Art of Woman

Child nudity

On 6-7 February, The Weekend Australian published a Getty Images photograph on page 17 (editorial, 4 Feb 2010, #964628761 by Mario Tama), from earthquake ravaged Haiti. The picture featured four children in a tent city constructed as temporary shelter for the homeless. Two of the children were nude.

I have written about different types of nudity before (10/07/2008). Child nudity has been discussed a lot recently in Australia especially in relation to art. The discussion centres on the idea that if a child naked and is under 16, which is the age of consent, then, by definition, the nudity is pedophilia. As stated in The Independent, 8 July 2008, “But for Ms Johnston, and like-minded people, all nude images of children are sexual and should be banned.” I disagree with this simplistic explanation. I am not excusing pedophilia. Sexual exploitation is a serious crime and can have serious developmental consequences for growing children. However it would be sad to be so afraid of sexual exploitation that artists and journalists are not permitted to explore other meanings. Nudity has many meanings and purposes.

If children are told that their body is shameful and they need to be embarrassed every time they have their clothes removed, then later when they are adults, sexual relationships may become difficult. When shame is imposed upon children without also an obvious respect for the human body, they loose respect for their own bodies and become uncomfortably self-conscious and may develop body image problems. This is a loss of innocence.

In fact, nude photography can enhance a person’s body image and can be a healing tool. Ellen Fisher Turk has been photographing young women with eating disorders for some fifteen years. Fisher Turk’s therapeutic photographs show the young women’s bodies in a new light and they begin to see themselves as beautiful. It is a healing process.

In The Weekend Australian the children’s nakedness expresses vulnerability and loss. Their nakedness emphasises that they have lost everything. There is no hint of eroticising the children. They are photographed in a documentary style. The photographer has a high viewpoint as if he/she is much taller than the children emphasising that the children are small. The children’s lack of clothing is not contrived nor staged, it is simply how they are. They really have lost everything. These children truly are innocent and the photographer has captured their innocence and vulnerability with great skill and respect.