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Nudity in the Workplace

May 18, 2011

So here’s something I’d love to discuss out in the open with my fellow artists — professional nudity.

photo credit

No, no…not the kind of nudity that becomes your profession, but the kind of nudity that often goes along with being a legitimate actor of the young and female variety.

I bring this up because a few weeks ago, my agent contacted me to ask if I would be okay with nudity for a role on a major television show that she wanted to submit me for. A show that I would very much love to be on. My response? Yes. Did I get called in for that particular role? Nope. But it has given me a lot to think about as far as the future is concerned, and for that I am grateful.

In the past, my response to nudity has generally been “thanks, but no thanks” to anything much beyond implied nudity, but the projects I’ve been submitting for up until recently have been much lower profile (hence, lower pay and less opportunity). The stakes have been lower, basically.

I guess to have any sort of legitimate discussion about how much nudity one finds acceptable, you have to start by classifying the types of nudity generally called for. The various levels of nudity, as I see it, are essentially (from least invasive to most):

  • Bra and Underwear — While I appreciate that this is generally considered “nudity” for casting purposes, this doesn’t bother me. I wear a bikini at the beach, so I personally don’t see the big deal.
  • Implied Nudity — Implied nudity can mean a lot of things, but I’m categorizing it as “you’re probably pretty un-clothed on set, but it won’t get seen on camera.” For instance, you have to take some clothes off so that you look naked under that bed sheet, but no one will be filming anything explicit. Or they want a shot of your back in the shower so you have to take your top off, but nothing gets seen in the end besides your pretty little shoulder blades.
  • Silhouette Nudity — You’re naked on set. But perhaps you’re behind a dressing screen? Or a shower curtain. The viewers see your naked silhouette, but they’ve probably seen playing cards that were more erotic.
  • Topless Only — Here’s where we start to get down to some “real” nudity. Yes, you really are naked and it really is captured for posterity. But you still might have done something similar on spring break one year if you had slightly crazier friends than I do.
  • From the Rear Only — You’re naked. We only see you from the back. How comfortable you are with this probably depends on how nice you think your butt is.
  • Full Nudity — The whole enchilada. You are brave.

I guess where I stand at this point is that I’m definitely okay with the “lesser” nudities — Implied through Silhouette. I’d probably even be okay with Topless nudity that was handled well for a really cool indie project. And for a bigger project that I would be really excited about (like the one my agent called me about)? I’m flexible. I’m not in love with the idea of being terribly naked on camera, but I’m open to the idea for truly awesome projects.

So here’s where we get to my favorite part of this post — your input! I really want to know how my fellow actors feel about this, so please vote in my poll!

And if you have anything you’d like to add in the comments, please do! This is a relatively new subject that I’m grappling with in my career, and I’d love to hear how my colleagues deal with it in theirs.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 18, 2011 2:08 pm

    I think I feel the same way you do on this subject… I’ve definitely turned down some small projects because of this, but I think I’d feel different with the right project! It’s so subjective, unfortunately.

  2. thalia permalink
    May 18, 2011 3:15 pm

    The question I find myself asking is not “how much skin” but what is the effect the nudity is having on the performance? I do mostly theatre, and as an audience member I usually hate it when someone gets naked. The contract we’ve made – that the actors will pretend and we’ll believe them – gets broken when something TOO real happens, like someone falling down on the stairs. And nudity.

    But I’ve agreed to it when the writer takes into account what stripping off does to the audience. If you can use that moment of OMG I SEE BOOBIES to help tell the story, it works for me. If you can’t, it doesn’t, and I’m less likely to do it.

  3. May 21, 2011 3:18 am

    I’ve done the “nudity from behind” thing (though you really only saw my back) and the silhouetted (through a shower curtain.) I was really really nervous about it, mostly because in the first example I was disrobing suggestively while straddling a man. This meant that I needed to be nude for him, but not the camera. Luckily, the director was ok with me wearing nude pasties (which would not be caught if I moved into a compromising angle) so I wasn’t entirely flashing myself. And, the film was a comedy so I knew the footage wouldn’t be used in an ill manner. But I still was nervous, and probably still will be for future shoots where nudity is requested.

    Sorry you didn’t get that audition!

    • May 21, 2011 9:45 am

      Thanks for sharing your story! Sounds like what you did was similar to what I would have been called to do had I landed that role. And yeah, I definitely think I would have been nervous about it, too! Props to you for going for it anyways!

  4. The Restless Dramaturg permalink
    May 23, 2011 8:24 pm

    This is a great topic! I have seen so many shows that have nude scenes and each time was done differently than the last. I agree that it really depends on the production. Theatre is about truth and you can’t get more truthful than a naked body in front of you. Not being an actor, I don’t have to face the reality of being on under stage lights while naked (though I have thought of audience members naked while giving preshow/postshow discussions, just to ease my nerves). I would suggest if you are uncomfortable, perhaps a trip to the nude beach, start small, maybe being around people who are comfortable will ease your tensions. Just a thought.

    • May 24, 2011 9:34 am

      That’s actually a really interesting suggestion — using the nude beach to get over yourself before doing a play or something where you have to be really naked. Will keep that tucked away in case of future emergencies 😉

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