. My parents had told me when my modelling career first began that I should never do anything “inappropriate,” such as nude work. The constant shame that celebrities receive for ‘nip-slips’ and other accidental nakedness reminded me that my body was humiliating and needed to be constantly and unfailingly hidden, or I would face severe repercussions. However, once my romantic relationship came to a much-needed halt, I took a couple of women’s studies classes at my university and came to the personal revelation that I didn’t see anything wrong with my body: I felt that it was beautiful and could see no problem with revealing more of my skin.
To return to the original anecdote, my photographer told me that he was more than happy to work on concepts that involved a steeper dermis-to-cotton ratio. However, somehow the conversation took a turn to another model who had done some nude work for him. Incredibly beautiful, the woman in question is also a phenomenally talented gamer; so gifted, in fact, that she wound up winning a popular new reality show that targets the geek in all of us. When she was filling out paperwork prior to her participation on the show, there were a number of pre-screening questions that needed to be answered: had she ever been arrested, had she ever committed a felony, had she ever taken illegal drugs, had she ever done nude photography (as if nude photography is even on the same level as being arrested for any sort of felony, but I digress momentarily). She called the photographer in a panic to make sure that her art had never been shared publicly, which it hadn’t; a true professional doesn’t share work without consent. Her work never made its way into the black hole that is the Internet, and she ended up winning the show and the $100,000 prize that came with it. Nonetheless, had she confessed to nude work, she would never have even made it through the screening.
I was floored when I heard this story. Why would a photograph of a nipple be considered grounds on which to disqualify an intelligent, talented, capable young woman from a contest? By the same token, why should I have to avoid nude shoots for fear that it may ruin my chances at a future in law? Why is a woman’s body ‘dirty laundry’ that could break a career in seconds, regardless of the ability and promise shown? We all have bodies, and some of us permit that those bodies are photographed as artwork. How does that diminish any sense of worth?
Our society’s general fear of nakedness, regardless of the genitalia between one’s legs, allows for constant body shaming. Nudity, whether it be accidental or intentional, tends to be considered horrifying, ‘slutty’, or demeaning in some sense. Some European societies seem to embrace nudity: people, regardless of gender, can go to the beach and lounge topless, because nipples are nipples no matter the swelling beneath them. Bodies are considered beautiful in some parts of the world, so why not here in America?
I think that it’s a complete sham that one has to constantly be wary to avoid doing something ‘shameful’, like turning one’s body into art, to stop things from becoming skeletons in one’s proverbial closet. My sexuality, my face, my curves, my genitalia, my breasts: my body is not dirty. It is that which I was given, that which I was born with, and the way that I use it, whether it be tattoos, piercings, shaving, exercise, or nude photographs, should have no bearing on who I am as a person. It should not keep me from success. We are all born into bodies, and we live our lives within their accompanying limitations. The way in which we utilize our own physicality should have no bearing on the way that we are viewed. A photograph of a woman’s nipples should not bar her from success at whatever she is passionate about. The only thing that should get in her way should be a lack of talent or will, something that directly relates to her ability to achieve.
The naked body has been appreciated in artwork from the Renaissance to the Baroque era to the photography of today and everything in between. Posing as a model for artwork is not demeaning: it is simply art. It should not ruin anyone’s life, and it should not bar those who participate from having a future of their choosing.
Or maybe that’s just me.