UK- Naked Education pearl-clutchers, you’re wrong: Britain’s teens need to see more real bodies
UK/April 15, 2023/By: Natasha Devon/Source: https://www.theguardian.com/
A generation has been left to learn about bodies from pornography. Thank goodness for Channel 4’s nudity-adjacent programming
Channel 4’s Naked Education has, with tedious predictability, attracted almost 1,000 Ofcom complaints at the time of writing. The format sees adults with a range of body types disrobing in front of an audience of 14- to 16-year-olds. It’s overseen by the bombastic, boundary-pushing Anna Richardson and set in a school. It’s this latter fact that appears to have inspired the most pearl-clutching, with some even suggesting the show “promotes paedophilia”.
British culture has a messed-up relationship with nudity. For decades, breasts appeared on the third page of one of our bestselling newspapers at the same time as mothers using their breasts for their primary purpose in public (ie to feed babies) were branded offensive. Love Island remains bafflingly popular, yet shows like the one I co-hosted back in 2019 (Naked Beach, in which people who didn’t resemble Barbie and Ken spent most of the programme in swimwear) prompted public outrage. It’s almost as though nakedness is accepted in the mainstream if it’s specifically for titillation, but in any other context we turn into buttoned-up Victorian prudes.
The net result of this is we have an entire generation of young people who are learning about bodies via pornography and social media, with little or no counter-narrative. Nudity is not and does not have to be inherently sexual. To expose our flesh does not “invite” sexual attention or excuse the behaviour of predators.
We’re often encouraged to “think of the children” during conversations about censorship. Indeed, much of the backlash to Naked Education revolves around the claim it sexualises children. But the young people in Naked Education are teenagers, approaching or at the age of consent. Statistically, four in five young people in the UK have watched pornography by the time they reach 16-17. Most pornographic content depicts hairless, very slender yet pneumatic women pretending to derive enjoyment from being throttled by an improbably muscular man with an even more belief-suspending penis size. This is what many of them think intimacy looks like.
Alongside this, they hear commentators declaring that the bodies on Naked Attraction, another show within Richardson’s oeuvre, are somehow “gross”, distasteful and inappropriate. The message for your average person, then, is: “Your body is disgusting. No one wants to see it.” Imagine the damage that could do when you are grappling with puberty, hormones and the general confusion that characterises adolescence.
When it comes to their body image, the harm being done to young people is both tangible and disturbing. According to the charity Be Real, 52% of British teenagers often worry about how they look. As someone who visits an average of three schools a week delivering mental health education, I tend to think this statistic is on the low side. The Mental Health Foundation found one in eight British adults experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings because of concerns about their body.
Body image dissatisfaction has the potential to have an impact on every area of a young person’s life, including their academic outcomes. Research by Girlguiding found more than half of 12- to 14-year-old girls avoid everyday school activities because of concerns about how they look. Also according to Girlguiding, by the age of seven girls have internalised the idea that society values them more for their looks than their abilities or character. And this doesn’t just affect girls and women. A study from last year found the majority of British men now display signs of body dysmorphia, after being subjected to a relentless carousel of highly edited and stylised images via social media and film.
Numerous studies have found lack of body confidence stops people from getting higher paid jobs, being respected in their relationships, even from making healthy nutritional choices. We are setting young people up for a life of inner turmoil, disordered eating and taking dangerous risks with surgery and so-called tweakments.
To those who will counter “how is more nudity the solution to all of this?”, Prof Keon West of Goldsmiths, University of London published a paper showing that body image improves when test subjects are exposed to a diverse range of naked bodies. So, thank goodness for Channel 4, with its never-ending cavalcade of nudity-adjacent programming. In a world dominated by images of Kardashians and porn stars, it’s the last, self-esteem saving bastion of normality.
- Natasha Devon is an author and campaigner
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