If you're offended by Naked Education, you're misunderstanding the show
At 35 years old, I can say it’s taken me exactly 35 years to even begin to learn to love my body.
Since becoming a teenager, I’ve always been petrified of nudity, imagining no one else could possibly have the same anxiety as me.
If it wasn’t my freakishly protruding ribs, it was my dry skin, my back covered in moles. I was too skinny.
‘There’s no bum on you,’ I’d get told time and time again, unsure if that was an achievement.
And then we haven’t even started on my face, the one part of me always on display. My rouge cheeks, my wonky teeth and supposedly huge forehead, which was regularly laughed at in school, even by my best friend (who is still my best friend of 34 years today). I still can’t grow a beard…
To some, that might be a list of nothing – and the older I get the more I agree. It’s nothing. My life is not going to be hindered or enhanced by the colour of my cheeks and my ribs aren’t an obstacle in any way shape or form.
I am so incredibly lucky to have my health and a functioning body that has so far carried me through life without any complications.
How different might my life have been if I’d had conversations with my peers about our body insecurities? Or better yet, if I’d been shown an eclectic mix of naked bodies, with the people in them explaining what their hang ups had always been when they were younger too, seeing how their bodies changed and grew to be unrecognisable to their younger selves.
Essentially, that’s the premise for Naked Education, Anna Richardson’s ‘wild’ new Channel 4 series, which has been demonised as ‘promoting paedophilia’ and slapped with 930 complaints to TV watchdog Ofcom, presumably from people who claim to know all about the show from its title, without actually bothering to watch it.
Firstly, these are not children like some might suggest. They’re teenagers between 14 and 16 who will – without a doubt – be suddenly having similar questions about their own body, as I had about mine, and I’m certain plenty of others will have had about theirs.
‘We’re trying to turn some negative body image we have about ourselves into a wonderful, positive portrait,’ presenter Anna Richardson tells a group of adults during the opening of Naked Education, dressed in robes anxiously awaiting to unveil their naked bodies to each other and later a class of teens.
Once de-robed, one of the naked subjects tells the class: ‘You are a beautiful, glorious, unfinished work of art.
‘If you can learn that now, you won’t have to go through some of the hurdles that we have all gone through.’
It’s far from predatory, sexual or even inappropriate. Isn’t she quite literally just giving these teenagers a gift of wisdom I certainly didn’t get when I was their age?
After hearing from one man who recalled being embarrassed after ‘developing’ later than his mates and subsequently feeling like the ‘odd one out’, one of the 15-year-old boys later said: ‘Hearing someone else saying they’ve gone through the same stuff that I’ve gone through and how he’s dealt with it and turned it around, I think that’s really admirable.’
Another of the boys added: ’I don’t have an ideal body after that. If you’re happy with your body that’s the ideal body.’
What teenager was enlightened enough to say this 20 or even 10 years ago?
As well as speaking directly to teens about their bodies and others, Naked Education breaks phenomenal boundaries with vital and completely uncharted territories about bodies – trans bodies, disabled bodies, disfigured bodies and each conversation is done so delicately and sensitively it’s unthinkable to me how anyone could find them offensive.
These were conversations I wasn’t even close to having with anyone until university when suddenly I was surrounded with students who would strip off and run through halls naked, completely care-free.
Not that I’d encourage teenagers to run through their school corridors with nothing on, but I’d never seen or even imagined body confidence like it until I was much older.
In my twenties, friends were so open about their bodies and being naked around each other in a way that I couldn’t imagine myself and I’ve never really asked them where they got that confidence from, but I always wished I had it.
Perhaps if I’d been taught much younger that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, my body will change and almost everyone you’ll ever meet will have some hang ups about their body – not just you – I’d have reached the place I’m at with my own now much sooner.
Nudity isn’t immediately sexual and complaining that teenagers being shown real naked bodies only suggests that it is.
Teenagers and young adults need to be given more credit, particularly the generations that have followed us who have time and time proven they’re way more switched on when it comes to sex positivity, social awareness and display levels of maturity and wisdom many adults I know are yet to reach.
Naked Education isn’t anything parents should fear. It isn’t harmful to encourage your teenagers to feel liberated by their body and urge them to celebrate the skin they’re born in.
What’s scarier and far more harmful is leaving them to carry their anxieties alone and keep nudity a dark taboo.
Teens could be shown naked bodies via Dr Alex on Naked Education or getting their education about nudity and body image elsewhere – porn or worse. Which would you prefer?
Naked Education is available to stream on All 4 now.
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