Female nudity: Is it more or less controversial in the context of pregnancy?

November 16, 2012, 2:19 PM GMT+0

Previously on Labs we have asked your opinion on whether nudity was a taboo in Britain.

Most of you said it was indeed a taboo subject that ashamed the vast majority of people.

Now, the subject of nudity has been brought back to the public eye.

A recent portrait of actress Sienna Miller by British painter Jonathan Yeo, captures her heavy pregnancy by showing the actress completely unclothed.

The portrait has been officially unveiled in Berlin in the artist’s exhibition Under My Skin, but can also be seen in the British media, with the image featured in many newspapers.

The artist defined the work as showing the actress in a ‘moment of transition between youth and parenthood’.

However, he added that some ‘sections of society are still uncomfortable with the appearance of pregnancy and images of naked expectant mothers are rarely seen.’

Lucy Davies predicted in the Guardian that Sienna’s naked portrait is likely to get as much media attention as Demi Moore’s appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair twenty-one years ago.

Yet Jonathan Jones believes that naked pregnant women have become less controversial than a stereotypical ‘gorgeous’ nude, ‘the equivalent of a Page 3 picture in the Sun.’

He writes in the Guardian that ‘pregnancy is now a fig leaf making nude images of women acceptable to all sections of society and all divisions of media’, suggesting that a nude being pregnant removes what might otherwise be seen as a gratuitous sexuality from the image.

We asked Labs participants how comfortable or uncomfortable they were with seeing images of naked, pregnant women in the media. Plus, we wanted to know whether they thought it was more or less controversial than an image of a non-pregnant naked woman.

Click the headings below to see the summary of Labs participants' thoughts, as well as their comments.

Labs participants who were very comfortable with seeing images of pregnant naked women in the media

  • Many participants believed that seeing a naked human body is natural and beautiful, especially in pregnancy. They thought it was perfectly acceptable for pregnant women to reveal their bodies:

“The human body - male or female - is a thing of beauty and seeing nudes is perfectly natural, sensual, but not necessarily erotic, thing” David, London

“Naked pregnant women are very natural and beautiful - the women look to be in full blossom and are radiant. A really beautiful sight. People who are upset by such images clearly have problemsAnon

“Because nudity in all forms is natural, and that we feel uncomfortable about seeing nudity combined with one of nature's greatest blessings is a rather sad indictment of how afraid of being free to express ourselves however we feel like” Anon

“Pregnancy is just so miraculous; I would find images of a pregnant woman fascinating. The image of imminent new life in its protective "wrapping" is very appealing” Anon

“Nudity in context is not something anyone should be ashamed of. The female form while pregnant is one of the most natural states of being humanLiam, Derry

  • Some thought nudity was wrongly associated with sexual desire, while in reality it does not always connote that.

“Nudity and pregnancy are natural/normal aspects of the human body. Nudity does not automatically equate sexual excitement; this it would seem is the reason behind most people's discomfort, that a nude pregnant woman would become a sexual object” Anon

  • Some participants said they would not find it offensive, but it largely depends on the manner it is done in.

“I do not find it offensive, if done in the correct mannerMark, Chafford

Comfortable as long as images aren't sexualisedAnon

“If it is within TASTE it is perfectly acceptable, innocence a great approach. If with sexual connotations, then completely distasteful, vulgar” Irene, London

“It just depends on the image. I have painted pregnant nudes myself and I think a pregnant female body is particularly beautiful. I think if she were doing a 'Sun' type pose, I wouldn't feel so comfortable” Miranda F, London

  • Some participants thought it was fine to show naked pregnant body now, but it would not have been some years ago.

“We live in a modern world, where the younger generation now feel that it is not an issue. In my father and mothers time it was not considered to be ok, probably from their Victorian-inspired pastJB Moffat

Participants who were fairly comfortable with seeing images of naked pregnant women in the media

  • Others said nudity is nothing to be ashamed of, and there is nothing wrong with images of nude women in the media, regardless of whether they are pregnant or not.

Nudity is nothing to be ashamed of- we've all seen people naked at some time in our lives, and we should grow up and get over our fear of seeing people naked in public media. Being pregnant or not doesn't alter this” Anon

Participants who said they felt uncomfortable with seeing images of naked, pregnant women in the media

  • Many participants were concerned that posing nude could portray the woman in a negative light as a mother. Some also outlined that the child would not feel comfortable seeing these pictures in the future:

“I don't mind female nudity at all, but when I see a pregnant woman all I think is; what will the kid think if/when he/she sees it in the future?! GD, Warwickshire

“They are carrying a child and have to think about how they are portraying themselves as a mother, I'd hate to see nude photos of my mother, especially when she was pregnant with me” Joey

  • Some believed that pregnancy is a private and intimate matter, and should not be displayed in public through the media:

“Although I am very comfortable with the body of pregnant women I feel a little uncomfortable with the picture of pregnant women in the media because pregnancy is rather an intimate and private imageAnon

  • Other participants thought that nudity in general should not be displayed in the media, but should be kept private:

“I don't think nudity in general is a subject for newspapers and in general plays to a prurient aspect of men; I don't know any women who turn to page 3 the way some men do. Pregnant women are attractive and generally blossom with good skin and hair but nudity should be kept for their partners, not the mediaAnon

  • Some participants believed that images of nude women were objectifying women, and pregnancy is just a way to disguise it:

Objectification of women, but 'justified' by the fact they are pregnantAnon

We also asked participants whether they thought seeing an image of a pregnant naked woman or of a non-pregnant naked woman is more controversial.

Here’s what we found…

Most participants thought that neither an image of a pregnant naked woman nor of a non-pregnant naked woman was controversial.

Small number of participants felt that seeing an image of a pregnant naked woman was more controversial.

An even smaller number of participants thought that an image of a non-pregnant naked woman was controversial.

See the arising themes and participants’ comments below.

Participants who did not find either of the images controversial

“I find it very strange that some people - odd people - find any such images controversial. It takes all sorts, I suppose” Anon

Nudity, in context, Art, medicine and so on, is not something that I find controversial. I am not a naturist and I do have a certain level of modesty as do most people. But underneath we are all humanLiam, Derry

“I struggle to understand the mind-set of anybody who would genuinely find either controversial or offensive” Dave, Mawsley

Don't see the difference. The difference is when a woman's naked body is seen being violated or bound or abused as in pornography. Not just normal women's bodies, pregnant, not pregnant, young, old, large, small, black, white, scarred - this is who we areHelen, London

“The naked body is only natural. Neither should be controversialAnon

Participants who thought that seeing images of pregnant naked females in the media is more controversial

  • Only a small number of participants stated that they would find an image of a naked pregnant female more controversial than of a non-pregnant naked female. Here are people’s reasons and comments:

“There is a time and a place for everything, pregnant females is a form of exploitation!” donaghan@ntlworld.com

“As said before, what will the child think when it grows up and sees the image?” GD, Warwickshire

So many people I know do not like it. It should be a private thing Jn

Participants who thought that seeing an image of non-pregnant naked females in the media is more controversial

  • Most thought that a non-pregnant nude is more likely to be associated with sexual content.

“I feel pregnancy de-sexualises the female body a bit - slim proportioned bodies will be more often seen as sexual objects. The non-pregnant form has been historically used as decorative titillation, and the boundaries in this respect continue to be pushed. The naked pregnant form is some years behind the non-pregnant form in its exposure and exploitation in public view” Anon

“Because the element of sexual tease and unnatural invitation makes it talky and cheap. Objectifying womenIrene, London

“These type of women are only seen as a sexual objectKerry

“A non-pregnant woman nude is more likely to be connected to sexual contextAnon

What are your thoughts on the subject?

Add your voice to the debate below