Channel 4’s Naked Attraction has swiftly become one of the most controversial dating shows and concepts ever. Airing on Monday evenings, the show’s premise is that one singleton observes five naked bodies, which are revealed slowly – from their feet, legs, genitals, chest, and eventually their faces. The single person then must eliminate contenders one-by-one until eventually one is left, whom they go on a fully-clothed date with. Yes – the show’s ‘gimmick’ is that the potential love interest is judged by their naked body alone.
Many of the show’s participants have hailed the experience as being “liberating,” giving them a “confidence boost.” Indeed, the show has undoubtedly helped to deconstruct the societal pressure of being ashamed of your body and overly obsessed with notions of modesty; the naked body is presented in a fairly surprisingly desexualised manner, with there being a variety of height, size, colour and sexualities. It’s refreshing to see this kind of openness; it wasn’t long ago that the media exploded at the sight of Heidi Klum’s nipple as she saved her family from drowning at the beach. It has bothered me, then, to hear of the countless complaints received by Ofcom from people who find the sight of genitalia that we all possess as something to be utterly disgusted by. Personally, I am exasperated with being categorised as the “tinder generation” who have a “millennial’s lax attitude towards nudity.” Yes, I am fully for nudity as a form of empowerment and reclamation; it is only when this is used in an exploitative way that it become problematic. Naked Attraction is at the very verge of this dilemma.
The show poses the question: “what would happen if we were stripped of all the things that usually define us?” In this manner, it delves into how we construct our notion of the self, leaving behind our bare shells to be examined by stranger’s eyes. Thinkers such as Vygotsky (1978) have viewed the ‘self’ as a complex emergent constructed by interchanges with others and with the culturally transformed material world. Naked Attraction, then, attempts to get rid of all this complexity. Ultimately though, it can’t completely succeed, especially in our modern age. The naked contestants are adorned with tattoos, and nipple piercings, sending out messages about how their construct their identities. The show’s gimmick feigns liberation, but, ultimately, fails.
The show is also interspersed with unconvincing ‘scientific sexual facts,’ helping to try and frame the programme as merely attempting to analyse the science of ‘raw primitive attraction.’ One fact, conducted by unspecified ‘researchers,’ is that men are only attracted to big bums because it means that their back is more curved and therefore suited to childbirth. I highly doubt that is what men think when they appreciate a woman’s behind. Comments made on the show are ambiguous as to whether they can be deemed leery or distasteful; they range from “I like her labia. She also has a good areola-to-nipple ratio,” to “his body type is just a little too heavy-set for me.” One girl is even eliminated for her pinky toe. Seriously.
There seems to be something very male gaze-esque about the entire thing, yet Mulvey’s famous theory suggests some form of gender asymmetry, when in the show both sexes are equally exposed. As spectators, the show seems voyeuristic, like we are intruding on some sort of private moment; and in this sense Channel 4 succeed in produced a controversial show that people can’t help but be drawn to and publicise. They have manipulated the extremism associated with nudity for their own benefit – views and ratings. Nudity has always been synonymous with some kind of extremism. For example, the Ukrainian protest group FEMEN advocates “sextremism” as a way to protest against patriarchal norms, who state that modesty is a legal imposition. Naked Attraction isn’t necessarily designed to liberate; instead, it puts increased focus on our physical shells when thinking about love, as opposed to personalities, for example. For this reason alone, despite it being unquestionably entertaining television, I can only see it as degrading.