The entertainment industry is always changing. The boundaries that young and upcoming actresses are consistently asked to cross are being pushed farther back with every passing year. What was once taboo is now commonplace. But is that a good thing?
Quick disclaimer: I don’t judge any woman who’s made the tough decision of appearing nude on-screen. I do hope, however, that this can help shed a light on the negative effects of nudity in the media and the unfortunate pressure that many young women entering the entertainment industry feel every day.
I remember the first time I was asked to take off my clothes for a scene. Was it for a big movie for millions of people to see? No, just an acting class with thirty other actors. I didn’t want to do it; I didn’t feel comfortable exposing my body. But there was pressure - I was told by the teacher that it was necessary in order to become a real actress. The teacher of the class regularly asked the women to disrobe; some of them refused, some didn’t.
Fast forward two years into acting: I logged onto a casting website that allows actors to submit themselves for roles in the hopes of being called in to audition. After sifting through project after project, I came across a breakdown for a featured role on a popular show produced by a respected actor. I excitedly clicked on the link for the breakdown so I could submit…only to be quickly disappointed.
I was told by the teacher that disrobing was necessary in order to become a real actress.
The breakdown was calling for actresses no older than thirty to portray strippers. Topless nudity was a given. They asked the actresses comfortable with being fully nude to say so in their submission, making sure to clarify that those girls would get an extra $600 for consenting to full nudity.
This was hardly the first time I’d seen a listing like this - I’ve seen others just like it a few times a week for the few years I’ve been acting. But I was struck by this breakdown. The clear message was that the producers of this TV show had put a price on showing the bottom half of my body (and every other woman’s body) to millions of people…and it was $600.
Is It Really That Big of a Deal?
Once upon a time, in the era of black and white movies, on-screen couples wouldn’t even be shown in the same bed. Everything sexual was implied, never once shown. Cue the sexual revolution of the ’60s, which ushered in the narrative that nudity didn’t matter - bodies are just bodies. Sexuality wasn’t seen as sacred anymore, just a recreational pastime. Today, we’ve taken this a few steps further, calling nudity and promiscuity “empowering,” despite reputable studies displaying the opposite.
But is our culture right? Are bodies just bodies? Is it old-fashioned to hold the belief that disrobing for millions to see can harm not only the women doing it, but the viewers too?
The Pressure We Feel
Emilia Clarke, the star whose career was launched by Game of Thrones, has recently opened up in a heartbreaking interview about how she wept, terrified, before her first nude scene on the show at just 23 years old, a scene she didn’t know about before signing on to the show. As she gained fame, she eventually felt comfortable enough to ask the producers to stop doing them. Even today, she’s regularly pressured on sets to perform nude, being told that she shouldn’t “disappoint her GoT fans.” Her story comes out in addition to many other women’s testimonies, such as Jennifer Lawrence and Keira Knightley, who both felt so much pressure to disrobe, but weren’t comfortable with it, that they got drunk on set just to get through it.
Jennifer Lawrence and Keira Knightley both felt so much pressure to disrobe but weren’t comfortable with it, that they got drunk on set just to get through it.
With shows like Game of Thrones, Orange Is The New Black, Euphoria, and now The Witcher - all famous for gratuitous female nudity - it’s now considered commonplace, even expected of any young, career-hungry actress. We’re fed the narrative that in order to have any real career or be respected as a real actress, we must make peace with sharing our body with the entire world, because if we won’t, there are thousands of other girls who will.
How Hollywood Treats the Female Form
With just a cursory glance at the casting breakdown looking for actresses to portray strippers, or at any of the shows listed above, it’s clear to see with what little respect Hollywood regards the female form. Young actresses’ nude bodies are treated as set decoration and titillating props, furthering the story in no way. Strip club scenes are thrown in pointlessly; explicitness in love scenes has become conventional. Women are consistently pressured to be nude in order to bolster viewership, the most important thing to any network - far more important than some girl’s feelings, emotional well-being, or mental health.
It Doesn’t Just Hurt Actresses
But it isn’t only the actresses shooting these degrading scenes surrounded by forty middle-aged crew men who are harmed by the media’s push for nudity - it’s hurting viewers, too. The thousands of young men and women devouring these shows are encouraged to view these women as objects of titillation. We’re given access to another human being’s most intimate state but see them as no more than body parts. We’re given the green light to view the nude human form as something for sale. We then begin to see the people in our lives and ourselves in the same light.
Young actresses’ nude bodies are treated as set decoration and titillating props, furthering the story in no way.
I believe that the human body is beautiful and should absolutely be celebrated. But exploiting it for money and viewership, while passing it off as “empowering,” rings very hollow to me. What’s empowering is knowing our intrinsic worth, not only of our minds and souls, but also of our bodies - and not allowing some producer to put a price tag on the bottom half of our body.