Disclaimer: I wrote these blogs a long time ago! I'm leaving them up as I don't want to delete my journey and I think showing growth is important. But it means that some of my views, and some language I use, is now different so please be mindful of this.
If you haven’t seen the beautifully painted bodies of the Naked Beach hosts, get yourself on All 4 and catch up now. The show follows three new contestants each week, all with different body image difficulties, as they go and hang out with a bunch of gorgeously diverse, naked body positive heroes. This, my friends, is how you bring body image issues to the forefront, and I couldn’t be happier!
Naked Beach was devised by body image and mental health advocate Natasha Devon and Dr Keon West of Goldsmiths University of London. It’s based on research which shows that seeing diverse naked bodies can have a positive effect on your body image. This is certainly something that I’ve noticed in my personal body positive journey - when I filled my Instagram feed full of body positive people, I started to feel a lot more positive about my body. We see a lot of “perfect” bodies in films, TV, in magazines and on social media, and although we know it’s not real, we still see slim, young flawless bodies as the ideal. Thankfully, body positivity is growing fast and there’s an opportunity to see more diversity on social media now. But with these platforms giving everyone a voice, it’s just as easy to fall into the opposite - a bubble of unhealthy influences. Those pesky social media algorithms are just a little too good, showing you more of what it thinks you like. This can be a dangerous journey. I’ve experienced how easy it is to get bombarded with dieting adverts by simply visiting the Slimming World website once for research. Instagram knows I’m into yoga and so shows me adverts for leggings to make my bum look sexy. We can’t even exercise without having body standards thrust on us.
At the time of writing, I’d just watched the second episode of Naked Beach. Not only is the show created by people who understand the nuances and difficulties of body image, they’ve also selected hosts who represent a wide range of bodies and are kind, enthusiastic, compassionate, and most importantly, understanding. The hosts have clearly been on their own body positive journeys and are keen to help others grow to accept their bodies too.
The contestants watch the hosts jiggling about playing tennis, they draw their naked bodies and have one-on-one conversations, all to help encourage them out of their comfort zones. The hosts have such infectious, positive energies that it creates a safe space for them to take risks they might never have taken before, like wearing a swimsuit or exposing their stomach. It takes a lot of courage to show a part of your body you’ve thought of as disgusting for so long, that’s for sure.
The show is described as a “controversial experiment” but why is it so controversial?
In this article by Natasha Devon, she explains the backlash sparked due to it being shown before the watershed at 8pm. Natasha talks about how this is important because it’s intended to be a family show. It’s crucially important for young people to watch it if we want to help them grow up to be body confident, non-judgmental people. The beautiful body paint by Emma Cammack is an amazing way to allow these people to show their different body shapes and sizes while still keeping it modest for early evening TV. We British do have a tradition of being quite prudish on the surface but the truth is, pornography and sexualised images of women especially are everywhere – we’re just not talking about it. Millions of people seem to love Game of Thrones, which I’ve never watched but I hear it’s a pure cock and tits fest. When naked, glossy, “perfect” people are naked on TV it’s fine - but real people, “different” people, are seen as a bad influence. Beautiful, sexy bodies are acceptable because we’ve seen so much of them we now think it’s “normal”. This is why we need Naked Beach. We need to see differences so that we can see a wider perspective and stop trying to fit into a prescribed way of being. So to the parents worried about their kids watching Naked Beach - please let them. I would’ve loved to have seen this show as a child. This is a healthy way for them to see naked bodies because… and sorry to break it to you, but your kid is going to learn about nudity and sex from porn otherwise. Eeek.
We desperately need shows like Naked Beach to show us how to respect people that aren’t “normal”. How to appreciate beauty in something without it having to be sexy. You can be beautiful no matter what you look like. It’s about changing the way you think, not trying to change your body, and it’s about questioning and calling out ugly behaviour.
What we think of as “normal” has been steered by many years of seeing a certain version of beauty that’s been sold to us, mainly by companies who want to make money off our self-hatred. The ideal body is never going to be an easy one to attain because if it was, they wouldn’t make any money out of it. Diets are never going to work because if they did everybody would just be doing the one that worked and everyone would be thin. Naked Beach, without even saying these things, shows us different bodies and helps us experience the journey through the eyes of the contestants, to help us unlearn all the crap we’ve been taught about being attractive.
I’ve worked on my body image issues a lot and I’m more accepting of the way I look, but I still have difficulties. During the first episode of Naked Beach I was thinking “there’s no way that I’d be getting naked on that beach” but by the end I was totally with them. I’d like to think if I was on the show I’d be easily throwing off that robe! The contestants have to stand in front of a mirror for twenty minutes every night – it’s a form of exposure therapy. Twenty minutes! That’s a long time. So I decided to give it a go, and it was okay but I got bored after about ten minutes!
I still don’t wear a bikini when I go to the beach, but I realise that’s not a failure. A bikini isn't the goal of body acceptance, and I know I don't have to love myself right now. It's a process. Compared to how I was – wearing a baggy t-shirt over my swimming costume and refusing to take it off – I’m doing okay. It’s a big jump to go from hating your body to being in a bikini so it’s still a big achievement just to say “my body is okay.” And if you’re not ready to say that, then just know that you’re still on the right track. Just keep reading and watching body positive stuff.
I’d love more Naked Beach! Sadly there were not many episodes. I bet the hosts had some amazing stories to tell. Hearing somebody else’s body positive journey can be so empowering: what they did, what they learnt, how they pushed themselves out of their comfort zone. I think what we see in the show is just the tip of the iceberg, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there were conversations late into the night about the nature of the beauty industry, the media and the companies that make money off us hating ourselves. How rigid gender roles have caused various body image issues for people of all genders, as well as causing major mental health problems for not looking “normal” and fitting into the bullshit rules of what it means to be a "man" or a "woman".
People wanting to help their body positive outlook will be drawn to this show, but it’s important for people who don’t have body image issues to watch it too. As much as it’s a necessity to help people struggling with their own body image problems, we need to address the underlying issues - discrimination and stigma. I believe that you can transform the way that you think, but you need to be willing and able to give it a go. The reason why it becomes difficult to live in a body that is “different” is because of weight stigma, ableism, racism etc in our society. I grew up thinking fat was ugly and unhealthy but I’ve spent a lot of time reading and learning and I now know that’s not true. My values and options have changed and they will continue to change. Major mental health problems are caused by judgemental attitudes towards people who are “different” (which is a lot of people) and we need to start taking responsibility for this as a society.
There can be a lack of empathy from people who don’t experience body image issues – they’ve not had to experience what we’ve been through. Naked Beach could help them see the world from the eyes of somebody who has always been judged for how they look. It may change some judgemental attitudes, or it may not, but it’s worth a shot. I really hope that people will give it a chance and be open-minded enough without saying any of the usual crap like “they’re glorifying obesity”. They’re really not. In fact, two of the contestants so far were inspired to start working out again since they felt better about their bodies! Body positivity does not "glorify ob*sity", it instead lets us know that you don't need to hate your body. When people start to respect their bodies, they are more likely to treat them well.
So Naked Beach as an “experiment” isn’t necessarily on the contestants, they already know from research that this kind of exposure to diverse naked people works. The real experiment is on us, the viewers. Can we finally start to create a kind of society where we challenge our preconceptions and start to accept people’s natural diversity?
Watch Naked Beach on All 4 here.
Watch my naked video about Naked Beach here.
Follow the hosts here:
Ayesha Perry-Iqbal: @ayeshapi
Ben Whit: @benrwhit
Charlotte Hole: @ch32
Dan Richards: @theonearmedwonder
Felicity Hayward: @felicityhayward
Lala Love: @lalaloveofficial
Molly Forbes: @mollyjforbes