Wednesday, October 03, 2007

St*d versus Sl*t: Double Standard for Celebrity N*des

From Hogwarts to High School -- Young actors have something in common. Not what you'd expect

Paul Rapoport
The Hamilton Spectator (

If the personal is political, bodies are certainly both, especially in the way they dress in public -- or in some cases, undress.

Proof comes from recent events surrounding two unconnected naked young people. Not Britney Spears but younger; and these two are almost as famous. First: Daniel Radcliffe, the lead in the Harry Potter movies.

Soon after the filming of the fifth movie, he appeared on a London stage in Peter Shaffer's Equus, beginning last winter. The play requires the male and female leads, both necessarily young, to appear naked for an extended scene.

The reaction from many Radcliffe fans was simple: By appearing naked in public, he had betrayed them. Never mind that most didn't see the Equus production and couldn't care less about the context of his nudity. They could not let go of their version of Radcliffe as a child. They wanted to believe that Radcliffe, now 18, is Harry Potter.

That's a problem in a culture of celebrity worship. Not only the character but the actor is confined to the impossible morality of a disembodied saint. Undoubtedly that appeals to many who are convinced they are inadequate themselves.

For the most part, Internet rants about Radcliffe stayed respectful. The insults were limited, although there was plenty of "How could you?"

Far from remorseful, Radcliffe is both continuing his Potter role and planning to appear in Equus in New York. Furthermore, about his profession, he notes: "If the script says smoke, I smoke. If the script says I have sex, then I have sex -- that's just what you do as an actor."

The case of Vanessa Hudgens, also 18, is quite different. On Sept. 6, the star of Disney's High School Musical movies found a fully nude snapshot of herself leaked to the Internet.

The official reactions were swift. Yes, the photo is real; and the actress is sorry she let down her family, friends, and fans.

Although millions more have now seen Hudgens's nude body than Radcliffe's, that's not the main difference. Nor is it that Radcliffe's exposure was intended and Hudgens's not.

Surprisingly, some usually fearless websites took down the photo of the nude Hudgens only a day after posting it. The almost certain reason is that in the leaked photos, Hudgens is under 18. So was Radcliffe when he first appeared in Equus.

One myth with the strength of the double standard is that all naked minors in public are unlawful, and full-frontal photos of them are child pornography.

Despite being patently false legally, this notion has helped to induce children to fear if not despise their own bodies and emerging sexuality.

It also prepares them for an adult world of sexual discomfort and hypocrisy.

It's no secret that heterosexual men may be attracted to physical beauty, passive cuteness and superficial innocence. More than one author has shown that such traits may be cultural ideals for both women and children. So Disney itself has, perhaps unwittingly, made the child Hudgens sexually both chaste and enticing.

It's unsurprising, then, that while some people wanted to believe Hudgens the person was effectively asexual, others were labelling her "hot" long before the nude photo appeared. Her "sexy innocence" reveals a serious cultural crisis concerning perception of children and women with regard to sexuality.

Meanwhile, Hudgens could learn from Radcliffe. She could tell us she's not a movie fabrication but a person growing up with no apology for that nude photo. Sexuality apart, both these actors are also indicating something else despite Hudgens's and others' protestations: It's OK simply to be naked and unashamed -- even if you're under 18.

Paul Rapoport is a professor emeritus of McMaster University in Hamilton, a member of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, and editor of the magazine Going Natural.

To see the article on the web (and pictures of Radcliffe and Hudgens (not together), click here.

You may have noticed that all that is missing from my title of this article is "u". Your opinion, comments welcome.

1 comment:

Ilene Skeen said...

The image of Hudgens is not at the spec site, so Prof. Rapoport supplied it. If you want to see what caused all the fuss, copy the following link into your browser bar: