Paris Jackson poses topless on Instragram. Emily Ratajkowski appears in Sports Illustrated wearing only body paint. The 1980s hit television show Twin Peaks is resurrected—this time with the addition of W-rated scenes. Then there is Playboy—the nudes are back!
What is going on with this public nudity craze?
We have come a long way since Janet Jackson's (Paris's aunt) infamous Super Bowl halftime show wardrobe malfunction in 2004. When we look at our pop culture today, one thing becomes clear: Hypersexualized objectifying nudity is everywhere. It has saturated television, movies, gaming, advertising, magazines, news and nearly every aspect of the internet. Has this pornified nudity become normal?
A simple scrolling through the Instagram feeds of our favorite TV reality stars makes the point. We easily find a trove of photos that leave absolutely nothing to the imagination. Kim Kardashian makes a habit of posting nudes. She recently disseminated to millions of fans a naked selfie with the caption "liberated." Really Kim? Are you sure that is liberating? Many other stars post similar selfies. Chrissy Teigen, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and Chelsea Handler—just to name a few—make getting naked on social media part of their attention-grabbing, money-making routine. These aren't Playboy centerfold models. And they aren't adult performers in the porn industry. They are celebrities in mainstream media.
Hypersexualized nudity has become a routine thing to see. Super Bowl commercials are basically softcore porn. Carl's Jr. ads are but one more example. Celebs like to make a PR splash with wardrobe malfunctions. And billboards, magazines, advertisements, movies, music videos, television and social media are full of objectifying nudity.
How did this happen?
One reason is because companies like Hugh Hefner's Playboy emerged and grew in extreme popularity over the years. The internet subsequently opened the floodgates to an unrelenting river of porn. The media at large has adopted the same "sex sells" ideology as the porn industry. We've reached a point where if a woman wants to be visible, it's almost imperative that her sexuality be exploited and put on display for the world to consume. Our culture has become pornified.
Playboy's recent back-and-forth over nudity underscores the point. First the iconic adult magazine shockingly removed nude images from its pages, because the editors felt they couldn't compete with internet porn. However, after this short, failed experiment, the much younger Cooper Hefner has replaced his father at the helm of the company. He's setting out to re-brand Playboy for this generation.
The front cover of the May/April 2017 issue has, printed in bold type, the declaration "Naked is Normal." Actually, I agree, it is normal. In the context of a marriage relationship, of course naked is normal. But that is not what we are dealing with in Playboy. There is healthy and harmful sexuality just as there is healthy and harmful food. The objectifying nudity in Playboy is certainly the latter.
Our porn-saturated world has indeed made sexual exploitation and the commodification of the human body something we all have sadly grown accustomed to. We live in a porn culture.
What happens to a society in which the objectified naked female body has become normal?
First, we have to understand that viewing porn does something to the psyche. It isn't a static or stagnant phenomenon that is viewed without any kind of reaction from the mind and body of the viewer. For proof of the potency of visual media on thought and behavior, consider the companies that pay tens of millions of dollars for advertising slots during the Super Bowl alone. McDonald's consistently spends more than 900 million dollars each year on visual media advertising. Why? Because any marketing-savvy company knows that media powerfully affects behavior.
Media influence is a studied and researched force exerted by a media message, resulting in either a measurable change or reinforcement in beliefs and actions. This relationship has been described as the media effect. Immunity from the effects of media simply does not exist.
Professor of sociology and women's studies at Wheelock College, Gail Dines, powerfully said that when people view porn they don't just see a naked body and a sexual encounter.
Dines explained, "What they [people] don't realize is they come away with a lot more. They come away with a worldview, they come away with an ideology, they come away with an identity about who they are, with ideas about what relationships look like, what sex looks like. And the thing about the stories that porn tells is these are the most intimate stories that seep into the very core of who you are."
Dines is referring to stories in which females are merely objects to consume, use, and abuse and in which men are unfeeling, sexually obsessed predators and consumers.
Christians shouldn't be surprised by the fact that viewing pornography changes the way a person thinks and views themselves, others and the world around us. Scripture tells us that by beholding we are changed (see 2 Cor. 3:18). And the beholding principle holds true with pornographic images.
Although we live in a pornified world where, it is encouraging to know that fighting back is becoming normal too. Organizations and people around the world are beginning to take a stand. They are adopting a healthy sexuality and reclaiming the story of what it means to be a man and a woman. Even the infamous self-proclaimed former sex addict Russell Brand, who has admitted to sleeping with nearly 1,000 women, has made educating his followers on the harms of porn a personal mission.
Other celebrities such as Joseph Gordon Levitt, Terry Crews and Pamela Anderson have come out publicly with strong messages about the harms of porn. Anderson, the originator of the sex tape phenomenon and one of porn culture's biggest icons, now says that porn is "a public hazard of unprecedented seriousness" and that we are "a guinea-pig generation for an experiment in mass debasement that few of us would have ever consented to, and whose full nefarious impact may not be known for years."
We know the harms of porn, yet Playboy has transitioned back to nudes. Why? Cooper Hefner tweeted, "Nudity was never the problem because nudity isn't a problem. Today we're taking our identity back and reclaiming who we are."
Well Mr. Hefner, Playboy's nudity is not what should be normal. Today we are taking our identity back and reclaiming who we are, male and female alike. Men are so much more than mindless sexual consumers and predators. Women are so much more than sexual objects—a buffet of flesh to be bought and sold as currency in the market of pop culture acceptance. We are sons and daughters of a King, deserving of respect and dignity, and we are of great value, even with our clothes on.
Laila Mickelwait is the director of Abolition at Exodus Cry.