Julie Burchill

What Emma Thompson needs to understand about celebrity nudity

What Emma Thompson needs to understand about celebrity nudity
Emma Thompson in Good Luck to you Leo Grande (Photo: Searchlight)
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Another day, another diva disrobes. If it’s not Madonna (63) being ‘outraged’ after being banned from Instagram Live (after continually breaking the app’s rules with her nude posts) for ‘digital depictions of her vagina’ it’s Emma Thompson (also 63) getting her kit off for her new film, in which she plays a widow who hires a sex worker. And like a bleak backbeat, we have the sad spectre of Britney Spears, a young woman used as an ATM machine by her immediate family and as fantasy fodder by strangers since she was old enough to wear a school uniform ironically. Her social media since her recent emancipation shows her to be understandably confused about what she is valued for and she has shared a string of naked pics with her 41 million Instagram followers.

From the time Adam swerved Lilith for Eve, women have been sorted neatly into two types by various patriarchies: the Good and the Bad, the Virgin and the Whore. But I tend to think that we’re more accurately – and less judgementally – divided into the Tough and the Tender.

Jennifer Lopez often posts shots of herself wearing very little. But when she does it, it never seems like a cry for help or a plea for attention – simply a straightforward celebration of a body which has assisted its owner to command a vast fortune as a singer, dancer and actress over three decades. Lopez posed naked as recently as two years ago, wearing nothing but her engagement ring on the cover of her single ‘In The Morning’ and sharing the sight with her 133 million Instagram followers. ‘Surprise!’ she wrote. ‘Here’s the official cover art for #InTheMorning. Single drops Friday.’ It was a masterpiece of understatement. I fancy that Lopez strips for the same reason that Ursula Andress gave when asked why she took her clothes off for Playboy back in the day: ‘Because I’m beautiful’. And for the money, of course – but not needing the money, being already successful, adds to the take-it-or-leave-it air of insouciance such women display.

You’ll know a Tough Broad like Lopez when you see one. (Not to be confused with the – shudder – Strong Woman, a phrase I’ve grown to loathe over the years, as every weak ninny of the female sex has rushed to adopt it as their own. Unless you can pull a truck along with your teeth, please don’t call yourself a Strong Woman.) Tough Broads disrobe, drink and drug as they see fit; when they’ve had enough, they move on and embrace moderation.

But if women are Tender Babes, such antics may damage them. Stripping off, especially, looks more like a side-effect of self-harm rather than self-esteem. Marilyn Monroe was, of course the tenderest babe of them all – when her nude photos came to light in Playboy, having posed for them for a 1952 calendar, and she was asked why she had done it, she replied ‘Hunger’. It’s not extreme to say that the commodification which eventually killed her started here, lending an even creepier necrophiliac feel to Hugh Hefner’s statement in 2012 on the 50th anniversary of her death, when his dirty mag chose to rake over the poor creature’s ashes for profit: ‘She was most in control when she was in the nude. What would be a position of vulnerability for others was a position of power for her.’ Her sad life and early death would suggest otherwise.

What about those who don’t need the money and do it anyway – those privately-educated, over-privileged smuggies who strip off in the name of ‘fat activism’? Their poster girl is Lena Dunham, with her bovine eyes and her regrettable urge to get her baps out whatever the weather. No doubt this type of woke woman considers such antics ‘empowering’ but – like Slut Walks and pole-dancing, also rebranded as modern feminism – stripping off and then complaining about being objectified is about as logical as a flasher complaining that people are looking at him funny.

So, on the whole, the best way to undress in public is to do an Andress and simply say ‘Because I’m beautiful.’ Try not to get pretentious about it; whereas Madonna once disrobed out of sheer high spirits, her recent peep-shows have an air of derangement about them. Be a Kate Moss, not a Lottie Moss; if you decide to flaunt your youthful beauty, do it for a Calvin Klein billboard rather than the geek chorus of OnlyFans.

In the past, getting naked in public for pay was largely confined to the desperate and the decadent; now it can seem that everybody’s doing it. But whether young women chose to see this route to public attention as a blessing or a curse, it might be wise for them to consider first whether they are tough or tender. Because it is these differing personality traits which will decide whether exposing themselves may be the springboard to stardom – or sorrow.