With Instagram, I feel like I have been totally desensitized to nudity yet in recent weeks I have found myself noticing it more and more. It wasn’t something that used to bother me really. I always thought that I don’t have to participate in posting photos like that if I don’t want to, so why should I care? But I have found myself caring and I’m not sure why. I don’t need to be bothered by other people’s photos but for some reason I am.
Take Elsa Hosk as an example – a beautiful model who makes a living posing in her lingerie for Victoria’s Secret. Her work shots are fine. They are selling the underwear. She is doing her job. But her Instagram tells another story. It is full of full nude shots and super sexualized selfies, and every time I look at it I am trying to work out why she posts these things? What is her motivation? She is already one of the most well-known models in America, idolized by girls and wanted by guys, yet she seems to be trying to get more attention online, grow her following, and do it by posting her naked body. I find it a little sad that women’s bodies are still their strongest form of currency. I know that we are supposed to have reached a new wave of feminism where posting your body online under your own terms and reclaiming it back is what women are all about now, but I also can’t help but think that by posting yourself naked and doing so for your own gain (financial or followers) is just playing into the hands of men around the world who continue to think of women as little more than their body.
I have noticed this nude trend trickle all the way down from the real famous (Kardashians & Jenners) to the insta-famous (all of those “models” with 50k+) to regular girls that you and I know in real life. It’s just strange and borderline worrying because I hope that it doesn’t put girls in a position where they feel that posting their body online for likes is the best way to boost their self esteem. Your body should never be more important than your mind. I don’t really care if people want to post themselves naked or with very little clothes as long as there is no ulterior motive behind the post, but if the reason that you’re posting it is for likes (which you use, in turn, to measure your self worth) then there is an issue in my opinion. This is a complex issue which, if handled the wrong way, can veer into slut shaming. I’m all about body positivity and feeling good about yourself, but I’m also all about having a life off of the internet and not using social media for personal gain, whether that be amassing a large amount of followers or using your likes to gain a confidence boost. I don’t intend to single out Elsa Hosk in a negative way in this piece. She is a beautiful woman who seems super sweet, has cool style, and appears to be a nice person with lots of friends and a great relationship. Her Instagram is really pretty which is why I initially followed her. I just got a little bit turned-off when I felt like her posts were just full of nudity in an over-the-top way. And hey, I guess if you’re a VS model you are being paid for your body looking great. At least it sells the lingerie. I just feel conflicted and a little bit confused on this matter and I struggle to articulate my thoughts on it properly.
After the EIFF panel that I previously mentioned, I thought about sexual images in fashion. I have become so desensitised to nudity in fashion that I don’t even flinch when I see breasts through a sheer top on the runway or a completely nude photograph of a model in a magazine. Nudity in fashion is normal, and models who go naked are not stigmatised the same way that models in magazines like Playboy are. I think I know why this is. It is all down to who the images are aimed at. Playboy is aimed at men; fashion magazines are aimed at women. Go figure.
If a woman has naked photos leaked, she is called a slut. There is rarely focus on the man who actually leaked the photographs and how awful he is. No, the focus is on the women. Similarly, men are glad to consume images of naked women in magazines like Playboy, in pornography, and in sexualised images like bikini shots but still look down on women who pose for photos like this. Name a female celebrity who hasn’t been stripped down to her underwear or a bikini in a photoshoot. Sex sells, and men like it. The hypocrisy is that they don’t like women owning it, being empowered by it, but they’re happy to look at it.
Fashion photography can be thought of as empowering as it is often a celebration of women. Fashion photos tend to depict beautiful women in beautiful outfits doing beautiful things. When the women are naked, it is an image of their naked body that is not done in a disrespectful way. It can indeed be very discreet. It doesn’t feel invasive or forced. I think this is because the images are made for the female gaze which is often admiring, adoring, and platonic. It may invoke desire, but that desire is not normally sexual. I know that when I see nude images I often think the nudity adds to the photo. Often I don’t know what exactly it adds, but I do think it works. I don’t find it shocking.
I hate when people are nude in images for shock value, because I feel that it isn’t moderately shocking at all. Times have changed. Millions of girls take nude photos and willingly send them to their partners. Girls leak their own nudes online because they are feeling them. Strippers and sex workers are celebrated online. We have reached a new age of female sexual empowerment and women are increasingly refusing to stigmatise other women for doing their thing.
I just wonder where the line is crossed from an artful nude to a trashy nude. Is there a line? I do believe it lies in who is meant to consume the image. I love women celebrating other women. If you look at my Tumblr you’ll probably realise that I am fascinated by women. I think they are beautiful, infinitely more interesting creatures than men. I don’t feel anything sexual towards women. My gaze is one of full admiration. However, I have lots of photographs of nude women on my blog yet I don’t feel like that is shameful, or like it should be shameful. As long as consent is involved, everything is ok.
In fashion, lots of the most famous photographers are men. It isn’t because there aren’t any women photographers (they are less in number, definitely, but still there) that there are so many men, just that they dominate almost all areas of fashion like they do in other industries/life. So my next question is, are nude fashion photographs taken by men any worse than nude fashion photographs taken by women?
There are two distinct sets of photographers: gay and straight. This is the same as designers. The way that the straight photographers take photos will be different than gay and it can be apparent in the final images. Think of the controversial Terry Richardson, who has been accused of sexual assault by various different people he has worked with. He has a bad reputation that I’m sure he has earned for a reason. However, before all of the accusations came out he was one of the most prominent photographers, used by most major magazines. He has shot the majority of big models and various celebrities throughout his career. I actually like some of his work – for example, he has great photos of Lindsay Wixson eating spaghetti – but everything is undeniably sexualised. I also adore Helmut Newton’s images. They are often sexual in content, or at least suggestive, but I don’t look at them in the same way as I look at Terry’s. Nor do I look at the images of Steven Meisel that way. I’m sure if each of the photographers mentioned were given the same brief, the outcome of each set of photos would be completely different. Terry’s would be sexualised and realistic, Helmut’s would be stylised and cool, Meisel’s would be divine (I mean, can he take a bad photograph?).
Think about the photographs of a young Kate Moss topless. She was just a child in them. However, I think Corrine Day managed to justify them by saying that they weren’t sexual, because they weren’t supposed to be. Day took many of the photos that made Kate Moss famous back in the 90s, and in many of the images Kate was in various states of undress. The appropriateness of this is an issue for another time, but I do think that Corrine’s images clearly come from a different place than a male photographer’s. They’re not meant to be erotic. They may contain nudity but it is meant in the most natural way.
Kate Moss has since taken many nude photos. She wasn’t initially keen on it though. I read about her being particularly traumatised by the Calvin Klein adverts with Mark Wahlberg. She was just a young girl in them, yet people all over the world were seeing her naked, wrapped around a muscular man. No matter how famous you are, when you’re young that can be a little bit too much to handle. She also walked topless in a Vivienne Westwood show, licking an ice cream lolly, and covering her bare breasts with one arm. It is easy to think of Kate Moss as someone who doesn’t give a fuck about anything so when I read that she was troubled by some of the photographs and scenarios that she was in as her younger self, I was slightly surprised. She has previously said that if she didn’t do the jobs, she wouldn’t get booked again. That is unfair. You cannot force someone into a compromising situation like that, especially someone so young.
I think consent is the crux of the matter, on all things sexual. I do think I sometimes mentally gloss over the shortcomings of fashion photography because I find it so marvellous. The final product that we see in magazines may be beautiful but I truly hope that the models are happy to be a part of that journey. I don’t want to think about other young models who may be in the same situation as Kate Moss was 25 years ago and do things that they don’t want to do out of fear of losing work. That’s not what fashion should be about. Nudity is only empowering if you want it to be, but the most empowering thing is being in control of it and how you are presented to the world. Sometimes I think models are not afforded this privilege, especially if a male photographer presents them in a way that they disagree with morally.