If I See Another Bare Breast on Television, I'm Going to Scream

As shocking as it may sound, it is possible to convey that a character is interested in sex and relationships without physically stripping her naked for us to look at. It happens with dudes all the time.

May 24, 2013 at 2:00pm | Leave a comment

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Would've been perfectly fine to keep the camera up here, bros. (Image via HBO)

Listen, I like nudity. I like when people feel comfortable being naked in public, and I sure as hell like being naked there myself. I am all for continued showcases of how interesting and varied the human form can be underneath all our cardigans.

But I swear to God, if I see another bare tit on television, I am going to fucking scream.

This never used to bother me. A few years ago, I was all aboard the breasts on screen express, population my boner. I thought TV shows and movies that were packed with tits were subversive -- that any squeamishness at the casual showcasing of actresses' breasts was just a byproduct of living in sex-scared America. After all, I thought, these breasts were just a symbol of women's sexuality, and drawing attention to that is never a bad thing, right?

Plus, let's be honest. I like breasts. I like to look at them. Even today, it's sometimes hard for me to think critically about media when there are boobs involved, because the part of me that hung up posters of lady-wrestlers in her closet at the ripe age of eight is totally high-fiving herself.  

But after seeing show after show try to substitute bare skin for character development when it comes to female characters, I've finally snapped. So I'll say it: I am tired of seeing boobs on TV and in movies.

The weird thing is that even as I say that, I can feel myself coming up with  counterarguments. "Lots of these shows have naked dudes, too!" "Being naked is part of that actress's character!" "Nudity isn't sexualized in this context because she just emerged from a fire with her baby dragons clinging to her bosom!"

That's how ingrained this idea is in my brain. It's like the presence of naked women is so necessary to onscreen enrichment that there's no way to even fathom continuing the show without them. I've heard those counterarguments so many times that even my own brain is spitting them back to me in an effort to disrupt my own conviction.

But for once, I'm putting my foot down. 

For one thing, most of the time, the framing of these scenes doesn't seem to actually establish a character's background or personality or much of anything at all except "LOL TITS." Take the random, unnecessary Carol-in-a-bra scene in the latest Star Trek that Lesley brought up yesterday. (I know Carol isn't actually naked in it, but it sets up the same kind of issue.) 

I've heard a few people try to argue that that scene presents Carol as being in tune with her sexuality, or even that it was included to counteract the ugly-lady-scientist trope, but I have to disagree. In that scene, Carol is literally presented as a passive, unwilling object that both Kirk and the audience can feel free to ogle at will. The presence of her nearly-naked body offers nothing to the plot or the dialogue.

Such is the case, I think, with the vast majority of scenes where topless or naked women appear onscreen. Here's a fun mental experiment: the next time a partially-disrobed woman pops up in your media of choice, imagine what the scene would be like if she weren't naked, or, rather, if the camera didn't linger on her naked body like it was looking for a show. In the majority of scenarios, the scene wouldn't crumble into dust without the foundation of cheesecake holding it steady. 

I'm not suggesting every movie go through covers-to-the-chin Flintstone-style rigamarole during bedroom action, but it honestly gets old for me to see molasses-slow camera pans over actresses every time their characters hump. Not every "hurried changing" scene has to be about catching a panty-shot; not every scene where sex is mentioned has to include flashes of ass.  

I think those shots do the viewer a disservice, really: They suggest that we're incapable of getting through an entire film without being reminded that underneath these actresses' costumes, there are sexy partsI Like a movie's not worth seeing or a show's not worth watching without a healthy dash of nudity included. Or, for that matter, like we won't believe there's actually sex involved unless we see some pussy. 

As shocking as it may sound, it is possible to convey that a character is interested in sex and relationships without physically stripping her naked for us to look at. It happens with dudes all the time. 

Which brings me to my other point: OK, so why not just add a proportional number of naked men to balance things out? If we're objectifying one person, might as well objectify everybody, right?

 And really, I hear ya. I do. I am completely in favor of the idea of watching a show that was well-plotted and fast-paced and also contained an equal balance of nudity among genders. 

The thing is, though, that even in shows like that, it's almost impossible to escape the context of the universe we're living in as the audience members. 

I'm thinking specifically of "Game of Thrones," here, because of the recent rumors about a GoT actress refusing to appear topless in the third season. But in the majority of shows that include male nudity as well as female nudity, their bodies just look different. Women hardly ever appear naked onscreen who don't conform to a specific kind of conventional beauty; when they do, it's usually in a humorous or shocky way, like the show creators can't believe anyone would tolerate sitting through 30 seconds of non-Hollywood-beautiful-naked-lady.  

The dudes, meanwhile, get more leeway. I'm not saying that there aren't super-hot guys that get a lot of shirtless time, but there's also plenty of scenes revolving around naked politics that don't star the Khal Drogos or Gendrys. A male character can have a little bit of a potbelly in a shirtless scene and still be taken seriously as an agent of power and change in his universe; when a female character does it, she gets lambasted for daring to assault our poor, defenseless eyeballs.

Maybe this is just my own internalized sexism. But guys' onscreen nudity always gives me the impression of being so deliberate, like creators sat back and debated whether or not his dong was necessary for plotting purposes. By contrast, female nudity comes off as almost knee-jerk, like of course a woman's sexual appeal (or lack thereof) would have to be an integral part of her character. Like a female character couldn't be smart and wicked and badass without visually proving to us that she has a smokin' hot body to boot.

Audiences seem way more willing to grant that a male character can have more to offer a plot than just his hot bod; a naked female character (and whatever actress plays her) tends to get reduced outside of the show to her breasts first, brain second. (Link NSFW)

There are exceptions to every rule, obviously. I'm sure that there are shows out there that star a lot of women being fully-clothed and badass while nubile young athletes lounge at their feet and idly thumb their own abdominal muscles. Generally speaking, though, I haven't seen many. (Also, um, if that specific show I just described exists, please direct me to it post-haste.)

In a perfect world, I would be all for TV shows and movies that showcase all manner of naked-ass bodies, behaving realistically and interestingly and in ways separate from and integral to the plot. But until that happens, I'd rather push for no boobs at all.

Kate is Twittin': @katchatters