Why Body Positive Photo Galleries Need To Go All The Way
Many people these days seem to be realizing that society has some seriously unrealistic beauty standards, which are perpetuated (for the most part) by the media. We’re seeing the same type of airbrushed, flawless, slim bodies everywhere, and it seems to be creating body image issues for people everywhere. But some activists are attempting to counteract this negative body-image issue by creating body-positive photo galleries. There are now websites (and books of course) where you can see photo galleries showcasing all types of bodies. Some focus on larger bodies, some on mothers’ bodies, some on disabled bodies. They show an alternative definition of beauty—the idea that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. The photos are supposed to help others with poor body image and offer a change in their visual diet with more body diversity.
However, there is one problem I’ve noticed with some of these galleries – they cover up the naked bodies. Either the people are wearing bras and underwear or positioned a certain way or the models actually cover specific parts with their arms or hands.
So, let’s examine this phenomenon. Someone creates a series of images of all different bodies with the purpose of eradicating body shame and negative body image. As if to say that all bodies are good, beautiful, perfect, blah blah blah. BUT if that’s the case then why are certain body parts censored… Are those parts bad? Should we still feel ashamed of those body parts? I’m sure you can guess which parts I speak of: women’s nipples, breasts, genitals and butts.
This begs the question – WHY? Why do they do this? I set out to try and understand the reasons behind the censorship issues! I reached out to two women who had created such galleries so I could try to understand their reasoning.
One gallery featured “average” bodies and the other focused on moms who had given birth. These are the replies I got.
Mom body image gallery:
1.“We have chosen not to do any full adult nudes for this project because we wanted it to be transparent but accessible to the mainstream.”
“Average” bodies gallery:
2.“No shame here! It was so it could spread on Facebook PG-13 style!”
Not good answers, I know. Let’s skip over the “PG-13” part for now and talk about Facebook. I know how we all want to share everything on Facebook, but seriously, people are letting Facebook set their personal boundaries and artistic work? Purposely covering up bodies on their own website because of Facebook’s ridiculous nudity rules?? This makes me VERY SAD. Appeasing the Facebook censors should not be the justification for such self-censorship!
That said… I do get it. People want their projects to be seen by the greatest number of eyeballs, and as we know, not everyone is okay with nudity. Certainly not Facebook and other social networks and certainly NOT the mainstream media (if they happen to discuss your project). But here’s the thing that irks me most. Using the media’s standards as a baseline for a body-image project means promoting the very thing they are presumably trying to contest: body shame, disgust and fear of human bodies. We have these body image issues to begin with because of the way the media operates and because of rampant censorship of non-sexual nudity.
So, in my opinion, it just doesn’t make any sense to censor bodies in this context. It’s like making an educational video about how breastfeeding is normal and natural, but blurring out the nipples. Censored bodies sends the message that the body is shameful, inappropriate, wrong, gross, immoral and must be hidden from the light of day at all times.
Of course there is an easy way to see genitals and taboo parts: pornography. Here’s an example of how we have it backwards. Society regularly accepts nudity in a sexual context but when it comes to female empowerment, it gets censored. Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake featured uncensored topless women in their music videos last year. Yet, in the context of news, women’s health or body image, women’s breasts are regularly censored. As a result, people get to see the model bodies, but not the ones that resemble their own.
Online, one can find all the nude images they want. Problem is, they can also find all the porn they want. Porn and nudity are not mutually exclusive. I can tell you from experience that if you just search online for “naked people,” or any naked-related imagery, you’re going to find porn – and a lot of it! Soft-core and hardcore porn that are filled with thin, tan buxom women with perfect skin, posed for the male gaze. Say you want to find photos of average breasts, vulvas, penises … You get even more porn, fake boobs, vulvas that have been stripped of hair and given a photoshopped labiaplasty look.
Now let’s talk about kids. It must be stated (over and over again until society finally gets it) that nonsexual nudity does not harm children. The simplest way to defend this point is that kids have naked bodies too. There are evenstudies that say it’s beneficial for kids to grow up in a naturist environment. Now with the Internet, it’s not as simple as labeling a movie PG-13 to protect kids. The Internet makes everything available. So today kids as young as 11 years old, or even younger, are seeing porn online. Most teenagers have seen online porn regardless of whether they intended to find it or not. So kids are already seeing nudity. It’s just the sexual, objectifying, unrealistic kind of nudity that is most widely available.
If people want to see average naked bodies, they really have to know where to look. We need more healthy, realistic nudity out there for people to see. In my opinion, both kids and adults alike would benefit from it.
Here is a video that demonstrates my point. Teenagers, both boys and girls, were shown various photos of breasts on a UK sex education program. They were asked to choose which breasts they think are most appealing. Both groups immediately pick out the fake pair. On the show’s website, they state, “In The Sex Education Show’s national survey of teenagers, 44% of the girls said they were unhappy with their breasts and nearly 1 in 5 say they would already consider having a boob job.“
Some might say I’m being overly critical. Doesn’t every little bit of body-positive imagery make a difference? Does it still benefit people to see other people’s bodies even if they are a little covered up? Arguably, yes.
In a photo of a woman in her bra and underwear, people still see her belly fat, stretch marks, wrinkles, cellulite, body shape, and so on. That said, covered up bodies are still sending the wrong message here – that the human body is something that people should still be ashamed of.
In this day and age, I feel, we need raise the bar and not capitulate to mainstream media standards. We need to contest the shame that’s been forced upon us for god knows how long.
I simply don’t see any good reason to censor the human body and plenty of reasons why we should not.
If you’re interested, here are some (uncensored) body positive galleries / books that I like:
The Nu Project
Bodies and Souls: The Century Project by Frank Cordelle
Mormon Women Bare
The Large Labia Project – blog and gallery
What do you think, readers? And if you have any favorite body-positive uncensored projects / websites feel free to share in the comments!
Young Naturists & Nudists America