Body Positive Galleries and Censorship

| January 22, 2014 | 15 Comments

Why Body Positive Photo Galleries Need To Go All The Way

Body Positive Galleries and Censorship Issues:

Many people these days seem to be realizing that society has some seriously unrealistic beauty standards, which are perpetuated (for the most part) by the media. We’re seeing the same type of airbrushed, flawless, slim bodies everywhere, and it seems to be creating body image issues for people everywhere.

But some activists are attempting to counteract this negative body-image issue by creating body-positive photo galleries. There are now websites (and books of course) where you can see photo galleries showcasing all types of bodies. Some focus on larger bodies, some on mothers’ bodies, some on disabled bodies.

They show an alternative definition of beauty—the idea that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.The photos are supposed to help others with poor body image and offer a change in their visual diet with more body diversity.

body positive gallery naked bodies censorship body shame

Body Positive Galleries & Censorship

However, there is one problem I’ve noticed with some of these galleries – they cover up the naked bodies. Either the people are wearing bras and underwear or positioned a certain way or the models actually cover specific parts with their arms or hands.

So, let’s examine this phenomenon. Someone creates a series of images of all different bodies with the purpose of eradicating body shame and negative body image. As if to say that all bodies are good, beautiful, perfect, blah blah blah. BUT if that’s the case then why are certain body parts censored… Are those parts bad? Should we still feel ashamed of those body parts? I’m sure you can guess which parts I speak of: women’s nipples, breasts, genitals and butts.

This begs the question – WHY? Why do they do this? I set out to try and understand the reasons behind the censorship issues! I reached out to two women who had created such galleries so I could try to understand their reasoning.

One gallery featured “average” bodies and the other focused on moms who had given birth. These are the replies I got.

Mom body image gallery:
1.“We have chosen not to do any full adult nudes for this project because we wanted it to be transparent but accessible to the mainstream.”

“Average” bodies gallery:
2.“No shame here! It was so it could spread on Facebook PG-13 style!”

Not good answers, I know. Let’s skip over the “PG-13” part for now and talk about Facebook. I know how we all want to share everything on Facebook, but seriously, people are letting Facebook set their personal boundaries and artistic work? Purposely covering up bodies on their own website because of Facebook’s ridiculous nudity rules?? This makes me VERY SAD. Appeasing the Facebook censors should not be the justification for such self-censorship!

That said… I do get it. People want their projects to be seen by the greatest number of eyeballs, and as we know, not everyone is okay with nudity. Certainly not Facebook and other social networks and certainly NOT the mainstream media (if they happen to discuss your project). But here’s the thing that irks me most. Using the media’s standards as a baseline for a body-image project means promoting the very thing they are presumably trying to contest: body shame, disgust and fear of human bodies. We have these body image issues to begin with because of the way the media operates and because of rampant censorship of non-sexual nudity.

So, in my opinion, it just doesn’t make any sense to censor bodies in this context. It’s like making an educational video about how breastfeeding is normal and natural, but blurring out the nipples. Censored bodies sends the message that the body is shameful, inappropriate, wrong, gross, immoral and must be hidden from the light of day at all times.

Of course there is an easy way to see genitals and taboo parts: pornography. Here’s an example of how we have it backwards. Society regularly accepts nudity in a sexual context but when it comes to female empowerment, it gets censored. Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake featured uncensored topless women in their music videos last year. Yet, in the context of news, women’s health or body image, women’s breasts are regularly censored. As a result, people get to see the model bodies, but not the ones that resemble their own.

Online, one can find all the nude images they want. Problem is, they can also find all the porn they want. Porn and nudity are not mutually exclusive. I can tell you from experience that if you just search online for “naked people,” or any naked-related imagery, you’re going to find porn – and a lot of it! Soft-core and hardcore porn that are filled with thin, tan buxom women with perfect skin, posed for the male gaze. Say you want to find photos of average breasts, vulvas, penises … You get even more porn, fake boobs, vulvas that have been stripped of hair and given a photoshopped labiaplasty look.

Now let’s talk about kids. It must be stated (over and over again until society finally gets it) that nonsexual nudity does not harm children. The simplest way to defend this point is that kids have naked bodies too. There are even studies that say it’s beneficial for kids to grow up in a naturist environment. Now with the Internet, it’s not as simple as labeling a movie PG-13 to protect kids. The Internet makes everything available. So today kids as young as 11 years old, or even younger, are seeing porn online. Most teenagers have seen online porn regardless of whether they intended to find it or not. So kids are already seeing nudity. It’s just the sexual, objectifying, unrealistic kind of nudity that is most widely available.

If people want to see average naked bodies, they really have to know where to look. We need more healthy, realistic nudity out there for people to see. In my opinion, both kids and adults alike would benefit from it.

There’s a clip from a UK show called The Sex Education Show that demonstrates my point (unfortunately the clip is no longer available for streaming online). Teenagers, both boys and girls, were shown photos of breasts that all differed in size, shape and appearance. They were asked to choose which breasts they think are most appealing. Both groups immediately pick out the fake pair. On the show’s website, they state, “In The Sex Education Show’s national survey of teenagers, 44% of the girls said they were unhappy with their breasts and nearly 1 in 5 say they would already consider having a boob job.

Some might say I’m being overly critical. Doesn’t every little bit of body-positive imagery make a difference? Does it still benefit people to see other people’s bodies even if they are a little covered up? Arguably, yes.

In a photo of a woman in her bra and underwear, people still see her belly fat, stretch marks, wrinkles, cellulite, body shape, and so on. That said, covered up bodies are still sending the wrong message here – that the human body is something that people should still be ashamed of.

In this day and age, I feel, we need raise the bar and not capitulate to mainstream media standards. We need to contest the shame that’s been forced upon us for god knows how long.

I simply don’t see any good reason to censor the human body and plenty of reasons why we should not.

If you’re interested, here are some (uncensored) body positive galleries / books that I like:

The Nu Project

Bodies and Souls: The Century Project by Frank Cordelle

Mormon Women Bare

Fully Disclothed

The Large Labia Project – blog and gallery

007 Breasts

What do you think, readers? And if you have any favorite body-positive uncensored projects / websites feel free to share in the comments!

Young Naturists and Nudists America

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Category: Felicity's Nudist Blog, Pinky Rants, Body Image Blogs, Censorship, Nudist Blogs, Social Activism

About the Author ()

Author of Felicity's Blog. Co-founder of Young Naturists America. 3rd-generation nudie. Avid reader. Feminist. 70% vegan, 30% vegetarian. When I'm not busy eating, I'm writing about naturism, censorship, topfree equality, body image and other fun topics. I like feedback, so plz leave a comment when you've got something to say!
  • RobSuntan

    Although we are nudists, after having two kids, my wife is not happy with her breasts as they have headed to the deep south. She has no probelms having them enhanced to look younger again,as natural as they can get before they look fake.

  • The other day I was playing with my daughters and it really dawned on me just how sexist their dolls are. Mattel goes to absurd lengths to make it seem as though nipples and genitals DO NOT EXIST. In the old days, at least, Barbie had nothing “down there,” so you could at least imagine what was missing. Now, every Barbie is made with impossible to remove underwear molded right into the plastic. So, while it’s OK to promote an alien physique to young girls, the notion that beauty = being 7 feet tall with a size 0 waist and a size 3 shoe (and perpetually in high heels) it is NOT OK for girls to know that other women have nipples, butt cracks or vaginas. The crazy thing is that, while I cannot imagine how children can be harmed by “doll nudity” it is clear and obvious to me how harmful promoting ridiculous and unrealistic standards of “beauty” can be.

    PS: Felicity, I am still hoping to interview you regarding these issues! I would love to get your input on my naturist fantasy heroine, Thelana, especially with regards to avoiding deeply entrenched sexist stereotypes.

  • WylieRichardson

    The point is not to ‘condemn’ anyone, but to encourage healthy lifestyles for all.
    As for the ‘buying what they sell’ argument, you would have a pretty hard time convincing the public at large to immediately boycott all media outlets. For example, what would make all readers of “Cosmo” and similar ‘beauty’ magazines suddenly stop reading them? This is less of a moral issue, to me, than a practical one.

  • jochanaan

    It sounds noble to “encourage children” not to be overweight, but that easily descends into just the sort of bullying and self-condemnation that we’re trying to fight. In reality, it makes no more sense to condemn anyone for being overweight than for being poor.
    And society does set the media’s standards by buying what they sell. We need to convince a majority to stop buying.

  • jochanaan

    Great article! Another body-positive photo project is Women En Large, by Laurie Toby Edison and Debbie Notion. Most of the images there are only available if you buy the book, but there’s a sample online.

  • WylieRichardson

    You seem to be suggesting that children should be taught ‘love your body, no matter what’. That might be healthy in one regard, but that has a potential downside. What about the problem of obesity? Putting all moral / aesthetic issues aside, it’s simply not healthy for anyone to be grossly overweight. At the very least. we should encourage children to be at or near their desired weight level – that is good for society as a whole, I would argue.
    Another factor to consider in this debate is that human beings are constantly figuring out ways to improve ourselves. Why can’t one’s physical appearance be part of that equation? For example, I recently joined a gym. I am certainly not alone in that regard. If trips to the gym result in improved health on my part, then it’s a positive thing to do. If it makes me more fit and attractive, then all the better.
    Another factor: the media is not our only exposure to society as a whole. We are social creatures, and see and encounter many different types of people simply by being alive, for the most part. Even in the days before mass media, societies had standards of beauty and desirability not much different than today’s. Think of Helen of Troy, and her supposed ability to raise ships through her looks alone. It might not be that radical to suggest that society dictates the media’s standards, rather then the other way around.

  • wpjones57 Thank you for your thoughts. I know what you mean. We’re conditioning kids to be ashamed of their bodies and preventing them from seeing what real bodies look like, while simultaneously pushing the hyper-sexualized, fake body ideal on them. So of course they would think, ‘well this is what I should look like.’ There’s little alternative. 

    As far as enhanced breasts, I’m not sure how many women get them to attract men (for their personal life & not work). I’m not gonna shame women who do, and I’m sure some women and couples are happy with ’em. But it’s definitely a cultural issue and a big problem when that’s the “ideal.” I totally agree with your last statements.

  • wpjones57

    As a 56 year old white male, I was raised in a relatively enlightened household where we were rather body image neutral. We weren’t prudish nor exhibitionist.  
    I now find I have had to fight against  the regional prudish conservatism which has been imprinting my 3 children with negative body image.Kids in our school district don’t shower after athletic activities until they come home due to school and parental hangups about same-sex nudity in locker room showers!  Your sex-ed breast survey, never mind that it would get local instructors fired where I live, reveals a fundamental issue where society has created an artificial standard. I have always been more attracted to women with natural breasts. Would you rather relate to a human or a computer or a doll? I have made a point of conveying this to every woman with whom the conversation was appropriate. Do you really want to attract the kind of guy who’s priority is enhanced boobs? I suppose there are women as shallow as the men they attract. While some may mature out of this behavior, implants don’t go away when you change your mind. 
    It’s as much about our obligation as individuals and parents to pass along independent, critical thinking as it is a need for public awareness of the social pressure. One should lead to the other.

  • WylieRichardson  Actually I think young people, especially teenagers, do look online for nudity or even for certain body parts specifically, like breasts. When you look at questions on sex ed sites, teens are always asking if their body is “normal.” 
    People often do express disgust at realistic naked bodies, but from what I can tell, this reaction is like a projection of their disgust and discomfort with their own bodies. I think society just does a very good job at brainwashing people with body shame. Uncensored, body-positive galleries might help to undo that shame.

  • WylieRichardson

    You raise some interesting points, Felicity. But keep in mind that the internet – like most social / economic forces – are based on laws of supply and demand. It may be ‘beneficial’ in a philosphical sense to see ‘average’ bodies, but how many seek out these ‘unsexy’ images to begin with? The best sites for seeing an array of body types – outside of fetish porn sites – would be naturist sites. That is my two cents on the topic, anyways.

  • SteveYnaNY

    Felicity this is a wonderful and refreshing statement. I am so thankful that there are people in the world like you who have the insight and courage to speak the truth. For years and years I was imprisoned by the lies of this sick culture that consider my naked body and everyone’s as somehow obscene. It wasn’t until we got involved in YNA and real non-sexualized social nudity that we began to feel a freedom that is simply unexplainable in the simple act of being nude together with other like minded folks. Thank you for your message and work!

  • edavidsanguisalas57 Facebook is just a massive site that so many people use. The fact that people are considering its rules when creating their own projects just goes to show how much influence it has these days. But I don’t think it’s going to be around forever or be important forever. Some people may hopefully eventually create other better social networks where the censorship isn’t so much of a problem. Twitter & Tumblr are not the same as FB, but I do love being able to freely express myself on them.

  • ChristopherJudson Thanks! Yes and I hope more will think about it after reading this!

  • ChristopherJudson

    This is a great article. It’s just one good point after another about something that nobody really thinks about.

  • edavidsanguisalas57

    Hi Felicity I beleive we’ re giving too much importance to Facebook stupid standards of censorship. Instead we must do a campaign in favour of those social pages that hae free standards like Tweeter, Tumblir orden blog places like wordpress. Let’s fight forma good places recognition.