“Cover your eyes, and I’ll tell you when you can open them,” a phrase we probably all heard as a child. While we sat, hands-over-eyes, we could only assume that topless actresses and raunchy sex scenes were flashing across the television screen. When the younger-version of myself sat alongside my mom watching chick flicks on Friday nights, I always expected these sporadic commands of “close your eyes” and “look away.” Even as I aged and I was no longer expected to shield my eyes from partial nudity and tangling in the sheets, some part of me still felt uneasy watching these sex scenes, even in the comfort of my own home. But why was this? I had boobs and an ass of my own, yet even at age nineteen, I am still left blushing at these naked actresses and actors. My uneasiness with this sexual material was somewhat hilarious given that I had my own, real-life sexual experience under my belt. Why was I so uncomfortable with something as natural as the human body, something that I saw every day?
And then I stopped to ask myself, did our culture, or our television industry, treat anything else quite like we treated sexual material? From my own personal experience, I could not recall a particular moment from my childhood where I was asked to close my eyes when someone in a movie was punched, shot, caught in a vicious swordfight, or brutally murdered. I could almost guarantee that my dear old dad would have much rather had his little girl watch a war film than watch a movie with full-frontal nudity. However, if we strip it down (no pun-intended) to the bare fundamentals of what we are actually watching, why don’t we feel more comfortable with sexual content than we do with tragic war violence? After all, sex is an act of love, enacted with our own natural bodies, while the violence we witness every day on television is brutal, horrifying, and results in death far more than sex ever does. On one particular night, I was able to witness firsthand our rather double standard for sexual and violent material. It was an ordinary movie night, we popped in the disc and as the movie unfolded it appeared to be a run-of-the-mill action film, one with guns, blood, slit throats, and casual murder—the usual. No one at this movie night seemed to bat an eye at the rather gruesome scenes of slaughter, myself included. Yet, when the movie took a rather cliché turn to the setting of a strip club, things became much more cringe-worthy. We found ourselves amidst a group of topless actresses, breasts completely exposed in their natural glory, and I had to fight the urge to look away from the television screen. After only but a few seconds of these topless women, one of my friends quickly reached for the fast forward button and I couldn’t help but feel as if this encounter was an accurate representation of the average American’s response to sex and violence.
However, a direct contrast our American culture, one that avoids and fears sexual material, is the much more open and sexually-expressive, European culture. In places like France, Norway and Belgium, not only is nudity and sex on television far from a taboo, but public nudity is permissible in way that it could never be in our fifty states. The human body is not treated as an object to be shamed, but a work of art. All while sex is left as an open conversation, not something hidden from our children. Perhaps our parents’ commands to shield our eyes from the half-naked bodies on our television screens may have not done us any favors, but instead has led us to treat a women’s body as something to be covered. This very well may be the foundation to our culture of slut-shaming and slandering women who publicly breastfeed.
I find it all rather strange, that I, and so many others have grown up in worlds surrounded by toy guns, soldier figurines, and violent cartoons, yet are so adamantly “protected” from our own physical bodies. We, as women, are instructed to cover our breasts to avoid being publicly persecuted by those who cringe at the possibility of a woman being confident in her own figure. And while I may sound like a “Free the Nipple” campaign, why have we conditioned our eyes to only turn away from a topless woman and not a topless man? Since when did we create a national culture in which violence is much more comfortable a thought than sex, or the female nipple could ever be? We can watch casual decapitations and barely bat an eye, yet somehow feel violated at even the briefest glimpse of a naked body? All I can ask which one, boobs or bombs, really needs to be censored in our American media?