NAKED ATTRACTION BARES ALL FOR BODY HAIR POSITIVITY (NSFW)

***NSFW***

New Channel 4 dating show Naked Attraction doesn’t seem to have created much furore (160 complaints to Ofcom at time of writing and just a slight ripple of discontent amongst the usual suspects). Indeed, apart from some nostalgic look backs at now defunct dating shows (think Blind DateMan O Man), each of which plumbed their own peculiar depths of the genre, for a show that deals in wholesale nudity a little after the watershed, on one of the UK’s major channels no less, people don’t seem very upset by the concept (I’ll get to this in a mo). We know well enough that we are not in a post scandal society and we of course remain obsessed with the ‘stickiness’ (see Sara Ahmed 2010) of bodily ideals so the premise seems ripe for some quotidian outrage.

The show’s concept is simple enough. Singletons get to select a date of their choice from a group of strangers chosen by the production company that gave us Gogglebox. The twist: the potential dates are buck naked.

Outrageous! Scandalous!

Admittedly somewhat disquieting.

Further twist: potential mates are revealed bit(s) by bit(s). Caged in harlequin light boxes, like museum displays, a frosted screen door is slowly raised as the lucky lad/lass whittles down their choices. Legs and genitals are the first to be revealed and in the inaugural episode Aina is introduced to twelve limbs and six penises.

Oooh. Her words not mine.

Aina and presenter Anna Richardson then adopt a kind of window shopping attitude to penis inspection until one of the unlucky members is dispatched with.

In a body hair context this first reveal is revealing because as Aina and Anna observe they (nearly) all shave their pubic hair.

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 14.39.31

These manicured manhoods certainly tally with the increasing trend and even expectation for manscaping. Yes, without full and proper reflection the hairlessness is growing and colonising male bodies too. This reveal though prompts another revelation. In a reversal of the ‘compulsive’ hairlessness norm Aina discusses how she does not remove her body hair.

And the body hair goodness does not stop there!

As the show wends on another twist: Aina too must go nude in front of her prospective dates. Yes, we get to see her wanted body hair. Visible female pubic and pit hair in abundance on British television screens. Patches of body hair which are met with approval/indifference from her potential matches. Pubic hair receives more positive PR as the episode unfolds when second singleton Mal admits to favouring a fuller bush and a cutaway animation extols the virtues of staying attached to your pubic hair.

 

Curiously too Mal’s final girls bet that she sports pubic hair. I’m intrigued by what it is about a fully clothed Mal that suggests she doesn’t remove her pubic hair and moreover what this suggestion says about her (to others). I guess specifically that it’s a certain kind of person who grows out their hair down there. Are you that kind of person?

The final unveiling is the voice. An extension of the body we might think of voice alongside our bodily fuzz which is both rooted in the body but extends beyond our epidermal contours into the world. Perhaps a part of us more readily offered to it. Signalling to it. A part of us that brushes up against and spreads throughout the things in the world – literally as we shed it and it floats off into the ether becoming caught up in urban tumbleweeds, wedged in book spines, even on occasion uneasily finding it in our mouths.

Now I don’t want to overcook the show’s revolutionary credentials. At the end of the day it’s a show about young people hooking up with other young folk in a market saturated with alternative, just as judgemental, dating options. Here the swipe is a slowing rising screen, and the audience 1.4 million instead of just one, but the base principles are the same. But these thoughts coincide with some reading I have been doing recently on the female nude in photography and performance art. Think the wonderful Hannah Wilke, the haunting Anne Brigman, the breathtaking/hair-raising Mona Hatoum.

Indeed, the nudity we see on Naked Attraction brings to mind Karl Toepfer’s taxonomy of the nude as text wherein he lays bare a number of ways we might read nudity in performance art. Following Toepfer, the nudity we encounter on Naked Attraction might be described as therapeutic ‘which works to deconstruct “idealized” (over-determined) perceptions of the body that inhibit the “healthy” formation of erotic desires’ (80) thanks to the diversity of nude bodies seen. It might be read as model which ‘makes nudity function as an “ultimate” critique of the relation between the body and the gaze of the Other, for whom the body is a “model” of his or her desire to see or be seen’ (82) by drawing attention to this very ‘itch’. Or it could be viewed as obscene, which the visible body hair specifically admits, where the ‘[t]he nude performer presents her body as a lurid object of desire (86), where nudity ‘transgresses some threshold of shock, [which] uncovers the power of desire to violate bodies and expose the spectator’s capacity for pleasure in bodily disgust’ (86).

What is lacking is any sense of pornographic nudity which ‘assumes that the naked body is the most powerful source of sexual excitement in the spectator’ (87) and indeed of the sexy and the sensual – which do not belong to Toepfer’s taxonomy – and in this way they recall the clinical, forensic, museological ogle of Lars von Trier’s Nymp()maniac and Sam Taylor-Wood’s Fifty Shades of Grey. Putatively warm bodies on display in the throes of passion but which fail to inspire tepid responses amongst spectators.

Nymphomanic
Nymph()maniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)
Fifty Shades of Grey
Fifty Shades of Grey (Sam Taylor-Wood, 2015)

Yet even within this fairly frosty affective and visual regime the constellation of different bodies seen on Naked Attraction does work to promote body positivity and diversity. Writing in 1985, Claire Bonney describes how ‘[p]hotographs being created today reveal a wide spectrum of possibilities for the nude, a greater tolerance of corporeal imperfection, and less adherence to a strict canon of sexual behavior. All of these innovations are welcome challenges to a genre previously dominated by the cinematographic and pornographic industries’ (14). Whilst obviously not keen on Bonney’s use of the word imperfection here, her acknowledgement of a broadening of horizons is certainly something that can be felt in Naked Attraction. Indeed, in a small yet significant way Naked Attraction reminds us that hairiness coincides with nudity and fleshiness. In essence, to be naked, to be nude is to be hairy too. It does so through visibility, through not expelling even the merest hint of difference or otherness (see Amelia Jones 2002, 963).

(Disappointingly) This week’s episode produced a fleet of shorn pudenda. Seven in all and barely a curlicue in sight. It made me strangely nostalgic for Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake.

There’s barely a Brazilian in sight and the so-called Hollywood style, that is, all pubic hair removed, reigns supreme. I should stress here that the objective of this project is not to be prescriptive about body hair. Body hair is ‘natural’, you should simply let it grow. It’s not a case of team hair versus team bare. It should always be a person’s choice whether or not they remove their body hair. However, the project does aim to restore a sense of legitimacy to this choice – to expose the veil of consumerist choice, to make it an actual choice by examining the cultural impetuses that gave birth to the hairlessness norm, to make it an informed choice, rather than a choice between plasticky products.

So as the series progresses, and whilst we doubtless wait for the celebrity spin-off, I will continue to survey Naked Attraction‘s topiary.

Body pos.? Simply seedy? Downright tacky? We literally shall see!

Channel 4: Body hair broadcaster of the year (maybe)!

Works cited:

Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness (Duke University Press: Durham and London, 2010)

Claire Bonney, ‘The Nude Photograph: Some Female Perspectives’, Woman’s Art Journal, Vol. 6, No. 2 (Autumn, 1985 – Winter, 1986), pp. 9-14

Amelia Jones, ‘The “Eternal Return”: Self‐Portrait Photography as a Technology of Embodiment’, Signs, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Summer 2002), pp. 947-978

Karl Toepfer, ‘Nudity and Textuality in Postmodern Performance’, Performing Arts Journal, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Sep., 1996), pp. 76-91

 

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