The University of Warwick Women's Rowing Club has released a naked calendar for the first time this year, in order to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Research, and specifically their research into cervical cancer. A matching (if ever-so-slightly rival) publication to the annual Men's naked calendar, which has been going for over four years, the women's calendar sought to expand on the already impressive profits the club have been able to make for this life-changing charity.
However, this year, the men's calendar can consider themselves well and truly surpassed as, while the men's calendar has sold out, it was only the women's that made national news headlines. As my twitter feed filled up with articles from the likes of the Huffington Post and the Mail Online, I couldn't contain my excitement that a) the Rowing club had done so well to get so much press and b) that I KNEW some of them!! (every slither of fame helps an aspiring journalist, no?)
But a closer look showed less reason for celebration than I first thought. The national coverage has stemmed out of a backlash against the Women's Rowers, with commentators claiming the "tacky" calendar is merely "an attempt to gain notoriety" and that "[they are] just helping women to be perpetually viewed as sex objects". Calendar organisers Frankie Salzano and Hettie Reed have had to defend their charity work against slut-shaming and "watered-down pornography" insults.
Now, for those of you who don't know me, I am best defined as a Feminist on the Rampage. Out to root out sexism in every corner of the planet I find it, woman-on-a-mission style.
But I fully, wholeheartedly support the Women's Naked calendar. Let me tell you why.
People are funny. One minute they're all 'I wouldn't call myself a feminist, you're all so radical and petty'. Then someone gets naked for charity and they're all 'this is despicable, it offends my feminist principles'. I have many things to say to these people, a large majority of which are not publishable, and the remainder of which involve advising them to try saying they're feminists in support of 'No More Page 3' or in support of educating young girls to be body-confident, rather than in support of dirtying some decent, good-natured charity work.
What these girls are doing is not selling their bodies, or pandering to objectification by men. What these girls are doing is realising the power the naked female body has, and using that for a good cause. Men will ogle them anyway, they will spend years with people objectifying their bodies totally outside of their control, so why not take it into their own hands and do wonderful, world-improving good with it?
And it's not just about using the negative in this world for good. It's also a really beautiful thing. These girls are stunning young women, who have defied the media's determination to make them unhappy and anorexic, and instead are happy and comfortable in their bodies. There is no airbrushing in these calendars, no special makeup and trickster lighting, just a confident group of young women showing other young women that you can be really proud of how you look naked.
It is interesting, as always, to see that the men's calendar has escaped any slut-shaming comments or outrage. We haven't seen the men of Warwick Rowing lambasted for selling their packages. They've been getting naked for charity for four YEARS and no-one's said anything.
So, while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I would ask those of you criticising the Warwick Women's Rowers to think first: if you have such strong principles about selling nudity, why is it ok for the men to do it, but not the women? Shouldn't you be splitting your anger equally? Somehow I doubt you will, because, as always, the sad world we live in, and the two-faced media we absorb, both cheerfully support anyone tending towards slut-shaming women.
I say congratulations to Warwick Rowing - men and women. Keep doing your great work, and keep being proud of your bodies. There are things more important in this world than a hint of tastefully-photographed butt cheek - things like the 76,000 people who die prematurely from cancer each year in the UK.
These calendars will raise vast amounts of money for Macmillan, at a time when the recession means charities are receiving less and less in donations. Perhaps the critics should come back when they've saved a similar number of lives from the horrors of cancer.