Why Do We Have A Double Standard When It Comes To Nudity These Days?

From Rihanna's red carpet dress to Scout Willis's breasts. Nudity hasn't been treated equally this week


by Zing Tsjeng |
Published on

'She looks like a cross between Josephine Baker and a walking vajazzle,' my friend texted. We were talking about Rihanna (duh) and her near-naked, Swarovski crystal-encrusted CFDA dress.

So, it seems, is the rest of the world. Opinion columns have been penned ('powerful feminist statement' or ‘pure emperor's new clothes’? Take your pick). GIFs have been made. Everyone has become strangely obsessed with twerking – again. Who knew 230,000 crystals could be this compelling?

Another star has been waging her own near-naked campaign against clothes this week, too: Scout Willis walked the streets of New York topless to protest Instagram's policy on nudity. After sharing a picture of two topless friends, her account fell prey to the site's Community Guidelines, which advises users to 'keep your clothes on.' (Seriously, look it up – it's in the actual guidelines.)

'I am not trying to argue for mandatory toplessness, or even bralessness. What I am arguing for is a woman’s right to choose how she represents her body – and to make that choice based on personal desire and not a fear of how people will react to her or how society will judge her,' Willis wrote on xoJane - forced into a position where she was having to defend herself against accusations that the whole thing was an exercise in 'attention-seeking.' Depressingly predictable, right?

Society is at an odd stage in its relationship with female nudity. We're happy to lose our shit over a Swarovski-studded starlet, but once nakedness gets political – well, that won’t do. We’ll read girl power into a dress-shaped piece of fishnet, but feminist-inspired nudity is just not on.

That’s not to set Willis and Rihanna against each other – in fact, RiRi has tweeted her support for Willis’s protest – but Instagram’s topless ban is far from the exception to our double standards; it was only this month that Facebook allowed breast cancer survivors to post pictures of their mastectomies.

So what makes nudity OK? Is it a thin, semi-translucent piece of fabric? Is it the intention behind the act? Does being slim, young and conventionally attractive mean you can get away with it? If you get all dressed up, á la Rihanna, does that make it more acceptable than if you're browsing for flowers at a corner shop like Scout Willis?

We demand impossible things from women in the public eye. We task them with walking the thin, arbitrary line between titillation and trashiness. And if they falter, we penalise them for the crime of trying too hard. Think back to Janet Jackson at the Superbowl. Performing in a skin-tight PVC catsuit with half your boob out? Sure thing. Revealing a rogue nipple? A potential $550,000 fine for the TV network.

Rihanna’s shimmery wonder of a dress could have gone wrong in so many ways, and I’m not talking about someone stepping on her train and tearing it in half. She could have just as easily been branded a trashy mess – or, like Scout Willis, an attention-seeker. But you know what? That’s not just their problem. It’s ours.

Follow Zing on Twitter @misszing

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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