In Defense of Nude Celebrities
By Martha Brockenbrough
Special to MSN Entertainment
MSN has a no-nude-photos policy, so if you're just here for the dirty pictures you can stop reading now.
For the rest of you -- the ones who subscribe to MSN for the articles -- there's something I need to get off my chest. And it's not my shirt.
I am sick of hearing about, let alone seeing, celebrity nipples. The plucked chicken skin of exposed celebrity crotches is worse. And Paris Hilton's oft-photographed posterior mudflap? How is that even physically possible?
Even so, I have no problem with celebrities who appear nude in pictures.
The proverbial scales fell from my eyes when I heard last week that Vanessa Hudgens of "High School Musical" was in hot water over a certain fleshy photo circulating around the Internet.
It wasn't that the sight of her smiling nubile form caused retinal damage. She actually looked pretty darned good in it, like the sort of cheerleader it was fun to resent in high school. Rather, I realized that much of the furor over naked celebrities is moronic.
We're born naked. We remove our clothes daily to shower. And even when we put those clothes back on, we're all still naked underneath, with the possible exception of men who have seriously hairy backs.
What's more, some of the greatest art in human history is chock full of naked people. And they're even in church -- something my mother never would have let me get away with.
I'm thinking here of the Sistine Chapel, which depicts the creation of Adam in full color, if not full glory.
(I'm just guessing that, if his picture were circulated online today some people might mock his assets.) The painting is almost 500 years old. God's had plenty of time to smite the chapel if nudity were really a terrible thing. But no. It's a huge tourist attraction that's even undergone a full restoration.
Somewhere along the way, "Thou Shalt Not Be Nude" has become our 11th commandment.
It's important to distinguish between topless sunbathing pictures of Jennifer Aniston and the sex romps of Pamela Anderson. There's nudity, and then there's porn, and there's a difference.
Hudgens, who was merely nude, had to issue a blushing apology for her actions. Even though Disney did the right thing by standing behind its young star, it still publicly criticized her judgment. The poor kid.
This Puritan view of nudity is a bad thing. It's had the effect of reducing us to a pile of snickering third-graders, seeking quick titillation when we could be spending our time pursuing more meaningful connections.
Mr. Skin, a popular Web site that peddles the flesh of celebrities, gets 1.2 million users a month, and between them they spend 8.7 million minutes looking at celebrities in the raw. It's the equivalent of the population of San Diego doing whatever they're doing that's taking seven minutes. And it's not just men. Typically, almost 17 percent of the people looking at adult content online are women.
But it's not just that it stunts our emotional growth. It turns body parts that are meant to be functional into the equivalent of a nuclear fall-out zone.
I'm talking here about breasts, of course. They're meant to feed babies. But if a nipple should pop out on television, it's apparently bad enough to merit a $550,000 fine.
Never mind that during the so-called "family hour" of television programming we can watch scenes of torture, sex, and all sorts of violence at a higher rate than ever, as the Parents Television Council reported just last week. (This is the same sort of thing, by the way, that gets "Casino Royale" a PG-13 rating despite a nude torture scene, whereas a movie with more than a flash of female nudity would automatically get an R-rating.)
No, sir, it's the spectacle of a nipple that apparently should offend us all. This might explain why women trying to feed their babies have been kicked off airplanes and out of public coffeehouses.
I was asked to stop nursing my baby at Disneyland, and believe me, no one tried harder than I to hide the bits. I not only have had the "I forgot my pants!" dream repeatedly, I even had a version of it in which I forgot my wedding dress, which is much worse, in case you haven't had that experience.
The whole Disneyland thing was humiliating, and it really pissed off my baby, who should not have been forced to eat in a bathroom. Who knows how many women have been shamed by experiences like these into using formula, which is inferior nutritionally, inconvenient and darned expensive.
This is not the only way the silly nudity taboo harms women disproportionately. Returning to Hollywood, exceptional and established actresses like Nicole Kidman and Maggie Gyllenhaal for some reason feel the need to flash skin in magazines to advance their careers, even as their male peers aren't compelled to do the same. It's no wonder the second- and third-rate starlets are showing everything they can. How else can they get noticed?
The cure for it, ironically, is to stop caring so darned much about nudity. If it doesn't rile us, then it's not going to be a route to riches.
Once that happens, we can turn back the clock, perhaps even to Michelangelo's time, and we can look at a picture of a lovely human specimen and appreciate it for its inherent beauty. It's a sad thing to turn the one thing that's truly ours -- our bodies -- into a source of shame.
In any case, I hope Vanessa hangs on to those photos. Not just so a traitorous friend can leak them to the Internet again, but so that she has a souvenir of when she was young and hot. Unlike the Sistine Chapel ceiling, that sort of perfection doesn't last, especially if you have kids.
Just ask that other once-lovely Disney talent, Britney Spears. But be careful where you're looking when you do. Last I saw, she'd forgotten to put on underwear. Blech.
Martha Brockenbrough writes the Cinemama column for the MSN Movies Parents' Movie Guide. She is the author of "It Could Happen to You: Diary of a Pregnancy and Beyond." She's also founder of SPOGG, the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar. She writes a fun-with-kids column for Cranium.com, as well as an educational humor column for Encarta.