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Warwick University has been at the centre of a naked calendar row in recent weeks. Its two rowing clubs, one for female rowers and one for male rowers, have both decided to pose for naked calendars in order to raise money for Macmillan. However, following comments that the female naked calendar is ‘tacky’, questions have been raised as to whether posing for a naked calendar is actually contributing to an objectifying culture. Layla Haidrani, a feminist student from Kent University, argued that: “groups of women posing semi-naked on a field with sticks doesn’t sound like a fundraising initiative for charity, it just sounds tacky.” So are naked calendars really the way to go?
Whilst it’s clear that these naked calendars have been done professionally, the point remains that both the men and women featured are selling their bodies for profit, whether that profit goes to charity or not. The initiator of the female naked calendar at Warwick, Hettie Reed, commented that “what really is the harm in them?”, arguing that it wasn’t about “some kind of watered down pornography.”
Yet can she really say this for sure? Let’s not forget that every single member of the naked calendars at Warwick University just happens to have a perfectly carved, muscular body captured in an almost air-brushed appearing black and white shot. How can the makers defend the decision when it is clear that they are promoting an aesthetically pleasing version of the human body? You can be sure that should the calendar be done by people with the average body, it wouldn’t be nearly so popular.
The issue is that both the men and women doing these naked calendars are, whether intentionally or not, contributing to a society that continues to distort the human body. There is no doubt that naked calendars display the human body as a commodity that can be photocopied, sold and redistributed across the country. What is commonly described as a joke or just a bit of harmless fun actually subconsciously reiterates that we live in a capitalist world where even our own bodies just become another commodity to be sold.
Rather than being respected, the human body is more often than not a space for people to fantasise. Surely naked calendars encourage comments that are basically people drooling over the pictures – which is arguably the kind of “watered down pornography” that Hettie Reed set out to avoid. And it’s not long before the masses lambast feminism for complaining at anything remotely out of the ordinary for a cause that supposedly criticises everything, whilst actually forgetting that feminism is about gender equality.
Call me prudish, but I’d much rather see other ways of raising money for charity. Surely there are plenty of other methods to raise money that do not involve objectification. Some have congratulated the participants on their bravery and self-confidence to strip in front of a camera, but why not complete a sponsored ‘Row-a-thon’ instead? A naked calendar is only entertaining for the people participating and for that split second when you decide to give to charity and buy the thing. After that the people posing are simply forgotten about and tossed aside until the latest fad takes over their brains.
Lancaster University is not exempt from this either. Last year, Furness footballers put together a naked calendar, and even SCAN did one in 2010. Are we really happy with having naked calendars made on our doorstep? Is this not representative of the lad culture that Full Time Officer for Welfare and Community Tom Fox is trying to root out? And how can we be sure that all of the participants willingly stripped for a naked calendar and weren’t peer-pressured into it?
The only way that we’ll ever be able to escape this ideological nightmare is through conscious thought when it comes to something like naked calendars. We need to think about our actions and consider whether they are likely to provoke objectification and a culture that uses and disrespects the naked body, whether male or female. Naked calendars shouldn’t be considered a bit of harmless fun when they can be seen to endorse controversial behaviour. Let’s find other ways of raising money for charity and stop this objectification.