Diversity of the Nude American Female

This Flickr sideshow shows 150 American women, first clothed, then in “striking vicarious nude profiles.” Very interesting. Apparently it was first part of an art exhibition, but it appears that the person hosting the images at Flickr has little or no information on the exhibit.

From what I can tell it appears that most of the women appear to be in the same height, weight, and age range. While it would probably be more educational to show nude profiles of women of all shapes and sizes, this set of pictures does do a good job of showing the great contrast of body types even within these small frames while coming off rather asexually.

What I would like to see:
1) People who leave comments on these pictures that allow for real depth or analysis, rather than “Whoo! Hot!” and commentary on tan lines.
2) Representation of a wider range of women: age, race, height, weight, and please, disability.
3) A similar pictoral representation of the American male.

One and two are obvious requests, but I’d also like to see men have safe forums in which they can explore the body politic. I’ve been intimate with enough men who have had very real, serious problems with body image in one area or another that I feel the normalization of our, well, normality should extend beyond a female body politic. Number three should be just as obvious as my previous requests, but there is a social taboo put on men’s general expression of the body that should be eradicated.

As someone who still wanders between logic and cultural expectation when it comes to my body, I always feel better having access to this kind of imagery. None of these women fit The Standard. None of us do.


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21 Responses to Diversity of the Nude American Female

  1. Sarah says:

    I was surprised to see this: “Found via Something Awful”. WTF? Pictures of fairly conventionally attractive young women, surely not that horrible to look at?

  2. David Thompson says:

    “People who leave comments on these pictures that allow for real depth or analysis…”

    What sort of analysis did you have in mind? Her left boob is half a cup bigger and her butt is kinda droopy?

    Something Awful is many things, but leans toward irreverent and offensive humor.

  3. Jacqui says:

    It was likely posted on the SA forums (where they most likely made fun of the women and talked about how they were all either lesbians or “buttertrolls.”).

    Anyway, I would look more, but I’m at work. :) Maybe later!

  4. Lauren says:

    The exhibit might have initially been on SA, but not anymore. It’s on Flickr and offered with little but a two-sentence description. The comments are new, not from SA.

  5. Dylan says:

    What I thought was interesting was how often the clothed person would look a different age than final nude picture on the left. Sometimes the person looked older nude, but most often they looked younger.

  6. I was just wondering how old these pictures are? It’s just that I look at the fashions and there is some serious out-dated-ness, perhaps by more than a decade.

    The reason I bring this up is that I was thinking given the statistics that have been showing the ever increasing weight levels of americans, would a similar gallery today have larger women?

  7. Lauren says:

    Sarah, this looks to me like it’s about fifteen years old. Some of these outfits scream Beverly Hills 90210, the early years.

  8. Lauren, seriously … there were some shoulder pads happening that had some considerable Brenda action occurring … and of course, the abominations that were waist-high women’s jeans *shudder*

  9. Thomas says:

    Lauren, I’ll take up the invitation to talk about men and their bodies.

    I have a rigid standard for male bodies, including my own, that I do not impose on women. That’s not a conscious political stand; it predates my express feminism. I’ve had female sex partners from 95 to 300 lbs. I’m attracted to short, waiflike women, to muscular, athletic women, female bodybuilders, butches, rubenesque women with lots of bodyfat, women with large breasts, women with small breasts …

    But men should all look like athletes, and if they don’t, I wonder who would have sex with them.

    I swing widely, btw — I have the frame of a middleweight fighter, I’m 5’10, and as as adult I’ve been everywhere between 160 and 217. Now, I only start to look pudgy at the really high end of that range — some combination of build and clothes lets me get away with a lot. People who are usually blunt with me think I’m exaggerating when I say I want to lose 30 lbs. But anything over about 190 (and I’m there now, but headed down fast) makes me feel less attractive.

    I don’t know why I have internalized such a strong body norm for men. Whatever reinforcement I have received is so subtle that I can’t put my finger on much — nobody in my family had a big weight problem, but nobody was a competetive athlete either. I was a nerd in school, and I never emulated the jocks — even my high school sport, Tae Kwon Do, was full of misfits with no jock culture. I got through college just fine in on-again, off-again shape. Best I can figure out, I have internalized norms from action movies, sports and such that the hero may win with his brain, but he’s always an attractive guy with a reasonable amount of upper-body muscle and very little bodyfat.

  10. Well, when I was younger and had two young boys and baby-sat for other parents and their young boys… I realized that body parts are kinda like noses… each one looks a little different.

  11. Oscar says:

    Whoo! Hot!

    Oh, uh, whoops.

    Seriously–I kind of think that the you’re-supposed-to-look-exactly-like-Barbie sort of standards that you’re (rightly) finding objectionable aren’t so much a product of male sexism (though I know it exists, and I do chide my male friends when they start talking about particular parts of women as though they were some kind of excellent hardware) as they are a product of commercialism and TV and movies in particular.

  12. miss lori says:

    While i was watching this ms. lauren walked into the room and asked me if i thought these photos were incredible. umm, no.

    and not because these women were naked and average.

    simply because nude people are nude people. i spent two years studying massage therapy and was around bodies all day every day. the people that you see as stereotypically “beautiful”, the girls on the covers of magazines and the women you see in all forms of media are not good ideals for the human body, for me, it’s not about trying to attain some out there standard of beauty either.

    it’s simply because the “ideal” body is a raging pain in the ass to massage, it’s no fun. none. there’s no muscle mass there, you’re constantly running into bones and feeling like you could break them. some of the most beautiful people i have seen and had the chance to massage have not fit into the body ideal.

    i guess the point is once you see people naked all day, you stop caring about beauty standards and start caring about how their bodies fit together.

  13. Jeff says:

    Oscar: Why do you think commercials, television shows, and movies choose to portray this body ideal? Could it be because they are pandering to male sexism? Could it be because these corporations are often run by sexist men? You can’t just blame misogynist attitudes on “commercialism.” There’s no invisible hand forcing movies to propagate the beauty myth. Misogyny in individual humans is ultimately to blame.

  14. MJ says:

    Most of the women hv flat stomach.. wat about pics on pregnant women? & yes, like 1 comment – disabled women?

    To say that men do not care about their appearances is misleading. Some men preen more than women. It’s not constrained to sexual preferences too.

  15. Dunc says:

    Well, I’m not sure that it’s straight misogyny… There have been all sorts of strict proscriptions about “ideal” body-shape, for both women and men, for very long periods of time. For example, during the Stuart period (I think, I get confused sometimes), it was de reguire for men to have “athletic” calves, and the fashions of the time emphasised this. It was quite common during that period for men to stuff their stockings, in much the same way as it’s now common for small-breasted women to stuff their bras. And the current female “ideal” would have been regarded as deeply freakish and unnatural for most of history, despite the existence of equally strong mysogynist tendencies and prescriptions for the “ideal” of the day. Fat was considered the height of fashion once.

    There’s certainly something which makes people faddish when it comes to body shape, but I’m not sure that we’ve identified it correctly yet…

  16. Thomas says:

    I looked at the photos at home. My thoughts:

    (1) so much social messaging is in the clothes. Obvious, but still striking when presented so forcefully.
    (2) There isn’t all that much variation at all here. It’s a display of the variation in women’s bodies within a select age and weight range, excluding outliers. They exclude the very skinny, the fat, the old, the young (though, that for obvious reasons) and the disabled. I also would like to have seen a power athlete in the bunch.
    (3) So many breast implants. They stick out like a sore thumb.

  17. nipnic says:

    The project reminds me a bit of Vanessa Breecroft´s recent work. In her installations she often uses the nude female body to explore beauty and voyeurism. You can see photos of her 2005 show here:

    http://www.rp-online.de/public/bildershow_main/magazin/kultur/news/7566?picture_id=0

    It is interesting that in these photos happens exactly what Feministe noticed: while the women are all of different age and shape their body types still seem to be within a certain frame. They almost become indistinguishable as individuals what perhaps shall communicate the message that we are all pretty much alike in our differences, it is the nuances you have to look out for. What is remarkable is how much posing and pouting (and photoshopping!) makes a difference to nudity. A naked body is just a naked body in the sense as Miss Lori said. Just a little leaning to the side, up or down or giving a certain look would change the whole setting. It is interesting to standardize nude bodies to be able to compare or enjoy physical parts without sexual connotations. Although you could also say taking away the range of personal expression limits beauty.

    Personally the archiver and collector in me finds the systematic approach to female nudity interesting but I miss the context and credit – what was it intended for and by whom (exhibit, show, book), why is it now seen on a Flickr account of a 19 year old guy and how would the women like that? The platform of female nudity is still important…

  18. Lauren says:

    Thomas:

    So many breast implants. They stick out like a sore thumb.

    I noticed that too. Quite disappointing considering the “naturalness” (is that a word?) of the photos. It felt like an interruption of the brevity.

  19. badgerbag says:

    Two links – one to Body Impolitic, a blog that discusses body image, and one to their gallery for the book Familiar Men, with nude portraits of men “not conventionally attractive”. There’s good discussion on that blog of just these issues!

  20. Just to let you know that that photographic set on Flickr is now marked “private” and neither the photos nor the comments are available. I’m sorry; I really wanted to see them.

    Laurie Toby Edison and I will very likely comment on this entry on Body Impolitic in the next day or two, although not in as much detail as we would if we could see the photographs. If anyone knows where the originals were shown, or another web source to see them, we would much appreciate it.

  21. nipnic says:

    Debbie, the photos were originally published in a book called “Americans 1.0, Los Angeles 1994” by artist Akira Gomi.Here you can get more information:
    http://photoguidejapan.com/books/nudes2/ameri.html

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