The stark truth about stripping off for charity
Some people, including zoo staff, just got naked at a ZSL London Zoo Streak for Tigers charity event for critically endangered Sumatran tigers. Naked people, male and female, some painted as tigers, streaked around the (presumably closed?) area of the zoo, all for a good cause, so where’s the harm? Well…
Whatever happened to raising money and/or awareness while keeping your clothes on? This isn’t really about the tiger-streakers – kudos, in my book, to anybody who helps animals, the collective name for Sumatran tigers is a “streak” (so, erm, there’s kind of a link), and at least, this time, both sexes were involved. Too often, it’s just women who are topless or fully naked – from the radicalised breast-baring of Femen, to the cyclical disrobing of animal rights charity, Peta. Then there’s the “free the nipple” protests – arguing that women should be able to publicly display nipples just like men do, and more.
When, in 1999, some Women’s Institute members posed for a nude charity calendar (props wittily positioned to obscure body parts), it was fresh and unexpected. As was Peta’s initial “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaign. And, further back still, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “love-in”. However, increasingly, it seems that nudity is a key default charity/awareness/protest position – to the point where it’s become almost drearily automatic to drag your bits out for a good cause. And, if nudity is being used, that usually means that sex is being used – and most of the time, that’s female nudity and female sex.
The protagonists furiously insist it’s asexual, while exploiting the fact that many will find it highly sexual
Questioning this, pointing out that getting starkers for a good cause has become routine and banal, tends to provoke criticism that you’ve got the (prudish) problem. There’s the attitude that society needs to address its own prurient mindset, there’s nothing shameful or disgusting about naked bodies, and, anyway, it’s always good to demystify the human form. On this last point, people can speak for themselves – increasingly, my body could do with all the “mystification” it can get. Though, even in youth, I never felt the need for an excessive amount of people to get naked around me. Those times when I wanted a “special someone” to get naked, I managed to make it quite clear – especially when alcohol was involved – in a forthright, mildly intimidating and depressing manner that demeaned everyone involved.
While I’m being facetious, the point stands that, at least in those kinds of scenarios, everyone agrees what nudity is for. Which isn’t always the case with the charity-protest version of nudity, where the protagonists tend to furiously insist that it’s completely asexual, while simultaneously exploiting the fact that a lot of other people are going to find it highly sexual.
If nude protesting/campaigning isn’t about sex, what is it about? If it’s about counteracting body-shaming, then fine – just be aware that this has already been done to death. If the point is about the over-sexualisation of the female form, then again, it’s been done (and done and done!) and fresh ideas are needed. If it’s more about examining society’s relationship with nudity, then, just like the nude television dating show, Naked Attraction, at least be aware that only a small, self-selecting group of (usually youngish, alternative-minded) people are likely to participate, so ultimately it’s going to say very little about general attitudes.
On the other hand, if nudity seems to be the quickest, easiest way to attract attention to your cause, then (sorry, nice tiger-people), that’s naff. Not that dissimilar to bikini-clad models being plonked on car bonnets to sell Ford Fiestas. Which is the point. If you’re the kind of person who’d object to nudity, or near-nudity – particularly, though not exclusively, of the female kind – being overly used in – advertising or entertainment, just to sell things, then why is it acceptable in charity or awareness raising?