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The Nude in Political Protest

I’ve had ‘the role of nudity in political protest’ on my list of things to write about for years. Since June 2015 in fact, when an image in an exhibition at the Tate Modern sparked the idea. Last year pledging to finally write it up was on my post-Eroticon list of ‘ten takeaways’. So, with just a week to go until this year’s Eroticon, I thought it was time to shit or get off the pot…

Clearly it’s not much of a secret that I love getting my kit off in public! And even more than feeling the breeze around my own nether regions I love encouraging other into the joyful abandon that comes with cavorting naked, celebrating their gorgeous selves. But aside from the odd Sinful Sunday or two, I rarely get truly political on this site. But what better day than International Women’s Day to celebrate the women who have used their nudity to champion far greater causes. Here are a small selection…

Lady Godiva
Legend has it that in the 11th century Lady Godiva road naked through the streets of Coventry in protest at the taxes being imposed on local residents by her husband. The first written account of this event was not recorded until two centuries after the alleged event so it is likely more myth than fact, but it’s a good one. It’s also where the term ‘Peeping Tom’ for a voyeur came from as apparently the only person who ignored her request to look away as she passed was Tailor Thomas!
John Collier, 1897

Women’s War in East Nigeria
Before Britain colonised Nigeria in 1884, power was shared between men and women. Women held senior political, judicial and religious roles but colonisation eroded this power. In 1929 tens of thousands of Igbo women used nudity to protest their reduced authority. British officials characterised the women as grotesque and sexually available, while African journals rather euphemistically described them “exposing the physical markers of their status as guardians and reproducers of the land and its inhabitants.”
Photographer Unknown, Congress Library

Polka Dot Planet
In 1968, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama held naked protests outside the New York Stock Exchange and on Brooklyn Bridge. These protests, or “happenings” as she called them, saw Kusama paint polka dots on the naked bodies of protestors to bring attention to the antiwar movement. In an open letter to Nixon she wrote ‘Our earth is like one little polka dot, among millions of other celestial bodies, one orb full of hatred and strife amid the peaceful, silent spheres. Let’s you and I change all that and make this world a new Garden of Eden…. You can’t eradicate violence by using more violence.’
Shunk Kender Collection

My body is my own
In March 2013, Tunisian feminist and Femen activist, Amina Tyler posted topless photographs of herself on Facebook with the words ‘my body is my own’ scrawled across her chest as a protest against patriarchy. Some claimed she was dishonouring women and the leader of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice called on her to receive 100 lashes or even be stoned to death. Others, such as political commentator, Jihad el Zein said that when young educated women from the Muslim world pose nude it indicates their moral strength to stand up against the oppression of women.
Amina Tyler self portrait

Tunick v Trump
In May 2016, Spencer Tunick, the creative master when it comes to photographing mass public nudity, put out a call for volunteers to interrupt business as usual at the Republican National Convention that coming July. The only requirement was to be a woman. The photography was to be an act of peaceful protest against the hateful rhetoric Trump and his supporters had directed at women. The results of the gathering and the words of the women who participated are wonderful!
Lindsey Byrnes

There are many views on the effectiveness of women using nudity in protest, from those who think it still has impact to those who argue it’s time for a rethink.  I can see both sides of the argument but as long as the naked female body has the power to make people stop, look and take note, then I think it probably does have a role. What do you think?


  1. May

    I think it is a form of free speech and I am for that 100% – thought it is easier for some cultures to expose their bodies than others. The more difficult, the louder the voice…

  2. Aching Windows

    The Ukrainian protest group Femen has also been really effective at using nudity both as a protest tactic and to gain media attention.

    • Exposing40

      Actually Amina Tyler was part of Femen but I forgot to add that in as I was bashing this out too quickly. I must amend!

  3. sassycoupleok

    There is no doubt that using female nudity garners plenty of attention. It is however legitimate to ask is it still effective and does it bring undesirable attention ?? Ms. K

  4. lovelustlondon

    Really interesting post, thanks. The Igbo example – and the media reaction to it – reminds me of PETA protests where I wonder if the achievement of gaining attention for your cause is overshadowed by people (deliberately?) missing the point and using it as an excuse to objectify women.
    Sadly public nudity still causes shock and outrage. I therefore think it does have a role in protest, but only if used carefully.
    O x

  5. Indigo

    Great post! Yayoi Kusama is a favorite artist of mine.
    I’m still trying to find a photograph I saw many years ago of young bare-breasted women facing down a police line during the anti-Vietnam war protests. They carried banners along the lines of “smile if you agree with our cause”. The police were given warnings that the women might try and distract them from their duty. I wonder how many did get distracted.
    You’ve given me an idea for a post about some of my favorite feminist artists tackling body issues – I hope this won’t be conflicting with any plans you have. Let me know if it does…

    • Exposing40

      Gosh no. Write away. And even if I was the more posts on this kind of thing the merrier!

      • Indigo

        Great! Thank you. Are you in UK?

      • Indigo

        Ignore question I see you are going to dm you on Twitter if thats ok.

  6. tabitharayne

    Wow, darn it, why did I only just see this amazing post now? Would have loved to have discussed it over our wine evenings x x x

  7. Quiller Costello

    Goddam brilliant. There’s a book in here, surely? And not ‘just’ a Taschen either!

  8. Quiller Costello

    Seriously. Have you considered it? I hope so

    • Exposing40

      Haha. No! But the thought is nice!

      • Quiller Costello

        Have you come across Unbound at all? Crowd funding publishers – this sort of thing is right up their boulevard

        • Exposing40

          I have. I have supported a few people to be published through them. My blog is just a lovely low key hobby I do to relax. I already run a business that’s unconnected to this which keeps me busy. I will be keeping E40 as a fun pastime I dip into as and when I can! Thank you for your encouragement though. Xx

  9. Sweetgirl

    I think this highlights the power of the human body … I would think however that if men were to be nude in public protesting it would be similarly powerful and have the same outraged response. When it comes to the body the majority of people are very prudish …

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