In defence of nudity

September 10, 2014 § 7 Comments

I never thought I would ever have the image of a severed human head seared onto my brain. Two severed heads, actually.

One day, after a particularly nasty racist attacked me on Twitter, I made the mistake of clicking on his avatar. A severed head of a black person popped up on my screen, the eyes blankly staring off the frame. I nearly vomited. And then, scrolling through my timeline the other day, I saw that someone had posted a news report of a child who had walked into a village carrying a severed head. That was bad enough, but there was a picture accompanying the report and again, I was sickened by what I saw.

Post any kind nudity on social media, however, and anyone who tries to click on it will be confronted with all kinds of warnings and banners about the explicit nature of the image, just because it contains a penis or a pair of breasts? Just the other day a friend tried to post a story on Facebook about what real women’s breasts look like, without the aid of Photoshop or plastic surgery. Facebook would not allow it, thanks to 100 pictures of women’s naked breasts in all their splendour. Because heaven forbid we see an image of a naked body. Gasp.

Look, I know that there are lines here: that people may have issues around pornography and children and so on. But whether you like it or not, your children are going to be exposed to that stuff . I’ve interviewed enough experts in this area over the years to know that if you want your children to have a healthy awareness of their bodies and of sex, you need to educate them, and you need to do it early – when they’re three or four. You may not like the idea, but those in the know are all agreed.

The internet cannot be contained, you see, but your children can. You can teach them to love and respect their bodies, about good sexual health, and you can be aware of what they are watching on TV or doing on the internet. It’s called parenting.

But that’s not really what concerns me around this issue. My concern is the idea, that somehow, images of graphic violence are okay, and nudity is not. It’s not enough to tell us a boy walked into a village carrying a severed head – we have to be shown the picture too. We need to see the pictures of bloodied children who’ve been butchered in one of the world’s war-torn areas. When there’s been a fatal car accident, we need to see the body lying in the road.

I’m a journalist, and I understand the need to tell the stories of atrocities, not just to sell newspapers or generate web traffic, but because most journalists truly care about these things. They wish they didn’t have to report on them, but they know that if they don’t, a lot of people would get away with murder, both literally and figuratively. I get that. I really do.

But I think we’ve crossed a line here. When a boy arrives in a village carrying a severed human head, we should be focusing on the boy, not the head. On the why and how of that story. On who the poor soul is who died. We don’t need to see the head. Some things are better left to the imagination, and with any luck, your imagination won’t know exactly what it’s dealing with.

It’s a dichotomy that disturbs me. I think we’ve lost our way a little. And frankly, I’d rather let my children be exposed to some good, healthy nudity. I’d rather that they – and I – see a million naked bodies, all shapes, sizes and colours, and in all their magnificent, unique, and varied splendour, than to ever have to see one severed head.

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