By Simon Fearn
I have had an epiphany. I have realised that dating is horrible. I wish people would stop doing it.
This struck me after I subjected myself to an episode of Channel 4’s Naked Attraction to see what all the fuss was about and write a lovely article about dating shows for you. The first episode bagged 1.4 million viewers, eager to see a selection of private parts without jeopardising their internet history, and within four days 160 people had complained to Ofcom about it.
I’m not sure whether I’m a prude or suffering from the scruples that come with the knowledge that objectivising women isn’t very nice; either way it all seemed rather alarming. The contestants are faced with six naked people in perspex boxes, who are then revealed body part by body part in a weirdly literal version of a Medieval blazon. After comparing female genitals to a cheeseburger (don’t ask me to explain), one gallant suddenly went all bashful, confessing that ‘it’s awkward because I’ve said all of those nasty things and now I’ll have to look them in the eye.’ Prince Charming indeed.
It’s not all bad though: there are at least a large variety of different body types for us to ogle at, so it can’t really be accused of championing a single, unrealistic body image. Some of the show’s critics themselves don’t seem to be doing much for body positivity. In a Guardian article comparing Naked Attraction to another nude dating show called Undressed, Stuart Heritage writes of the latter programme ‘these people realise that nudity is weird and shameful, and that it should be hidden from a prospective romantic partner until the last moment possible […] They understand that nudity is humiliating, because it is.’ Is this really a healthy attitude for anyone to have about their body?
Some of the contestants baring all did go on to say how appearing naked has boosted their confidence, but this is probably because the others’ uncontrollable weeping would make Channel 4 look bad. There’s still this horrible judgemental vibe about the whole thing that’s difficult to get away from. ‘I think naked should be industry standard,’ says one of the blokes smugly. ‘You know exactly what you’re getting.’ True, if you’re looking to date a pretty vagina rather than a woman.
In fairness though, Naked Attraction is not a lot worse than all the other dating shows out there, which in turn are no worse than this terrible thing we call Life. First Dates may be set in a pleasant looking restaurant complete with philosophical Frenchman, but both shows boil down to the same thing. We are watching people getting judged, either based on the quality of their small talk or the aesthetic qualities of their private parts, but always with an element of physical attraction taken into consideration. Because, as presenter Anna Richardson (pictured above) said in defence of Naked Attraction, ‘we all go through our daily lives looking at people and making judgments.’ This, unfortunately, is how dating works.
True, it’s nicer to watch people chatting awkwardly over a slap-up meal rather than having their naked form scrutinised with faces revealed last, but in both formats the vast majority of potential partners will be pronounced “not good enough” and cast aside in front of a large televised audience, at least partly because of a judgement made about their body. Just like in real life a lot of the people we meet will judge us and make internal (potentially unfavourable) pronouncements about our sex appeal, and despite our best intentions we’ll judge them too. We hide from this terrible fact of life in the majority of films where the hero always ends up, however inexplicably, with the person they’ve been pining after through most of the narrative. In the real world, one half of those couples would most likely have thought “nah” and walked away.
Clothes on or off, objectification is one of those things in life you can’t get away from. Not that we shouldn’t actively fight against body-shaming and the reduction of women to sex objects in films and advertising, but when looking for a partner, we have to open ourselves up to judgement and hope that it’s favourable, and dating shows reflect this. Unlike the movies, in dating shows the most common answer is always going to be a polite “no”.
Naked Attraction may be pretty tasteless in its anatomical critique of potential partners – not so much a dating show but an attempt to find the best shag – but there’s only so far you can condemn it. We all discriminate in the same way, if I’m honest I found myself subconsciously making judgements whilst exposed to the nude-fest and then felt hypocritical writing about objectification. The only thing we can do is try and be as tasteful and nice about it as possible, preferably without scrutinising people’s naked forms like a prime joint in a butcher’s window.
Photograph: Garry Knight