I have grown to really love the human body over the last few years. The human form is amazingly beautiful to me and the more I learn about how it functions the more beautiful it becomes. I also love my body, something that I could not always claim. Throughout high school, and even into my military days, I was uncomfortable being naked and found myself to be incredibly unattractive. As my views have changed and I have stopped comparing myself to the male physique that is marketed to me I find I am much happier and I am more inspired to actually take care of my body.
I believe people would greatly benefit if they came to love their body, be comfortable naked alone, and become comfortable naked around others without an assumption of sexual contact. Loving myself and my body was a huge milestone for me and helped me re-evaluate a lot of things I once believed, I think that is why it is so important to me. Unfortunately, in American society the image of the body has been completely skewed through a combination of unrealistic expectation as well as a puritan view of the body that oversexualizes it. The three sources of this skewing that comes to mind is advertising, movies/tv, and pornography.
Advertising in the western world does the most damage to body image in my opinion. The airbrushing, model selection process, and plastic surgery puts forth an image that is not attainable by most people. To be bombarded with these images has an effect on people on both a conscious and subconscious level. This is the most serious offender, while pornography and Hollywood may cause problems most people are aware movies and tv shows are fiction, they are fantasy, they are stories. This is explicitely known from the beginning, with advertising the line between fantasy and reality blurs and we are told what we are seeing is real.
Hollywood plays a part in setting up unrealistic expectations for body, but without airbrushing the real harm comes from the censorship enforced by the MPAA. If you haven’t seen “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” I highly advise it, it is available on Netflix streaming. Hollywood creates an environment where the male body is used only as a joke, the female form is only for sex, female pleasure is often censored, and homosexual relationships are rarely given the same support that heterosexual relationships are. Essays upon essays could be written on this subject but for me the distortion of the body is what matters. The body is never shown in a comfortable and normal environment, instead it is sex or comedy. We have a society that says that showing realistic murders is okay for evening television but the presence of an areola is forbidden.
This reinforcement of the nude form being only allowed for sex is incredibly harmful. From school children giggling at art to dress codes that sexualize all flesh men grow up with no need to mature or practice self control. Instead of learning that the body has many functions we are taught that skin equals sex. I think people rightfully claim that Americans are desensitized to violence and in it’s place we have become overly-sensitized to the beautiful human form.
I believe pornography also has an impact on body image, but I don’t think it is as harmful as the other two. Certainly traditional porn features an unnatural “porn star” look that isn’t obtainable by the average person. I think this is particularly true when it comes to vaginal construction, there is a certain vaginal look with minimized labia’s that is pretty common in porn but is rare in real life (at least in my experience). Fortunately, porn is a very free market with a growing demand for amateur and “amateur” porn with realistic people. I think it is worth noting that the Australian government has worked to ban small breasts in pornography, basically telling society what a “real sexual woman” looks like. Within pornography you can also find evidence that nudity does not equal sex, but coming from the reverse direction. If you’ve ever seen one of the “Beautiful Agony” videos you know that just seeing the facial expressions and hearing the sounds of someone in orgasm can be incredibly erotic, no nipples, vaginas, butts, or penises needed.
The human form is a beautiful thing. It exists independent of sex and we would all be better off if we desensitized ourselves to seeing people in the buff. When every body is no longer seen as a sex object you get more value and pleasure out of sex when it happens. Making something taboo, forcing it underground, and placing unrealistic puritanical standards on society harm everyone. I think the first step is to love yourself and your body first. Strip down, look in the mirror, and just enjoy the wonder of you. Everybody is different, there is such beauty in variety but that beauty can’t be seen if all we see is sex or shame.
Note: I realize that I address the human form in general and the female form in particular. I think there is a good discussion to be had about how specialization of nudity has an effect on men viewing men and when I get my thoughts sorted out I may do a blog post.
Post Script: While I think Hollywood and modern marketing does a lot of harm I don’t believe there should be government intervention. A society that produces unrealistic forms is bad, but a society that sees violence (and all government action is violence) as an appropriate response to all ills is even worse. Education, discussion, and information is how we should fight.
As always I recognize that my views are skewed based on my gender, sex, race, and economic status. I certainly don’t claim to speak for anyone except myself. These are my perceptions as an individual white, middle-class, pansexual with a penis