Sarina Bastrup is a first year History and International Relations student with an interest in literature, equality of all forms, human rights and beer drinking in London pubs. Preferably combined through good conversation with good people.
[Featured Image: The back of a nude person highlighting an unedited body against a blue background with small, posing people pattered on it.]
Being a 21-year-old female, I was raised with all the sinners of the twisted body image. Headlines like ‘the best and worst bikini bodies of 20xx´, ‘pregnant or just plump’, ‘xxxx puts on a few after break from former boyfriend xxxx’ have met me in checkout lines my entire life. Fortunately for me, I also JUST made it into the generation in which we were aware of this. The sentence ‘not everything you see online is true has been repeated to me over and over again like a rhythmic hymn, until I knew to say it out loud at every picture of a beautiful woman or man. Yet, it never really sunk in. The doubt and low self-esteem still found its way to me. After all, when I looked in the mirror I didn’t see a perfectly polished, retouched super body I saw on TV.
However, in the last couple of years something has started to change. Reality TV has become obsessed with nudity. Pure, raw, nakedness. Not the nudity you saw on Love Island where a group of perfectly polished Barbies and Kens go and party in an extravagant mansion and have a lot of sex and fights. But the kind of nakedness that most of us keep to ourselves. The nakedness that involves curvy hips, and man boobs. Hairy chests, pimply backs, flat asses, A cups, G cups, muffin tops, belly flops and everything normal. Reality TV has become obsessed with displaying the human body in all its glory.
This is the kind of nakedness that has otherwise been restricted to the private spheres and public changing rooms. We glimpse it briefly every summer when we´re lying poolside, but the presence of push up bikini tops and crash diets corrupt this image as well. Likewise, viewing raw nakedness in the private sphere requires both consent and a certain level of comfort and intimacy. Otherwise it’s called lurking, and that´s illegal. And thus, the private naked body is a restricted image. Public changing rooms pose a conflict as well. Here the observer is naked as well. We too flash our nakedness, and that is one of the most horrifying states for most people to be in. Naked. Completely without defenses or cover. That´s why we turn around when we take off our bra and keep our underwear on till we make it to the shower booth. Not until we are alone in the sanctuary of our own company, do we strip down to our most vulnerable state. According to the BBC more than two thirds of girls in secondary school skipped the shower after P.E in 2015. In fact, only one in 13 girls said that they ALWAYS showered after P.E. One in thirteen. Just let that ring. Out of 13 girls, 12 girls do not shower after P.E. When did we become so uncomfortable being naked with other people? When did it become a taboo to be naked in a room that was designed for exactly that purpose?
The exact origin of our naked phobia can be hard to pinpoint. It definitely wasn’t an issue in the 70´s when people were running naked through the streets protesting nuclear energy. Nor was it an issue, when nudist groups would gather on beaches and in parks to hold public meetings. Yet, at some point, the public, naked (or even half-naked) body became a privilege reserved for super models, actresses and others, who had the ability to train 6 time a week and only eat kale, or avocado, or whatever the current super food was. Somewhere between the naked revolution of the 70s and my early adolescent years, the naked body became an object to be shamed if it did not look, move and pose in a certain way. Especially for women. And that is probably why we see only one out of 13 girls shower after P.E.
Being an early adolescent girl there is so much you cannot control. Your body starts growing and changing and growing hair. Your skin starts to break out, your boobs hurt and then inflate like balloons, your hormones run wild, your mood swings like a pendulum, and you have absolutely no control over any of it. You just know that you don´t look like you used to, and that is confusing. Especially when you don’t see anyone else who looks like that. Because you don’t. You don’t ever get to see the average, adult naked body anywhere. The ones you do see, however, have perfectly round, well placed boobs, flat stomachs and asses you could place a pint on without a spill. Meanwhile, your ass is as flat as ever, your thighs are oddly pear shaped and your boobs look like two bananas pointing in opposite directions. So, you get embarrassed. For everyone knows that any teenage girls’ worst nightmare is being different. Being the odd one. Being the one no one can relate to. I definitely know that from experience. And when you don’t look like you think you´re supposed to, you start hiding yourself and your ‘flaws’ away. You stop undressing yourself where others may see. You stop showering after P.E. After all, even your mother turns around when she takes off her bra in front of others, so obviously boobs are something to hide away. Even your school dress code says so.
This is where reality TV´s new trend comes in. With shows like ‘Naked and Afraid’, ´Undressed’ and ‘Naked Attraction’, the scope of what we see in terms of the naked body has been widened. We are no longer restricted to seeing the perfectly polished, well-lit bodies that have otherwise dominated the media. Now we see the real bodies. The ones we otherwise hide away. The bodies that most of our early adolescent girls will grow into having. The bodies with stretch marks and scars and small rolls of fat. We see a million types of boobs. Because, yes, there are a million types of boobs. Not two boobs are the same – not even the two on the same person. By showing this on mainstream TV, these shows help broaden the perspective and debate. They give young girls, and boys, something realistic to compare themselves and their partner to. Suddenly the bananas-run-wild and wobbly thighs aren´t something to be ashamed of. After all, least seasons contestant on Naked and Afraid had the same type of boobs, and the woman on Naked Attraction last week had big nipples as well.
If you ask me, reality TVs new obsession with the average naked person is one of the most feminist movements we have seen in the last couple of years. The shift from Love Island´s well trained, tanned bodies to Naked Attraction´s wide hips and small boobs, is one of the best things to happen to young girls everywhere. The body type spectrum presented in the media on which girls place themselves has grown immensely. It suddenly includes every body and not just ‘the body’. It shows the diversity that the human body entails. Suddenly, the pure, raw nakedness that has otherwise been restricted to the private sphere or fluorescent lighting changing rooms is broadcast on mainstream television for the world to see, and that is exactly what we needed. Not another rhythmic anthem to bang into young girls´ heads until they repeat it so convincingly, we assume they believe it. But another naked revolution, adapted to modern media, to help young girls not fear the changes they cannot control, but instead embrace them. Naked Attraction, Undressed, Naked and Afraid and its peers, gives us that, and therefore they are some of the most important television made in the 21st century. For while they may just be ´mindless dating shows´ they help save an entire generation of young adolescents from an eternity of low self-esteem and naked-phobia. It shows them the A-cups AND the G-cups, the muffin tops AND the belly flops – and THAT is feminism at its finest.