Art of Woman

What is Appropriate?

Yesterday I went to K Mart at Belconnen and ordered some photographic prints to be made. I returned after an hour and a half to collect them, as requested, to be told by the assistant that all my photos had been ripped up because some of them were deemed ‘inappropriate’. I was offered a refund, so I went to the service desk to get my refund.

The service desk refused to give me a refund because the shop assistant in the photography section had not notified the service desk of the cancelled order! So I returned to the photography section which was located on the other side of the building. I asked why all of my photos were ripped up. The shop assistant repeated that some of my photos were deemed ‘inappropriate’ and reminded me that I had ticked an agreement on the computer when I placed my order that my photos did not contain anything illegal, pornographic etc. So I asked the shop assistant to see the store’s policy on what constituted ‘inappropriate’ given that none of my photos were pornographic or illegal. He explained that because the store employs children under 18 yrs, some as young as 15, that as a customer, I should be considerate of a young person’s sensitivities. I again asked to see the store policy that required me to be considerate of the potential sensitivities of their staff. He rummaged around for a minute and said that he did not have a copy of the policy. He would get management to print one and give it to me at the service desk along with my refund, which he would now organise.

Good.

So I went back to the service desk, asked for, and received my refund.

Then I waited... And waited.... And I waited... for the printed policy document.

The shop assistant at the service desk began to get concerned that I was still waiting.

After more than half an hour’s waiting the manager from the photography section came up to me. He repeated that because K Mart Belconnen employs young staff, they have a policy not to print ‘inappropriate’ photos to protect their young staff. I told him I was waiting to see the store policy on what constituted ‘appropriate’ photography so I would not have this problem in the future. He said that the shop assistant had shown him some of my photos and they contained child nudity and this was considered inappropriate. I was outraged that this man and his assistant accused me of child nude photography!!! All my models are over 18 and have signed model release forms!

My friend, who had patiently accompanied me throughout the exercise, pointed out that my photos have been exhibited publicly in many galleries in Canberra, Sydney and the south coast of NSW. But I did not want to get into a discussion about what constitutes nudity. Instead, I wanted to read their definition of ‘inappropriate’ so I could understand which of my photos could and which wouldn’t be printed at K Mart in Belconnen. So I asked again to see the store policy. The photography manager said that they did not have a copy and could not print one, despite the early advice of the sales assistant.

Then the store manager came. She said that they would have to get a copy of the policy from head office. K Mart Australia’s head office is in Melbourne 800km away! So it was clear that I was not going to be given a copy of the policy to read there and then. I then pointed out that they expected their customers to make decisions about appropriateness without access to the store policy! She replied that they usually had a copy, but at the moment they did not. Could they post or email it to me, she asked?

So I cannot get K Mart Belconnen to print all my photos because I cannot make an informed decision about which ones will be deemed ‘inappropriate’ and which will not. I would like to comply with their policy on appropriateness but I cannot do this until I see the policy and I cannot do this until K Mart head office posts or emails me a copy. How long will that take? In the meantime, no customer is able to comply with the store policy as they cannot access that policy.

The store manager said that a copy of the policy would be emailed to me. 24 hours later I am still waiting. K Mart Belconnen is open 24 hrs a day, but they cannot send an email in 24 hours!

Sydney Children's Hospital withdraws art exhibition

A photograph of a boy by Archibald Prize winning artist, Del Kathryn Barton, has caused Sydney Children’s Hospital to cancel a charity fundraiser exhibition, “Out Of The Comfort Zone”.

It is a beautiful photograph with the boy standing in front of a rose bush and decorated with toy eyes. His stance is relaxed and observing the viewer. He is wearing slacks, but no shirt. Unfortunately the Sydney Children’s Hospital board has deemed this image as inappropriate to use in their fundraising art exhibition - because of a lack of a shirt.

This is very sad. When did a child’s chest become offensive? Do we have to place children in Burkas to satisfy the conservatives? Artists are becoming afraid to represent children at all.

“The fear around any form of representation of children is rendering them invisible.” Tamara Winikoff from the National Association for the Visual Arts said.

“The depiction of children in art has steadily diminished in recent decades as attitudes to childhood itself have changed.” Felicity Fenner, Guest editor, Artlink magazine.

Surely a children’s hospital should celebrate depictions of children, especially beautiful images such as this one. I cannot fathom why the photo is deemed inappropriate by the hospital board. The boy was Del Kathryn Barton’s son and he is not doing anything provocative.

If a bare chested child is seen as offensive, then heaven help the surf life-saving community. Life-savers have been an integral part of Australia’s identity, along with beaches and the outdoors generally. Go to any beach or swimming pool in the country and you will see dozens of bare chested children playing joyously, feeling free.

These incidents are becoming more frequent. Art is being censored by conservative attitudes that restrict artists’ freedom of expression. I do not think that art should be held to ransom by a small alarmist minority. Do not get me wrong, artistic freedom is not a licence to harm anyone. But there is absolutely no evidence that any harm has been done or even has the potential to be done by showing this photo. Is our community becoming afraid of the body? Are some people so afraid of their sexuality that they are projecting their sexuality onto children. This boy is not posed in a sexy way, he is simply standing. He is obviously not afraid of the camera or the viewer. He does not look pressured in any way.

As I said in my Christmas Greetings, God made our bodies and we should take joy in that and celebrate how wonderful our bodies are. We should all feel a great sense of dignity in living in bodies that God has made. “For we are God’s workmanship,” Ephesians 2:10. This boy stands with dignity.

As an artist, I am concerned what this means for my art practice. Some of my women look very young but I make sure all my models are over 18, even checking their ID if I am unsure.

See related articles from The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, WA Today newspapers, Yahoo, Nine MSN and the ABC.

Labiaplasty

Last night I watched “Hungry Beast” on ABC TV. This program, presented by plucky young people, picks out interesting and controversial snippets of news and themes. To quote from their website, “ It covers everything from the silly, to the serious, to somewhere in between; always from a different perspective.” Last night was an article about labiaplasty. You may view this online on the following web address. I am writing this link out in longhand, separately because the clip contains images of genitals and talks about genital surgery. These images are rated as M15+ and if such material offends you, do not click on the link;
http://hungrybeast.abc.net.au/stories/labiaplasty

There were two aspects to the report;
  1. the censorship laws that allowed full frontal nudity only if labia are not visible
  2. the increase in the number of real women having plastic surgery to cut off their perfectly normal, healthy labia.

The censorship laws are accommodated by some magazine editors by manipulating photographs of women and trimming their labia digitally within Photoshop. The women models remained healthy and intact, but of course the image is a construction, not a true representation.

Unfortunately the publishing of these altered images gives the public the impression that labia are not normally visible. Normal women are seeing their genitalia as ugly and in need of modification. The plastic surgeon called it “surgical improvement”! Of course he would, it helps his business to call it improvement. I am horrified by this. Surely labiaplasty is genital mutilation. All surgery carries risk, infection, poor workmanship, healing problems, scarring, loss of sensation, even death from complications. This is a lot of risk for something that is not even a true representation of women and is totally unnecessary.

Censorship laws are supposed to protect the population from damaging sexuality, not promoting genital mutilation!

There is also a possible connection with pedophilia. Sexually immature girls have small labia that are not visible from the outside - “a single crease” to quote the Photoshop artist. When a woman reaches puberty, she grows breasts and labia. These are normal secondary sexual characteristics of womanhood. The censorship laws are requiring adult women to look like little girls! If men become habituated to these images, it is a small step to finding under age girls themselves sexually arousing and desirable.

Censorship laws are supposed to protect under age girls, not turn them into objects of desire!

Our culture already sexualises under age girls to a great extent causing enormous suffering to women. This is one more example. You can read more about the sexualisation of girls in, “Getting Real” edited by Melinda Tankard Reist, published by Spinifex, 2009.

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.

Types of Nudity

As an art photographer who also photographs nudes, I have been following the debate about photographing children in the nude with interest.
Nudity has many meanings and purposes. Sexuality is only one meaning of nudity.

1. Nudity can represent innocence. Cupids for hundreds of years have been depicted as nude children. Many cultures around the world allow children to run around nude until they become adults. They are considered cute and sweet because of this innocence.

2. Nudity can represent freedom. Many beaches in Australia in the summer have nude children happily playing, some have specific areas for nudes. During my childhood, there were many times the neighbourhood children went 'skinny dipping' in our local creek. This was experienced as a great sense of freedom. The parents were not worried and none of the children felt threatened by the nudity.

3. Nudity can represent our common humanity. Nudity takes away the trappings of culture, status and employment. There is a common humanity to a group of people in the nude. Many "naturist" clubs experience this and enjoy a sense of community. A link to social nudism.

4. Nudity can represent caring. A great deal of child care involves nudity, for example, bathing, toilet training, getting dressed. When people are old or become an invalid, again nudity is a part of caring. None of us should withhold care because we are afraid of nudity.

5. Nudity can be healing and wholeness. A complete physical examination from a Doctor requires nudity, also many procedures, imaging and operations. Some of the healing arts require nudity or partial nudity, at times, for example, a massage, or acupuncture. Healing can be greatly impaired if society and individuals become too afraid of nudity. Imagine trying to give birth with cloths on! Yet that is what happened for centuries in many cultures, potentially endangering both mother and child. Doctors themselves must study nude photography in medical text books. It is impossible to show examples of medical conditions covered by clothing.

6. Nudity as activism, political statement, social comment or dramatic humour. Sometimes people use nudity to articulate their views in a dramatic way. Animal rights, tree-hugging hippies, streakers, women's rights etc.

If we as a culture say that it is always unacceptable to show a child in the nude, then this gives a very negative view of the body to children. They grow up fearing their bodies. They grow up hiding their bodies and not really knowing what is usual or unusual and what needs checking.
I am concerned at the moral panic about nudity in Australia at the moment. I am referring to the recent case of a six year old girl on the cover of Art Monthly magazine. This moral panic is likely to curb free speech and creativity in Australia. There are many more artistic and symbolic ways to view nudity that enhance human experience. Artistic creativity should be encouraged in society, it expands our thinking and enriches our lives.

God has made our bodies in a very beautiful way and we should be able to look at our bodies without thinking about sex all the time. 

The Gruen Transfer - feminine hygiene

The advertising of women's sanitary products was featured recently on "The Gruen Transfer" on ABC TV, episode 6, 2/7/2008.  It is sub-titled: feminine hygiene; the things with strings and the things with wings! The commentary is lively, making fun of the language used to advertise these products. There are a lot of euphemisms and symbolism around this issue. No-one is willing to be frank on public TV. Some of the ads play on embarrassment, double meanings and timing give the advertising humour.

It was unfortunate that the panel consisted of only one woman and four men! The men, to their credit, do show a lively interest. I love the suggestion that tampons should come wrapped within a kinder surprise!

I wanted to see a young woman's opinion. The advertisements are aimed at young women, and it would have been interesting to know how young women react to these issues. Are there different attitudes with the different generations? Are young women more free and open, or are they trying to hide all the evidence of menstruation as past generations did? How does menstruation fit in with their lives? Do they have different needs and expectations of the products because of their different stories, adventures and experiences?
I did enjoy the humour and suggest you check it out on http://www.abc.net.au/tv/gruentransfer/download.htm