A load of adults getting their bits out in front of teenagers doesn’t sound like the most wholesome – or even ethical – premise for a TV show. But Naked Education, Channel 4’s new spin-off from Naked Attraction, has gone there.
The show has, of course, generated the usual “outraged of Tunbridge Wells” reactions. Some viewers were appalled by the idea of teenagers seeing naked adults, while others, like Good Morning Britain’s Kate Garraway, took a more nuanced stance.
Speaking to her co-presenter Adil Ray about the show this morning, Garraway said: “I’m really interested in this debate, because my gut instinct is to be very uncomfortable about it ... There’s something about the physicality of a stranger being naked in front of a teenager which I just feel uncomfortable about, because of all the things that we read about.” However, she goes on to reflect: “It depends how it’s handled. It depends what the debate is. It depends on the youngsters. It depends on the age. There’s so many things.”
And she’s right, because context is key here. The idea of adults parading their genitalia in front of kids sounds wrong, but the concept of Naked Education is to educate teenagers – and viewers – about what real bodies look like.
We can get all puritanical about it, and say that there’s never an appropriate context for teenagers to see naked adult bodies. We can wilfully block out reality, and pretend that teenagers are innocents who know nothing of “real” naked bodies or issues around sex, sexuality and consent. But seriously, who are we kidding?
As if those of us getting gobby about Naked Education can’t remember being teenagers ourselves. During my childhood, “page 3 girls” were major national celebrities, and their almost-naked bodies were a familiar sight on newsagents’ shelves and the walls of various businesses around town. I distinctly remember one tabloid running a gleeful, knee-rubbing countdown to a teenage glamour model’s 16th birthday, when everyone celebrated seeing her naked breasts legally. Ah, the good old days!
Now, of course, while page 3 may be a relic of the past, most kids have access to the internet, and there’s pornographic content across many platforms. It’s almost impossible to avoid seeing not only naked adult bodies, but also adult sexual content.
That’s before we even get into the standard discussions about the way bodies are depicted on social media, where reality is airbrushed and face-tuned beyond recognition. Our kids are taught that child-sized waists, alongside large, perfectly smooth, round buttocks, are not only “normal” but desirable.
What’s more, images are digitally altered to achieve computer-generated perfection – with little transparency over the process, and every attempt to claim authenticity. No wonder body dysmorphic disorder is increasing among teenagers. That’s the reality for kids today. That’s what’s considered normal.
Naked Education might be a bit of a gimmick. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But isn’t there something positive to be gained in having conversations about real bodies, body image, sex and consent? Isn’t it important that teenagers are aware, not only that many of the images they see on social media are eminently flattering at best, and utter fantasy at worst, but that their own bodies – and those of others – are to be valued, appreciated and respected however they look?
Isn’t it important to discuss how many of the normalised body-grooming behaviours, such as women’s removal of body hair beyond the head and eyes, have been imported from pornography, and what this means for young people’s sense of self-worth?
Instead of a knee-jerk reaction to anything that involves nudity, isn’t it important for teenagers to be shown that all bodies are “normal” and attractive, and not to be judged according to the latest improbable celebrity shape?
I don’t know. I’ve watched Naked Attraction, and cringed at people being rejected on the basis of their physical attributes. But Naked Education might be trying to do some good, even if we might be a bit queasy about its premise.
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