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April 11th, 2012

Our laws don’t match our attitudes regarding nudity

As recently as January, the United States Supreme Court was debating whether or not television networks should be fined for showing a bare body part - in this case, a woman’s butt - on an episode of ABC’s “NYPD Blue.”

A lawyer arguing for the networks noted enforcement could lead to complaints about the Summer Olympics in Beijing: During the opening ceremonies a statute of a bare-breasted, bare-bottomed woman was plainly visible.

A decision isn’t expected until June, but no matter the result, the very fact this is a matter before the highest court in the land troubles historian Mike Foster.
America remains surprisingly prudish, or at least hypocritical, about nudity, says Foster, co-author with his wife, Barbara, of the biography, A Dangerous Woman: The Life, Loves, and Scandals of Adah Isaccs Menken.

“Officially, we’re uptight about nudity,” he says, “but happy to watch it in the media. Advertisers use nudity to make a buck, publishers to sell product, and protesters take it off to make a point.”

Lindsay Lohan’s nude spread for Playboy earned her a million dollars and was pirated on the Internet. Helen Mirren, at the age of 64, posed topless for a puff promoting ‘Love Ranch.’ PETA women strip in public for attention to animal rights.

The “ultimate fantasy commercial” for this year’s Super Bowl featured a beautiful Colombian model looking stark naked. It was done with paint and 100 million viewers feasted their eyes on a nude illusion.

Foster says our nude hypocrisy stems from the Victorian era, when actress Adah Menken was dubbed “The Great Bare” by writer/admirer Mark Twain. The Civil War-era bombshell actress became famous as The Naked Lady for her starring role in “Mazeppa,” a drama in which she rode a stallion up a four-story stage mountain, apparently in the buff. Unbeknownst to the crowd, she was actually wearing a flesh-colored body stocking.

It’s mystifying that over in Western Europe, the birthplace of many American traditions and values, billboards, TV shows and commercials featuring nudity are commonplace.

One hopeful sign that America’s easing up: At actress Betty White’s televised 90th birthday tribute, Tina Fey claimed the older actress told her: “Never let anyone tell you that you are not good enough to pose nude.”

Yes, it seems our favorite “Golden Girl” did it a few decades ago. Was she yet another “dangerous woman” ahead of her time?

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