I have been looking for ways to get naked for a couple of years now.
About two years ago, like many women, I had a mastectomy. My eyebrows are still patchy from chemotherapy and I have the faded blue tattoos they used to line me up for radiotherapy. Last month I had a further operation to remove cancer in my breastbone, leaving me with a scar from my neck down to my torso.
I wanted to get naked because I wanted to show that women in their early thirties can get breast cancer and that bodies come in all different shapes, with scars that shouldn’t be considered unsightly.
But now I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to get naked.
People like to look at naked and half-naked women. In the 1990s, centuries-old objectification was used to the Calendar Girls’ charitable advantage and in PETA’s “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaign. More recently a well-meaning Gok Wan has taught nervous women How To Look Good Naked and the so-called Dove Campaign for Real Beauty still uses “real women” in underwear to flog us body lotion. Those presumably “fake women” in bikinis still flock around men for fellow Unilever brand Lynx.
A woman who has been looked up and down on the beach and called names now takes to social media in her smallest knickers to call the bullies out. We like and share and comment about how beautiful she looks and in doing so we legitimise the bullies’ efforts to place importance on women’s appearance.
In a trailer for new documentary Embrace, Taryn Brumfitt, founder of the Body Image Movement, rightly states: “For years society has been telling women to be beautiful as if that’s the most important thing they can be.” Then she strips off.
Photographic projects like the Nu Project offer women the opportunity to strip and have pictures taken to be shared on social media and published in coffee table books.
This month photographer Amy Hermann is appealing for participants for her Underneath We Are Women project. A promotional video on the website shows previous participants having their hair and makeup done professionally before posing in underwear. Wrapped in a robe after the shoot one of the women says: “It’s not always how you look, it’s what’s on the inside, and everyone has the right to love themselves.” It’s a sentiment I believe in. So I’m no longer convinced that in order to promote positive body image and size diversity I should strip stark bollock naked and encourage people to look at me.
That’s the other rub. We’re not seeing bollocks naked, are we?
Apparently it’s one of the Nu Project’s most frequently raised points. It responds: “While we understand there is a lot of pressure on men to look a certain way, we believe that women are judged more harshly by appearance, and that’s why we’ve focused this project on women.”
Two wrongs (or dongs) don’t make a right, of course. I think the idea of anyone – woman or man – getting naked and encouraging people to look at their bodies in order to promote the idea that we should not judge people’s bodies is a misnomer.
So I don’t want to get naked. If I’m going to be judged it should be on the content of my character alone. At least that way I don’t have to waste time stocking up on body lotion.