After Page 3, Why Are We So Weird About Boobs?
The Debrief: Prudes, tittering schoolkids or just out-and-out obsessed… why are we so weird about women's boobs?
The British are weird about nudity, female and male, as evidenced in the two big naked stories we saw last week; topless glamour models were rescinded, then returned to The Sun's Page 3, and Rick Owens' decision to cloak his male models but for a neat hole to display their penises was met with a near-universal 'Urrr no thanks'.
Male nudity is a wormhole we're probably best to leave for another conversation, but it's worth noting that The Sun had a Page 7 'fella' for seven years from 1988. And it was housed in the 'women's section'.
The campaign against Page 3 has raged on for some decades, with people arguing that it's within the main section of the most-read newspaper in the country. Its effects extend from the specific – men using it to make women feel on edge – to the general – it gives the idea that certain women's naked, sexualised bodies are very available.
Though NoMorePage3's goals might initially make sense, so do some criticisms of their motives. Not just those from men too lazy to find porn elsewhere, or those deliberately setting out to disturb those who seek equality. One criticism was that we see boobs everywhere else. Like fashion magazines, and in the #freethenipple movement which sees women around the world rallying against Instagram's decision to remove photos containing female nipples.
How can you support one and not the other? Why are some of us saying Page 3's not OK, but #freethenipple is somehow righteous? And why are fashion spreads that much more artistic? Aren't boobs just boobs?
Susie Summers, a 29-year-old glamour model who has posed for Page 3, says it's a class thing: 'It's mainly women will complain because they're insecure about themselves. It's feminists jumping on the bandwagon'.
She also thinks that models are all 'nipple and rib' and not what 'a man finds attractive,' which can instead be found in Page 3, which is just 'human nature'.
Lina Esco, the American actress who started #freethenipple tells The Debrief: 'Some [glamour models] just aren't that well educated', but also has a more salient point to make: '#Freethenipple is about women going out there and getting equal rights; if I sit outside without a top on for five hours, at some point you'll stop looking at me. It's also about promoting healthy body image.'
Many publications using glamour models have introduced no-boob job policies, insisting that the women posing nude in their pages display natural body shapes. Natural, but still sexualised, and still showing a very narrow idea of beauty, says Nathalie, a 26-year-old stripper: 'In my job, there are a lot of different types of women represented whereas Page 3 isn't like that, it's just one young white girl with a certain look.'
'But, then again, you could say that about the fashion industry as well.'
Lina says that Page 3's nudes would improve if it put together by women who weren't out to sexualise it: 'They're made by men for men. I think, if you're going to have a naked girl in a newspaper, have a woman run the section, bring a woman's view in.'
Presumably, a woman will help the boobs look a bit less like they're just there to appease the opposite sex, a bit less deliberately sexy. Andrew Welch, spokesperson for British Naturism, explains this hang-up: 'Nudity is something we apparently can't divorce from sexuality. I don't know about you but I do a number of things with my naked body and only one of them is sexual.'
While Susie has no problem with making money from her sexualised form, saying Page 3 'doesn't count as porn', because 'I don't do anything with the genital area', a troubling part of Page 3 is women have not moved on that page for four decades. Of course, this is the thin end of the wedge; the few women lucky enough to fit the bill of a Page 3 model might prefer to pose statically instead of doing something more X-rated for a lesser-known outlet. But what of the thick end of the wedge, the men and women who see this image of beauty, practically unchanged since the 1970s, day-in, day-out? How does it affect their perceptions, not just of bodies, but of what they are here for?
Sarah Faulkner, a spokesperson for NoMorePage3 has a problem with glamour models just standing there, tops off, doing nothing, saying nothing, within an entire media showing the actions of men: 'These images, within these publications, tell people that men make the news while women merely decorate it.'
It seems that our problem with nudity comes from who is in charge of it, and the purpose of it. As Sarah puts it: 'The media may claim to "celebrate" the female form, but what they are in fact doing is promoting one very specific body type, one which is "acceptable" to men.'
Lena Dunham, whose show Girls is renowned for nudity (it's an HBO show minus the gym-buffed bodies) was recently criticised for her nudity, a journalist telling her at a conference: 'Your character is often naked just at random times for no reason.' Her response? 'It’s because it’s a realistic expression of what it’s like to be alive, I think, and I totally get it.'
'If you are not into me, that’s your problem, and you are going to have to kind of work that out with whatever professionals you’ve hired.'
It seems like, as long as we sexualise elements of certain women's bodies, we just won't be able to take any of them seriously. From the pert boobs of a Page 3 model to the well-worn breasts of a septuagenarian featuring in the matte pages of the edgiest fashion magazine, there'll always be a reaction. Andrew says: 'Of all the hundreds of photos taken of Keira Knightley in the past few months, the one we choose to fixate on is of her topless. Why?' The fixation on the areola and nipple is odd, Lina explains: 'There's just so much focus on this tiny part of the anatomy'. Why should nipples, a perfectly functional thing, cause such disturbance when seen on a woman when men have them too? And men don't even need them!
The story of Emma Holten, a woman who posed naked to take ownership of her body after photos of her having sex were put onto a revenge porn site, is fucked up, but uplifting. Instead of letting things be done to her and her body (creeps had called her mobile number, which was listed on the site, just so they could call her a 'slut'), she decided to take action. She did a nude photo shoot, setting up the shot and directing it herself. She wrote about her story and uploaded it all to a website for women, and people who see women for purposes beyond sexual, to appreciate. It was a sharp reminder that some of the naked bodies we see every day aren't that happy inside.
It's a shame that a place of so much potential and hope and joy must be a battleground, it's a shame that we can't be arguing with our minds. But women of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities and backgrounds are already using their own bodies to tell their own stories. And the spaces to do this in are expanding. Tragik, a musician who uploads to Instagram photos of her top surgery, is genderqueer (she's had her breasts removed, but still has female genitalia). Despite not quite having female breasts anymore, her images are still removed under nudity policies, but she beats the system to make a point: 'I just re-post them because I don't agree with that censorship.'
Of course, if some women choose, it's their right to make money from their bodies, but if bodies are sexualised, there's got to be a time and a place. Because people are so much more than their 'private parts', whatever they are. The dream? A little more light shone on female bodies and what they do, naked or clothed.
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Picture: Ada Hamza
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