Nudity’s New Normal


 You may remember a little controversy that happened back in 2004, one that involved Justin Timberlake’s participation in Janet Jackson’s so-called “wardrobe malfunction” during the Super Bowl halftime show. Timberlake exposed Jackson’s breast for a fraction of a second, prompting national outrage and discussion about society’s standards when it comes to nudity in entertainment.

Fast-forward not quite 10 years, and it seems that perhaps times are a-changin’. We’re seeing nudity turning up more and more frequently in entertainment venues where it once would have been forbidden—with a lot less outrage than we saw in 2004. And Timberlake is once again involved.

The video for his latest hit, “Tunnel Vision,” features three topless and uncensored female models. And it’s the second video in just a couple of months to do so. The other one is for Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines,” which just notched its fifth week as the No. 1 song in the land and is thus far the biggest hit of the summer.

Thicke’s video was banned from YouTube for its explicit imagery, and it looked as if Justin Timberlake would receive the same treatment. In a surprise move, however, YouTube greenlit the video, with a spokesperson telling ABC News, “While our guidelines generally prohibit nudity, we make exceptions when it is presented in an educational, documentary or artistic context, and take care to add appropriate warnings and age restrictions.”

It wasn’t too long ago that an artist of Timberlake’s stature shooting a video featuring three nearly naked models would have prompted outrage and petitions. But there’s been little of that. Instead, YouTube has deemed the racy video acceptable by labeling it “artistic.” And there’s little doubt in my mind that more such “artistic” nudity will likely be coming down the YouTube pike soon, now that this precedent has been set.

But these music videos aren’t the only recent examples of where our culture’s increasingly laissez-faire attitudes toward nudity seem to be showing up.

The Parents Television Council recently reported that pixelated nudity is appearing more and more frequently on broadcast TV these days, as well. In June, the PTC said that that 16 shows contained blurred or pixelated nudity in the first four months of 2013, compared to 22 in the entire 2011-12 television season. Moreover, 70% of these programs received a lenient TV-PG rating. Said PTC president Tim Winter, “If this kind of nudity continues to increase—as we believe it will—and the FCC’s proposal to essentially stop enforcing the broadcast indecency law goes into effect, then it’s certain that the networks will continue to push the limits of decency even further.”

Speaking of pushing the limits, another new show on cable’s Discovery channel is doing exactly that. The reality survival show Naked and Afraid has been generating media buzz since its debut due its seemingly racy premise: plunking a man and woman down in the wilderness, naked, to survive for 21 days. The show blurs genitals and breasts, but not uncovered backsides, a fact that the show’s executive producer Denise Contis insists isn’t intended to be titillating. “We didn’t develop the show to be exploitative, ever,” she said in an interview with Salon.

Some reviewers agree that the show ultimately isn’t as sexy as its title hints. Salon’s Willa Paskin writes, “Naked and Afraid is not, however, some Playboy bunny version of Castaway. … On-screen nudity has rarely been less sexual, but it’s also rarely been used as brazenly to sell a show.” Others, though, have observed that the show’s near-constant nudity is simply impossible to ignore. The Daily Beast’s Kevin Fallon says:

The contestants stop worrying about their nakedness so quickly because there are a h‑‑‑ of a lot of other things to fear. Like dying. All the time. The same can’t be said for the viewer, however. You’d think that after 42 minutes of it, you’d become desensitized to seeing the butts. But you don’t. You just don’t.

So what are we to make of this sudden spike in nudity in the pop culture world?

Generally, I think it’s safe to say that cultural mores change gradually, so imperceptibly in fact that you can only really see those shifts when you look back 10 or 15 years. Sometimes, however, there are significant slippages along these cultural fault lines—shifts that are noticeable enough to detect in real time.

I’d suggest that’s what’s happening right now. As our culture is exposed to explicit sexual imagery in quite a few other venues (R-rated movies, explicit shows on HBO or Showtime, and in online pornography, among others), it seems we’re growing increasingly desensitized to nudity in places we haven’t seen it before.

Indeed, that shift is reflected what Robin Thicke said about his video. Among other things, he said that the only people who would be concerned about the three topless women in his video were “extra-religious people.” No one else really cares, he suggested.

I want to believe there are more than just a few “extra-religious people” who are concerned about the casual nudity in the “Blurred Lines” videos—not to mention the attitudes about treating women as possessions and playthings that the video arguably suggests.

Still, the lack of much controversy about the increase in nudity in entertainment such as Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” video sadly suggests that we are indeed growing more desensitized to it. And that’s a troubling reality families today are going to have to deal with. Because if Thicke and Justin Timberlake can get away with it, you can bet there are going to be others lining up behind him to see how much further they can push the envelope.

Who wrote this?

Adam R. Holz is a senior associate editor for Plugged In. He also writes for Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine and has been a Boundless contributor. In his free time (which there is sometimes precious little of) Adam enjoys playing guitar and constructing LEGO kits with his son. Adam and his wife, Jennifer, are the proud parents, in fact, of three children, one boy and two girls.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Delaney Little More than 1 year ago

--Nudity isn't controversial in most societies. It tends to be our society that oversexualizes everything, which makes nudity controversial.

Scott Jamison More than 1 year ago

--@HKendall, I suspect the thinking of the airline people was that if each person has their own screen, they should be responsible for their own choices.  When there was only one screen for movies on long flights, the movies shown had to be family-friendly or heavily bowdlerized to offend the least number of people.  I remember many adult passengers complaining of the tepidness of airline movies, and the metaphorical violence done to films by editing out violence and sex.

Of course, "your screen, your choice" doesn't take into account the possibility that in a crowded airplane, someone might accidentally see something on someone else's screen that might offend them.

Alyson Scott More than 1 year ago

--@Katarina, one of those studies (and I'm sure other ones as well) have been misrepresented by modesty proponents like Jessica Rey.

@Sam, the difference is that the media is required to take steps to prevent children from seeing it. Youtube does not allow users to watch nude videos unless they sign up for an account and claim to be over 18. Most pornography websites require the user to click or digitally sign a statement that they are over 18. Nudity on TV has a rating warning at the beginning of the show, is typically broadcast in the late evening, and is not allowed on network channels (unless blurred).  

Now of course these precautions are largely a joke and should be increased, but the point is that media companies have to at least pretend to take precautions, and the consumers have the choice of what to watch or click. People who expose themselves in public are not taking any precautions to keep children from seeing them, and the people walking by did not get the choice of whether or not they wanted that image burned in their brain.

@Transcendental, "This proliferation of nudity acceptance is sad, but probably a necessary evil.  Just like when Jesus Had to endure the pain he endured so that something greater could be accomplished on our behalf."

Um...what? Enduring the acceptance of nudity in our culture is similar to being crucified to save the world? I am so confused. What is the greater purpose supposed to be?  

Sam Sheldon More than 1 year ago

How is it that one can be arrested for "indecent" public exposure and yet they can show it on Youtube videos and TV series/movies, simply by attaching  "artistic expression" to it:?! It seems people want to determine what is right in their own eyes according to each situation. There would be no courts or laws if we did not have constant moral truths in our country (although the courts are even trying to blur those). However, society as a whole obviously does not want that to apply to what they enjoy or what benefits them. Is a law officer supposed to accept the answer "It's artistic expression" when a person is arrested for indecent public exposure? And yet, people of all ages and sexes are exposed to the indecent human displays and attitudes that the above venues present. That current secular attitude offends me more each day!

Lauren Petiti More than 1 year ago


Why are you mostly focusing on women in this post? You begin by mentioning both weak men and women, but then spend the most time talking about women. Honestly, as people who study art, most of my friends will agree that it's more disturbing to see male nudity than female. I know that I was really grateful for the first six weeks of my first figure drawing class, because our model was female. Once we got a male, it took me almost a year to get used to the idea of seeing a nude male comfortably. Even now I'm still a little uncomfortable with it (though much less so than I was when I first started). My point is that even though it is men that are more visual, it doesn't seem right to single women out for warnings, because there are women that stumble as well.

Celest Jo More than 1 year ago

--This proliferation of nudity acceptance is sad, but probably a necessary evil.  Just like when Jesus Had to endure the pain he endured so that something greater could be accomplished on our behalf.  However, none of this is artistic.  This will cause more destruction to some weak men and women.  Why? Because one of the most powerful things in the world to a man is a naked, submissive woman.  This is why the Bible warns women not to be submissive to other men besides their own husbands.  The female body was designed to be a perfect enticement to a male.  This was intended only for spouses but has been exploited to an awful degree by ill-intended individuals.  In the Old Testament, rules were laid out instructing us not to see another persons nakedness.  Justin timberland, Robin Thicke and anyone else who participates in these types of things, clearly don't care about anyone other then money and themselves.  To my knowledge, Justin Timberlake doesn't have children but Robin Thicke does, and clearly him or his wife don't care about how their son views things like this.  In the end, it's all about how much money they will get for whatever lines they agree to cross.

I agree with you HKendall, and, thank you For sharing that uncomfortable experience, as I am planning to travel to Spain in the next few months, so at least I am forewarned about the airlines movie options.  i literally was under the impression family movies were the only ones allowed to be played.

We must continue to pray, and stay in Gods word.  And remember that just because the majority of people are doing something wrong, doesn't make it okay.  We all must stand before God.  

Katarina Rorstrom More than 1 year ago

--For the most part, I agree that nudity can be artistic, but I have a bit of a problem with people's bodies as art. Studies show that people's brains, especially men's (sorry guys), start to consider women as objects, not as people, when they take off their clothes. Even if they are thinking about them in an "artistic" way, they are not thinking of them as PEOPLE, but as THINGS. That's fine for a statue. It's not a person. It has no feelings, hopes, or a soul, and I agree that the human body is beautiful. God created it. However, if the object is a real man or woman on film, I think it's wrong (and potentially detrimental to storytelling) to portray them as objects. As a girl, I dress modestly not just because I don't want to cause a brother to stumble, but because I want people to look a ME, not my body. Look me in the eye. Ask me about my hopes and dreams. Don't stare at other things. They may be just characters in a TV show, but I don't think we want to train a whole society to think of people as less than people. Maybe that's why God gave us clothes, so we would be forced to really look at each other.

Hannah Kendall More than 1 year ago

--I recently was on a flight from the US to Europe and was shocked that there were uncensored R-rated movies to choose to view on one's own monitor.  I was subjected to people in front of me watching horror movies and blatant nude sex scenes.  I had no idea we had slipped that far, that a commercial airline would grant such broad "entertainment" for it's public audience.  The last time I flew there were only films that were family type audiences or ones that were censored.

This was so disturbing to me as I was also traveling with one of my kids.  I did receive immediate feedback from the airlines when I contacted them and they said that they would consider my comments when making further decisions.  I think we need to be very vocal and let these companies know that they will lose our business.  Boycotting their sponsors does work as well.

Scott Jamison More than 1 year ago


In regards to nudity in the media, I am reminded of a letter to the editor of the local newspaper during a particularly salacious billboard campaign.  It went something like this:  "If I don't want to see this sort of thing in magazines, I don't buy those kind of magazines; if I don't want to see it in movies, I don't go to those movies.  If I don't want to see it on television, I change the channel, or better yet turn it off.  But asking me to drive with my eyes closed is a step too far!"

Mind, our host doesn't have that luxury given the whole "must watch whatever is up for review" thing.

Elizabeth Hocker More than 1 year ago


Thank you for the clarification on the layout of the show. I did not have a clear understanding of the show to ensure that the contestants capable of competing. I am glad to hear that the people who choose to compete are properly equipped and trained. It still, for me, begs the question of why.

@Nemo and Lauren

I was trying to make the point that God fashioned functional clothing for Adam and Eve after they had fallen into sin and out of shame made their own clothes. I interpret this to mean that since God chose to make better clothes for them that they are to continue clothing themselves.

I was also trying to say that nudity should be educational in a positive way that would not purposely cause a person to sin. I understand that we cannot cater to only one side, there must be balance.

With our bodies as the temple of God, I especially liked the point that we should see the work of the Creator alone, not the work of man.

Jules Nemo More than 1 year ago

--Lauren's points are well taken. We are created n God's image. When we look upon the human form in all its diversity we behold the divine. When the man and the woman ate of the tree of knowledge they saw that they were naked, they were ashamed and made for themselves clothes of a fashion from fig leaves, not very comfortable or functional. God took pity and made them clothes of skins which are more comfortable and functional. (Which is kind of interesting as they were vegetarians at that point.)  But nowhere does it say that the human form was changed or disfigured as a result. And the goodness of the human body was affirmed by the incarnation and again by the resurrection of the body. There is nothing wrong with displaying or appreciating the naked human form, it honors the creator. As Christians we should celebrate more nudity on television. Perhaps we should fight to ensure that the depictions are diverse and actually the work of the creator and not the work of the surgeon or pharmacist. And we should ensure that erotocised depictions of the human form have their own isolated place. Not that the erotic is bad, that was also created by God, but people ought to be able to avoid it if they choose.

Ms. Jackson's nip slip was a bit more complicated. In the middle of the Supper Bowl, a celebration of masculinity and violence she presented a momentary flash of the feminine form and nurturing. Some people found that moment the most wholesome part of the event. But the nipple was adorned (not hidden by a pasty) which added a touch of the erotic.

Alyson Scott More than 1 year ago

--I don't have a YT account, but I know Youtube has always had plenty of nudity that people can access if they create an account and say they're over 18. So why were those particular videos banned? Because they were created and posted by a professional company instead of amateurs and movie clip fans? Maybe most of the amateurs just haven't got caught yet, but their videos had to be flagged as inappropriate to be placed in "Over 18 Only" group.  

Stephen Alexander More than 1 year ago

--The 2004 Superbowl thing was no accident.  Her costume had a Velcro flap and she had a pastie on her nipple.  It was part of the act.  There have been many 'artistic' thresholds crossed in entertainment in my lifetime - Rhett Butler in "GWTW", the first swear word in a movie.  Look where it has gone from there.  George Carlin and Richard Pryor both pioneered the use of vulgarity in comedy.  Once these thresholds of nudity are successfully breached, the use will gradually proliferate until it is commonplace.  Glimpses of genitalia will be next, with scandal followed by acceptance.  The portrayal of raw sexuality will follow, with some scandal, then gradual acceptance.  You say NO, it won't happen?  There is no slippery slope?   Look forward from the perspective of the 1940's.  The decline in standards since then is staggering.  There is no limit to how low this can go if "somebody" doesn't stand up and say 'ENOUGH!'.  

Lauren Petiti More than 1 year ago

--Actually, from what I remember, the actual passage says that Adam and Eve were the ones who ended up being ashamed. They were the ones who hid from God and used their nudity as an excuse, which makes me wonder if God provided clothing for them as a graceful gesture, not because He wanted them clothed (of course, this is just speciulation on my part and can't really be answered, but it's an interesting thought).

It's not that I'm excusing all forms of nudity, but I still think our bodies are not really something we should be ashamed of.

syd collings More than 1 year ago

--@ Lauren

I can agree with that. Nudity is not always sexual. Unfortunately, the vast majority of it is intended to be sexual, and the term 'artistic' is thrown around so often and so carelessly that nobody is sure what it means.

@ Philippa Nenya

The creators of 'Naked and Afraid' never claimed that the show was artistic. They simply stated that the nudity was not intended to be exploitative and I believe them because I've seen the show. The participants aren't 'put out' in the wilderness, they all volunteered. These people are survival experts and not ordinary citizens. Even then, they are screened in advance before they make it to the show. There is no prize for successfully completing the 21 days, so the participants are simply doing the show to challenge themselves and enhance the survival skills they've learned.

Elizabeth Hocker More than 1 year ago

--I do not think that the body should purposely be viewed without adequate clothing or covering. I firmly believe there was a reason God covered Adam and Eve after they sinned.

The body, while created in God's image, is now distorted by sin (maybe not in a visible way) and I believe that certain areas shouldn't be uncovered.

While one person can see something and not be tempted to sin, another might see the exact same thing and sin. I call clothing a 'preventive' measure. While I am not responsible for a person's act of sinning,I am responsible if I am the one that CAUSED them to sin.

But, from an 'artistic' point of view: the ancient Greeks believed that the body was beautiful and they made many depictions of this beauty using the mediums that were available to them (sculpting and painting/drawings). Does this mean that as a Christian I am never going to an Art Museum or a History Museum? No, because knowledge can be gained from the study of ancient Greeks (and others), their art and the mediums they used.

However, I do not think that these vidoes count as 'artistic'. Using another's body for your own gain and desires is just sin. And you're not going to gain anything beneficial by watching these videos.

One Naked and Afraid: I haven't exactly formed a definitive opinion on this form of 'entertainment'. The whole set up sounds rather cruel to me. Putting people out in the wilderness (with or without clothes) to fend for themselves without the proper training... I know that there are camera crews standing by with a band-aid if you're about to die. But, there is a reason that one cannot release a wild animal back into the wild if it has been to socialized or become dependant on others for any of its basic needs (primarily food). People of society and of civilized nations are not properly trained to be able to fend for themselves in the kinds of environments that this show puts them in.

I also do not find this show to be 'artistic'.

Lauren Petiti More than 1 year ago

--I'm going to say something that will probably get a lot of backlash, so fair warning.

Nudity is not sexual. Nudity can be artistic.

I think Christians too often view the nude human body as something shameful. They can't view classical art because they view it as something inappropriate. Before anyone says anything against me, I know that nudity can be misused and mistreated, just like anything, and is often misused in today's world. We are a sinful people and misuse the gifts that God has given us.

As an art student who studies figure drawing, I've had to deal with some skepticism or disapproval because of what I study. The thing about nudity is that you must remove the sexuality from it if it's involved in art, unless of course the intended artwork is sexual, and once that happens, it gets easier to tell what's inappropriate (I can think of several independent animated short films that are borderline pornography and should not be viewed by anyone, no matter how "artistic" it can be). I realize that dealing with nudity is not always as black and white as I seem to be making it out to be, but I also think that Christians deal with it in a way a lot of the time, which can create more unintended problems.

syd collings More than 1 year ago

--Full disclosure: I'm not a fan of the PTC and their constant need to manufacture controversy and to tell the us how and what to think about the state of media.

That said, I think the majority of Americans agree that the 2004 Superbowl thing was an accident. There is a big difference between TV and internet. What annoys me about Youtube's decision is that they did not explain how the 'Tunnel Vision' video is 'artistic'. What does that even mean? I think Youtube is being disingenuous about this. Why did they ban 'Blurred Lines' and then allow 'Tunnel Vision'? Is it because JT is a bigger star than Robin Thicke? I think that's hypocritical and Youtube should have allowed both or banned both. It just seems that they are randomly deciding which video stays and which goes without any discernible standard.