This is a painting done by Jean-Francois Millet that he painted in 1866, before we, as a society, decided that women would be more attractive with their charms hidden. The image isn’t selling sex or a car or anything. It is simply pure art, a celebration of authentic reality. Then, the world changed.
Industrialization was beginning to put money into the pockets of more and more people who had moved from the countryside to the big cities where there was work. More money in the pockets of the middle class meant that smart and savvy businessmen began to invest in attracting that money into their pockets. People have money, and some people wanted that money and were looking for a legal way of getting that money.
At the same time, during the Victorian Era, there was a decided shift in the social moral code, especially in terms of women. The prevailing notion came out of a warped sense that seeing a naked woman would tempt men into sin. Women became the agent of Satan – well at least the bodies of women. This wasn’t really strictly about religion as prior to this, the Church had few misgivings about portraying Mary with an exposed breast feeding a nude baby Jesus. Adam was painted, front and centre in the holy of holies, the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
It wasn’t long after women were draped from head to toe that the mere glimpse of a woman’s ankle would excite a man. Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that a sexually stimulated man is a man who typically shifts his thinking from his brain to his instinctual nature. And it was in this context of the Victorian repression of sexuality, especially in terms of seeing the body of a woman, and the growing middle class with money to spend that advertising came into existence.
“The earliest known use of sex in advertising is by the Pearl Tobacco brand in 1871, which featured a naked maiden on the package cover. In 1885, W. Duke & Sons inserted trading cards into cigarette packs that featured sexually provocative starlets.” [Wikipedia]
In our modern world, it is hard to avoid the constant inundation of sexual images trying to convince us to part with our money. Something happened along the way that wasn’t intended – we began to compare ourselves to the images that were attached to the products. Real men drink xxx. Real women wear yyy. We buy the products and they don’t deliver the value we were really looking for. Repeated images get burned into our psyche so that we begin to unconsciously believe that to be a real man, we have to look like that man AND drink that kind of be; to be a real woman we have to look like that woman and wear that sexy lingerie.
The result – dissatisfaction with our bodies. Diets, exercise regimes, plastic surgery, an endless chase to have the perfect clothes, designer clothes so that worth can be found. It’s easy to understand, however, not so easy to make a conscious move to rid ourselves of this cancer. I want to get personal with this as I am a father of two beautiful daughters, father-in-law to a beautiful daughter-in-law, and husband to a beautiful woman. Now, these women are intelligent women, educated women and all-around very good people and excellent mothers with husbands who love them and stand beside them through the ups and downs of married life and the raising of children. Yet, there is a strange dissatisfaction that lurks quietly, unconsciously for the most part, with their bodies. I say strange because their mates are pleased with the sight of their wives, clothed and unclothed.
It’s easy to see and identify the problem. We need to somehow return to the idea that a woman is beautiful, naturally beautiful, in the eyes of both men and women. We need to somehow dissociate authentic, natural sexuality from advertising. Why? Look at our children. We live at a time when teen-aged young women are wanting and getting breast augmentation – fake boobs, a time where there is a virtual epidemic of medical conditions called anorexia and bulimia – eating disorders suffered as these young women try to get their bodies to be good enough according to the mass media versions, a version that is unconsciously and consciously accepted by their parents and peers, For the typical young woman and young man, looking in the mirror at their own unclothed bodies is frightening and depressing as what they see is filtered through the collective unconscious.
So what can we do? As fathers and mothers and lovers, what we say that is positive is expected, after all, we are their parents and their lovers. Until a person can see themselves without filters, over and over again in real-life contexts with others who truly see their authentic bodies, uncovered; there will be little chance of achieving body acceptance, especially as bodies change with age. Time spent in social nudity somehow affects that change. Regardless of body type and weight, in social nudity situations, the real authentic person emerges, a person almost always accepted and valued by others. And when there is no acceptance, it isn’t because of looks, but because of psychology.