A great figure or physique is nice, but it’s self-confidence that makes someone really sexy. —Vivica A. Fox
I haven’t shot a full nude in over a year. Partial nude, yes. Topless, yes. Implied, yes. But our attitude toward nudity and what makes something sexy has changed dramatically, and that change has happened rather fast.
Now, from the outset, let me clarify that being sexy doesn’t require being naked and nude photography can be many things and sexy not come close to making the list. Nudity and sexiness are mutually exclusive for most conversations. Yet, where the two do intersect, or have in the past, the lines have moved. What would have been popular previously no longer is and some images that were recently tolerable no longer are.
One of the first articles to cross my path this morning comes from Mallory Schlossberg at Business Insider on the evolution of sexiness. The article relies heavily upon the opinion of Ruth Bernstein, chief strategy officer at Yard. All the usual suspects are referenced, specifically Playboy and Abercrombie & Fitch where changes have been most pronounced and public. Without question, there is a strong shift as to how we look at what’s sexy. I won’t argue that point at all.
Yet, while some retailers and magazines see toning down the blatant sexuality is a good move, still others are moving exactly the opposite direction. I look at images for Porter magazine’s summer edition, Flair Italy, the Marfa Journal SS2016, the April edition of Marie Claire Italy, among others and the level of nude and other sexy imagery is higher than ever. There’s even an editorial in the Spring/Summer edition of Gentlewoman titled “Crotch” and it is exactly what the name implies.
What’s changing isn’t so much the absence or presence of nudity, but rather how that nudity represents more than just being sexy. There is a greater emphasis on artistry, on the uniqueness of the photography and how it is processed. There is a tilt toward the bizarre, such as an editorial done with the model holding a very large, limp fish. There’s also an emphasis on empowerment. One magazine gave two models and camera and a boat to themselves for the weekend. No photographer, no crew. The result was perhaps surprising, with a lot more nudity as the models felt free to not bother getting dressed the entire weekend, but also empowering because they were in charge of what pictures were taken when.
Not everyone is making the shift successfully. Schlossberg’s article references how sales have dropped at American Apparel since they changed their ad campaign to something considerably less provocative. Similarly, Abercrombie & Fitch is second-guessing whether they might have let the pendulum swing a little too far.
Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition adds MMA fighter Ronda Rousey and plus size model Ashley Graham to their covers and get more attention than ever because they defined sexy as something other than the traditional size two.
Every generation redefines what sexy is for them, and the past few generations have largely copied off what came before. What’s happening now is that millennials, and the upcoming Gen Z folks what a more three-dimensional image of what’s sexy. They’re not satisfied with a flat image of a naked body or two. Instead, they want that image to have something to say other than, “Hey, I’m naked.” Nudity is a strong communicator, as we’ve seen with celebrity nude selfies the past few weeks, but what they’re communicating with that nudity is a message of empowerment and independence.
Sexy is finding its voice, and that’s challenging for anyone who grew up thinking that one could either be smart of be sexy, but not both. Sexy is a protest. Sexy is casting an informed vote for president. Sexy is intelligent, has a hold on its future, and gets naked whenever and where ever and with whomever it wants, on its own terms, and doesn’t care whether anyone else approves or not.
Sexy is changing, for the better I think. Get on board the new sexy train now, because last ye ar’s definition just doesn’t work anymore.