Art of Woman

Realistic Female Body in Nude Scene Shocker

It is a privilege to introduce guest writer Jennifer Amos who has written this post. She has insights into how women’s bodies are portrayed in nude scenes in popular TV shows. I agree that the way women are portrayed in the media can have a huge impact on women’s body image and self esteem.


Realistic female body in nude scene shocker

Fans of British drama Downton Abbey may have either been upset or unmoved by the death of Lady Sybil in the third series that finished its Australian run last month. Readers of this site however may applaud her refusal to slim down for nude scenes when shooting the film Albatross recently.

Jessica Brown Findlay as the actress is known in real life has said that she has since regretted doing the nude scenes at all because she wasn’t aware she could refuse. She has admitted to a certain amount of naivety but she surely deserves admiration for refusing to conform to the supposedly ideal body image of ultra thinness.

Most films and television programmes do unfortunately still portray this ideal image that for most women is unattainable. Contemporary creative art and photography can play a role in promoting positive body images for women by avoiding the airbrushed super slim images so common across the popular media.

Young Australian women plagued by body image issues

It is crucial that young women and girls are exposed to as many positive representations of female bodies as possible given the worrying trend in eating disorders and body image issues. According to recent reports 
eating disorders affect as many as one in 10 Australian women. The research suggests that body image issues are presenting in younger children, especially girls, and around half of all 10 and 11 year old girls are unhappy with their body.

It’s a shame most young women and girls are more likely to see skinny models in magazines and painfully thin actresses on the big screen than read about how Jessica Brown Findlay admitted to eating burgers and drinking pints the night before shooting nude scenes. This is not always the headline news. The actress said she would never succumb to Hollywood pressure to be a size 0 and that she thinks it is terrible that women are criticised so much because of their bodies.

Brown Findlay admires strong women and recently enjoyed playing a strong female role in the television adaption of Kate Mosse’s best-selling novel Labyrinth. There certainly aren’t that many roles out there portraying strong women that go beyond the objectification and sexualisation of 
female body image but a few serve as interesting examples. Rather than eating burgers and not worrying about the consequences, Angelina Jolie trained for months and months and lived on a high protein diet to bulk up her muscles and strength before she filmed Tomb Raider. This was a role that was never going to have an idealised or realistic body image - instead Jolie went for powerful and worked very hard at attaining it through diet and exercise. Hilary Swank reportedly relied on protein supplements and shakes all day in addition to hard core training to be super fit and strong for her role in Million Dollar Baby. Strong, even powerful female role models on the big screen can only have a positive effect on young women but it would be great to have more realistic characters with equally realistic bodies that normal women can relate to. Young women should be able to recognise normal bodies up on screen or in photographs that aren’t the result of extreme fad dieting or hard core physical training.

Reality check for mainstream culture please

Cinema and television can sometimes be a great art form, but it does not work hard enough to help promote a healthy and positive female body image and sometimes it is guilty of doing just the opposite. Women and young girls are constantly bombarded with unrealistic and unattainable female bodies and images that rely on objectification and mythical ideals.

Art and photography can and should be used on a wider scale to reach more mainstream audiences with a positive message for women. Going beyond art galleries and niche exhibitions, art needs to be out there in the public arena portraying women as they really are.

Cultural and advertising imagery should not be relying on the safe Hollywood ideal of women that is ultimately so damaging to the self-esteem and body image of thousands of young women and girls. Only by changing the way women are portrayed in all cultural and artistic mediums can we hope to let young women and girls know that it is ok to normal.

Jennifer Amos

Reclaim The Night 2012

Reclaim the Night is an annual event where women gather to demonstrate against sexual violence by men of women. Once a year women and their men supporters walk around the city streets declaring freedom of movement for women. Our streets should be safe enough for women (and men) to walk freely without being molested or raped. Rape is a crime regardless of what time of day it occurs or location or what clothing the woman is wearing.

Violent men have often tried to deflect responsibility for their actions by blaming their victims. There is still a lot of victim blame in society, where the focus is on the victim’s behaviour or clothing or even the time of day or location, rather than addressing the perpetrator’s criminal behaviour. A civil society does not blame victims for crime.

Rape and sexual violence are not a result of clothing. Around the world, there are many cultures that do not wear clothes, yet these cultures have very strict marriage laws, incest laws and rape laws. Some people holiday in the nude, but they do not expect to be sexually assaulted. It is like going shopping. The advertising banners and signs are bright, obvious and enticing. It is hard to navigate past the armfuls of merchandise that vie for our attention in tightly packed shopping malls and stores, some are so close they brush past us when we walk through. We may be hungry or in great need for something, yet if we take any piece of merchandise without paying, we will be charged with shoplifting. Enticing and seductive advertising is no defence for stealing! Likewise, rape and sexual violence is not about the type or amount of clothing a woman wears.

There were many types of clothing featured in the march. Some women wore long sleeves and long skirts, some had head covering, some wore very short shorts showing all their legs and some had low cut tops. These items of clothing show a fashion preference and have nothing to do with consent for sex. Some women wear provocative clothes in our society, but we do not condone sexual attacks on them. Think of Lady Gaga, Madonna or Kylie Minogue. These powerful, talented performers are not inviting assault. Neither is the teenager next door who wants to look fashionable.

I wonder if a study has been done of the cloths that were worn by victims of sexual assault. My prediction is that most victims wear ordinary cloths because most sexual assault is committed opportunistically. In many cases, the victim is not even dressed up, the victim is simply going about her usual activities. I searched the internet for such a study and found many studies that assessed people’s attitudes, such as the paper by Maurer & Robinson, 2008.

I found none that has actually checked police records to find out what the victims were actually wearing.

This quote from skeptics.stackexchange.com by a policeman was very revealing however:

Having been in police work for 40+ years, I can say that how a woman is dressed has little or nothing to do with sex crimes. It's about opportunity. Our local serial rapist, The "South Side" rapist, attacked some 30 women in their homes. He could not even see them before hand, he forced his way in through a window and raped the victims at knifepoint.

– M. Werner May 10 '11 at 15:01

I agree with the conclusion from a fact sheet from Rape Crisis Ireland:

Attitudes that blame victims of rape excuse perpetrators and reduce the likelihood of the prosecution of rapists. Such attitudes thus increase everyone’s vulnerability to rape.

(Download fact sheet)

Here are some interesting articles published by Utah State University:
Myths and facts about rape
Friends_family_of rape victims
For men only_male rape victims

Let’s all stop blaming the victim!


I love the banner that the demonstrators carried. It stated in hot shiny pink letters “There’s nothing sexier than consent”. I agree. Sexual love and joy should be promoted and spoken about openly in society so that all adults have their sexuality respected. There is no place for coercion or intimidation. Consent is a basic foundation of respect for our bodies.
Photo of Reclaim the night with banner reading 'There's nothing sexier than consent'

Anatomy For Beginners - SBS

On Tuesday evening 18 May, I watched a programme on SBS TV, “Anatomy For Beginners”.

This has been a fascinating series of documentaries showing how our bodies work by dissecting plasticised cadavers and by skilled painting on live nude models. Presented by pathologist Professor John Lee, Dr Gunther von Hagens expertly and deftly dissects the human body in a way that shows how the various organs and systems connect.

I watched the episode titled “Reproduction” and was amazed at the intricacies of the inner working of a woman’s body. Dr von Hagens had a series of foetuses in different stages of development. I was looking forward to the different phases of the womb during the menstrual cycle.

Yet not one word was spoken about menstruation! How can a programme about human reproduction ignore menstruation??? Menstruation is fundamental to both woman’s fertility and her sexual availability. We were told the full workings of ejaculation. Why not menstruation??

Dr Gunther von Hagens dissected a womb yet did not explain about the lining and preparation for implantation, nor the menstrual cycle that cleans and replenishes the womb.

This oversight confirms to me that there is still a great deal of silence and denial of menstruation. Despite our scientific culture, there is still an unwillingness to acknowledge this important part of a woman’s body. Menstruation occupies up to one quarter of a woman’s life during her fertile years. This is a lot of time and it impacts on a woman’s life in important ways.

But Professor John Lee and Dr Gunther von Hagens did not think it important enough to even mention during an episode devoted to reproduction!!

You can see the episode here.

"Period Piece" - 20 May to 6 June 2010

Exciting news!

My solo exhibition, “Period Piece” will be held in the Huw Davies Gallery, Manuka Circle, Griffith, ACT.

Period Piece is a statement of respect for women’s bodies, not a response to men’s fantasies. The subtle eroticism and sexuality are used to express what being a woman feels like, with a focus on what menstruation means and feels like in emotional and philosophically symbolic terms.

Because all clothing is a product of a particular culture and time in history, many of the women in “Period Piece” are naked. Nude bodies reduce the distracting influences and are therefore timeless. I use black and white to represent any woman regardless of ethnicity. These images express experiences common to all women.

In many cultures and in the past women have been taught to feel shame about menstruation. There are many rituals and exclusions that frame the menstruating woman as dirty, polluting and someone to avoid. My photographs challenge these prejudices and tabus. My images are confronting, dramatic and surprising, but they are also beautiful and designed to enhance women’s perception of themselves.

Secrecy, prejudice and lack of knowledge can have health implications for vulnerable women. It is difficult for some women to candidly discuss their menstrual problems even with doctors. This body of work helps to open that dialogue. To support women’s health I am donating 10% of sales towards endometriosis research.

I am thrilled that Dr Anne Sneddon, specialist from Canberra Endometriosis Centre will open this exhibition.

The exhibition features 14 original digital photographs printed on archival rag (Canson) in a limited edition of 25 signed prints.
“Period Piece” images are not shown on this website. Ten of the images have not been exhibited before.

You are invited to the opening at 6:00pm on Thursday 20th May.

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.

Naked Flames - Escape ArtFest 2009

This spring has been unusually cold. It was clear that the number of visitors to Escape ArtFest were down on previous years. Even some of the hotels had “Vacancy” signs. Despite this, Naked Flames was well received and the opening was well attended.

Again there was an interesting variety of arts - textiles, sculpture, paintings and photographs.

The theme of Naked Flames was articulated in various ways. Jodi Stewart had passionate lovers embracing in private to contrast with Barbie Robinson's public kiss in Paris. Pauline Mager's photographs of women were imaginative fantasies that contrasted with Malcolm Smith's more direct, sharply articulated and carefully constructed style. Ian Baird had a candid photograph of a group of revellers enjoying an evening show. Richard Lamond and Paul Haslam created amazing flame sculpture with wood and metal that reminded me of the destruction of forests, yet it had a symmetry and grace that reminded me of a Lotus blossom. Alan Baptist's skill with drawing was a delight to behold. His work is amazingly detailed. Marie Lund showed the secret love of bees deep within flowers.

There were many other interesting artists at this well received show.

Here I am with two of my images at the opening.

Body Painting

Medical students have always had difficulty studying anatomy using flat book images. There is a big difference between a flat page and the real living body. The way the organs and muscles fit together, the three dimensional curves, the scale and size and variety of body types. Here is a novel way to bring the body to life and teach anatomy. See this article from Australia’s ABC
Body Painting Helps Anatomy Lessons.

I like the way the body is used as a canvass. It gives the illusion that the skin is transparent. This is humanity in the raw and shows that we are all the same under our skins. There is no racism, no preconceptions. In a way this art is confronting how we experience our bodies and shows us all as vulnerable.

So is this Art? Should the model be nude? Personally, I think the model should be nude as a logical continuation of the painting. The underpants do not add to the learning at all and detract from the effect, they look contrived. The effect reminds me of Damien Hirst, “The Virgin Mother”. I think underpants would look silly on her too and even runs the risk of changing her from a body to a sex object.

However, this body painting exercise looks like a great learning experience. I’m sure it is fun to do also. Perhaps I should learn anatomy!

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.