A few weeks ago, at the Big Chill festival, I did something I hadn't done in my adult life. I got totally undressed in front of dozens of other naked women; all of them complete strangers. No I hadn't signed up for Spencer Tunick's latest mass nude artwork (head-to-toe paint is not my best look); it just was a regular old communal shower. At the time I didn't think much of it beyond musing about where I was when they started handing out compulsory crap tattoos for twentysomethings. Then I returned to work and the latest example of the fashion industry's current obsession with showing 'real' women real-ly naked arrived on my desk.
From Crystal Renn's blossoming career and Mark Fast's curvaceous catwalks, to Hollywood stars like Kim Kardashian and Britney Spears forgoing Photoshop, in 2010 we haven't been able to move for fashion waving its jiggly bits at us.
But how real is all this realness, really?
Take plus-sized Top Model winner Whitney Thompson's nude shots for Love Your Body Day. What you see is a woman, admittedly fleshier than the average model, but no less flawless. It's fine to be plus-sized, it seems, as long as you are as free from stretch marks, cellulite, spots and blemishes as the skinny girls featured alongside you. The same goes for Kardashian and Spears' headline-grabbing, un-retouched images. Sure the art director stopped short of airbrushing them beyond recognition, but that doesn't mean KK and Brit-Brit weren't smothered in body makeup, lit to perfection and snapped by the best photographers the business has to offer.
The new au naturel nudity is something of a con; it's as aspirational as ever (which, if we're honest, is clearly the point) and to top it off, it isn't even new.
What after all are the Venus di Milo and Botticelli's nudes if not representations for the feminine ideal? Maybe those fleshy stomachs and generous hips represent a more attainable shape, but spare a thought for Renaissance-era ladies unfortunate enough to be born Kate Moss-like 500 years too early.
Perhaps what has gone wrong is the ratio of glossy mag 'real' to in-the-flesh flesh we witness. Communal bathing used to be commonplace while seeing the bright young things of the day buck-naked was rare. Now that the practice of scrubbing down with thy neighbour has all but disappeared outside the free spirited world of rock festivals, most of us see more of the Kardashian siblings naked than we do our own sisters. And while my job empowers me with the knowledge of just how much help these modern day di Milos get between walking into the studio and the public seeing their photo, pre-Big Chill, I had lost sight of just how beautifully normal real women really are.
So thanks, fashion, for the abundance of abundant flesh, but if I want to compare my curves with an actual human beauty, I'm heading down to the nearest festival showers. At the very least I'll leave thankful that blurry blue dolphin isn't permanently inked on my behind.
What is your take on the un-retouched trend? Leave a comment below and let us know.
By: Phebe Hunnicutt