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The naked truth

Naked women and simulated sex in ads just isn't provocative anymore. It's time to move on, says Olivia Hambrett.

There I was, on a Thursday morning, sipping a fresh brew and watching Kate Moss writhe about on a bed in Paris with a large bunch of roses and a pair of strong male arms protruding from off-camera. A few shots of splendidly tall heels, some lip biting, the obligatory back arch and then the reveal of the perfume bottle nestled in the silk sheets. Just another amazingly provocative perfume advertisement. Where do they come up with this? I felt like I was having my boundaries pushed and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

And then, as I sipped my tea and scrolled through the rest of the hard hitting headlines, I was overcome with the fizz of realization … I am done with this naked malarkey. Done.  Yes, I thought, eating another biscuit, I am over nudity, semi nudity, oiled limbs, simulated sex, women straddling various things (household appliances, cars, Justin Timberlake) yadda yadda yadda, all in the name of ‘provocative’ advertising. Because, here’s the thing … it isn’t provocative anymore.

It really isn’t. In fact, it’s expected. If you aren’t selling a rice cooker with a woman wearing nothing but an artfully placed headscarf and doing something suggestive with a grain of Arborio rice, then something’s wrong.

Quite frankly, I’m bored. I’m so bored I can’t even focus on half of what I read/see (Pixie Lott did what with her breasts? Miley Cyrus did what with a pole? Miley Cyrus is how old?) and I even switch off Britney. Every time a new fashion/beauty campaign comes out, or a pop artist releases a new video/album/perfume it’s just variations on the same theme; how much can I make it look like I’m having sex with this here model/actor, without actually having sex? How much can I look like I am challenging our puritanical perception of sex and female sexuality without actually challenging it at all?

Let me say, I don’t have a problem with nudity, or the body, or the body as a form of expression. At all. I love the fact that on most European beaches, eighty year old women get about in nothing but swimmer bottoms (I plan on being that eighty year old woman in nothing but swimmer bottoms and my wonderfully wrinkled skin); I hate prescriptive measures of femininity being pressed upon women, and the notion of bodily shame so rife in our culture. I firmly believe we need to be a little more Scandinavian and a lot less American. So it’s not sex or nudity itself I am rallying against, at all. It is the way it is used to sell an idea, under the guise of freedom and liberation that I am rallying against.

It is fed to us on the premise that it’s illicit and raunchy and forbidden. Still. Post Garden of Eden, post watershed events and people in human history that have decimated and re-set social norms, sex and the naked body aren’t served as something natural and diverse. Still. They are uniform and naughty. Still. All the bullshit about advertisements and photo shoots being celebrations of the female form, are just that. Bullshit. They are celebrations of one female form, one idea of beauty, one idea of what is sexy.

All we are doing, with our editorials and ad campaigns, with our actors and popstars, is merely reinforcing the puritanical and stale idea that sex, sexuality and specifically female sexuality is uniform, naughty and ever so slightly sinful.

It would be ‘shocking’ or ‘provocative’ if you went against common archetypes of sexual attractiveness (oiled thighs, nipple stars) - like if Beyonce or Lady Gaga had hairy legs or something, or it was revealed that either one of them had pores (that would rock the Western World, everyone knows real skin doesn’t have pores/lines/spots/hairs, God).

To those creating these morsels of contemporary ‘pop culture’, you are not pushing any boundaries. You are not questioning the status quo. All you are doing is tapping into the decades old mantra of ‘sex sells’ and promoting the dangerous idea (that will plague this generation and those that succeed us) that one is solely defined by and appreciated for their sexual attractiveness (more so if they look like what they see on TV) and attitude.

And you’re promoting an image of femaleness (how’s that for a university term) that isn’t real (see rant on airbrushing here). Presenting these images on the premise they are sending a social or artistic message, are liberating women or promoting sexual and physical pride is ridiculous and insulting.

Desensitizing ourselves to sexual provocation isn’t making ourselves comfortable in our own skin. Let’s not get confused here. Raising our champagne glasses to Womaniser, Poker Face, She Wolf etc, doesn’t suddenly make us all want to love the skin we’re in. It makes us want to love the skin they’re in and lament the fact that it’s not our skin - it isn’t servicing the sisterhood in the slightest. If we’re honest with ourselves, it’s servicing the brotherhood.

Olivia Hambrett is a Sydney-based writer, student and the Editor of Trespass online magazine for Gen Y. She has a weakness for the Scandinavian pop scene, doughnuts, and escapism (among many other things). She routinely pours cups of tea and forgets about them, buys international glossy magazines even though they highlight her fashion, fiscal and physical shortcomings and has lost count of how many perfumes she owns. This doesn’t stop her from buying more.

One day, she will write a bestselling book, turn it into an award winning screenplay, and retire to a villa (or yacht, she’s not fussy) in the Mediterranean, to live out the rest of her days in sundrenched peace. If you lose her, look under a pile of books, scrap paper and empty tea cups, or check her bank statements for any recent, rash plane-ticket purchases. Don’t try and call her, she’s probably lost her phone.

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