Every week there seems to be a new spin on the row over female nudity. When normal women of ‘normal’ sizes strip off for a national skincare advert, it’s generally considered to be ‘empowering.’ When Jennifer Lopez swaggers around a talent show stage in a high-cut leotard, you can practically hear the chorus of “think of the children!” being screeched down the phone line to the Ofcom complaints department. But if we step aside from the moral issues for a minute, we can begin to consider the deeper impact that strict censorship has on women.
It’s not something that you ever really notice until it’s pointed out. However, when a character in a television drama has a heart attack and needs to be defibrillated, that character is almost always male. The possible reasons for this could fill a phonebook, but let’s focus on one aspect of it for now. To defibrillate somebody, their chest must be exposed – you can’t defibrillate a woman while she’s wearing a bra, no television channel will risk the complaints and hefty fines that would come with showing a woman’s nipple before the watershed. Luckily for teatime medical dramas, male nipple is one hundred percent acceptable.
This scarcity of female heart attack victims on television, could mean that the only point of reference most people have for heart attack symptoms can only really be applied to men. If you stopped any person on the street and asked them how they would know they were having a heart attack, the majority of people may say “chest pain” or “shooting pains in your arm.” However, women are more likely to experience it in the form of back or jaw pain. Perhaps this is the reason that in a study by UK Healthcare, twenty five percent to fifty percent of women delay seeking care for over four hours. The British Heart Foundation warns that it’s critical to seek care in the first hour, after you suspect you may have had a heart attack.
You might be surprised to know that current Ofcom regulations do allow nudity on television before the watershed, as long as it is in a non-sexual context and it is “justifiable by context.” For example, in the context of a medical drama that could possibly educate millions of women about their bodies. It’s not just this country that needs to re-evaluate its attitude towards female anatomy. A recent advert designed to raise awareness of the symptoms of breast cancer by showing actual breasts was banned in New Zealand, because nipples are not permitted on television. The same advert was run in Scotland after the 9:00p.m watershed and saw a reported fifty percent increase in women visiting their doctor.
So why is female nudity subject to different rules than male nudity? The answer could be in the general public’s opinion – in 2009, Ofcom ruled that Channel 4 didn’t break any broadcasting rules after it received thirty seven complaints that the channel had shown a nude model, in a life-drawing class in the middle of the day. It seems as though the public’s view on the naked body is not only outdated, but potentially harmful to the health of women everywhere.