NAKED BODIES: WHAT DOES IT SAY?


 I am in the process of creating a concept for my, soon to be published book, that will deal with how we understand sexuality and the effects thereof. In my discussions with the publisher, I suggested that we consider having an outline of naked bodies for the cover page.

What transpired from this brief was very interesting and telling. It confirmed my understanding of how many people view sexuality and the gender discrepancies that we experience. Most of the examples with body figures that we could find, presented women. I then requested that both the male and female form should be portrayed. This idea transpired in a design in which the naked male outline was so subtle that you could barely see that it was a man next to the very distinct naked female figure.

I realized that I was not conveying the idea in my head with much success. I then decided to ask a young female artist friend of mine to compile my brief visually, in the hope that an illustration of my idea would advance mutual understanding and greater clarity. As my young friend is not that familiar with the naked male body, she did what all young people do – she used Google images to find a realistic image to guide her in her creation. Here’s the thing – she really battled to find naked, non-pornographic male images, whilst the female naked form was plentiful.

This made me think about why this might be so. I am sure that there are many reasons. One could possibly be because of the dominant discourse that women do not sexually respond to visual stimulation and therefore there is no need for such images. This idea circulated for so many decades that people are not even aware of the discrepancy in how the female body and male body are used and exploited in the media. The female body became the marketing tool and is often seen as a commodity. We have become so desensitised to this because it became the dominant discourse.

Professor Bronwyn Davis (1993:153) uses the metaphor of a pane of glass to describe the invisibility of discourses. Discourses take on the qualities of a pane of glass through which one observes the world. It is only when the glass fractures or breaks that one’s attention is drawn to the glass. Discourses are thus usually invisible to people and we have little or no conscious awareness of discourses. This might explains why we continue to accept the use of women and their naked bodies (out of context) as a marketing tool, whilst the use of male bodies are mostly excluded. However, I believe that there might be another coinciding discourse present.

Being naked holds a vulnerability, especially if others can view our naked body. Maybe in our gender indoctrinated minds, this vulnerable position is only reserved for women. Maybe naked images of men are not as available because men are not supposed to be vulnerable, but are portrayed as strong, in control and invincible? Your thoughts on the matter?

Reference:

Davies, B 1993. Shards of glass: Children reading and writing beyond gendered identities. St Leonards: Allen & Unwin.

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8 thoughts on “NAKED BODIES: WHAT DOES IT SAY?

  1. It seems that woman are more comfortable with male nudity, than men are comfortable with the nudity of other men. Is it perhaps because, in most male minds, nudity = sex?

    • I agree. Possibly it is also because so many men are homophobic and are scared that they just might find another male attractive! I believe that one can find even a person of the same sex attractive without being gay, but many men will not agree with me.

  2. There is a lot of insight into the writing of this article – Ecspecially that the young lady has no experience of the naked male body. yes the womans nakedness has been used to sell from motor cars to liquer – amazing if seen in that context. The discourse that females are not stimulated, or not as much to the nudity of a male is in anyway in my opinion a lot of old man nonsense and only present because of the abuse of woman by the system of age old patriarchy. Well written and i hope that you get a suitable design for your book.

  3. In ancient times times the male form was sculptured and celebrated in all it’s glory in many art forms so I wonder at which stage it became less acceptable? I agree with all the comments above and believe it is a combination of homophobic fear and the communication that seeing men naked is “naughty” or even “dirty”. Kudos to you for fighting for the illustration you want on your front cover. Of course, the fact is that having that on the front cover will in itself sell more books but good for that because then they will read the book and be educated and hopefully the glass will shatter and they will see clearly!!

    • Dear Rosali, thank you for your encouragement. As you would know, in ancient Greece nudity was celebrated and not exploited. I am not sure where we lost the plot. I agree, nudity within context can be great, but nudity for the sake of exploitation is not acceptable.

  4. Hi Nicki ,
    Ai , die patriargale bestel darem ! Let alone the Victorian age ………..
    En dan die opvatting dat die naakstudie van ‘n vrou “mooier” is as die van ‘n man .
    Ek persoonlik sal van ‘n ietwat impressionistiese voorstelling van beide ‘n man en vrou hou . En dan in ‘n posisie wat nie te eksplisiet is nie . Dalk meer om verwondering by albei uit te beeld . Dis tog waar seksuele ontwaking begin .
    Baie sterkte met die skryf – ek dink dit gaan ‘n besliste leemte vul en “enlightening” wees as albei partye in ‘n verhouding dit lees .
    “Doe zoo voort”
    Tertia

    • Dankie Tersia, jou belangstelling en ondersteuning beteken baie vir my! Vir my is die naakte liggaam, man of vrou die pragtigste ding op aarde. Dit moet natuurlik binne konteks uitgebeeld word. As mens net na die buitelyn van ‘n liggaaam kyk, daar is soveel beweging, ruimte, potensiaal, ensialiteit en ja, seksualiteit teenwoordig. Ons is inderdaad wonderbaarlik geskape!

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