As the design editor, it’s sometimes difficult to watch my coworkers here at The Collegian experience lots of public discussion and debate as a result of their articles.
I like to tell myself that the lack of discussion surrounding my work means I am doing my job well, since after all, if the design of the newspaper is good, hardly anyone will even notice it’s there. It’s when they’re talking about it that I should be worried. I’ve grown used to this lack of attention, and am usually more than happy to stay in the background (and out of the spotlight of controversy) while my colleagues bask in angry letters-to-the-editor and disgruntled phone calls.
My, how the tables have turned.
On the day of Sept. 1, The Collegian published a story on the front page about recent changes in public nudity laws in the city of Topeka. The city’s decision to change the law was interesting from a legal standpoint, but was also locally relevant and of probable interest to the many young college students who pick up our paper each day (even if for naught but amusement’s sake).
As my job description dictates, I consulted with our photo editor to come up with an interesting and relevant graphic solution to make this story compel people to pick up the paper.
That’s how we ended up running a (heavily censored) photo of three naked young women on the front page of the Sept. 1 issue.
Oh man, some people sure weren’t happy about that. I may have occasionally wished for my designs to tickle the cockles of the heart of the masses a bit more, but this reaction was so not what I had in mind.
We got angry phone calls from people of all ages and creeds. People told us that they were never going to pick up a copy of The Collegian again. People threw stacks of our deliveries into the trash. Advertisers threatened to pull their sponsorship. One angry caller accused me of encouraging violence against women and blamed me for an (alleged) incident where two intoxicated young people laid down on the pavement and had sex in front of the Christian college (I’m not sure how that’s my fault but for the record, if she was telling the truth, then you’re welcome, drunken couple).
The thing is, I am able to understand the angry reactions to opinion columns about abortion and the legalization of recreational marijuana. I can see the basis for the animosity directed at writers who tackle issues of faith and religious expression. I can even sort of get the umbrage we face every time we dare to run an article with the word “hipster” anywhere in the headline.
What I do not understand are working-age adults who spew vitriol and accusations over a heavily-censored image in a college newspaper.
Look, I tried to cover my ass (literally): I made sure that no part of the breasts were peaking out from underneath the black boxes. Anything that could be construed or associated with lower genitalia in any way was blocked out. The models’ poses were neutral and not overtly sexual. Not only were the top halves of their faces cropped out of the photo for anonymity, but all three of the models were smiling so as not to seem dehumanized. All three models participated voluntarily and enthusiastically, and some found the experience liberating and empowering.
How on earth could any reasonable adult person find this offensive? Of course, your decision to stop reading our publication is one that you are absolutely free to make, and far be it from me to stop you.
But in that case, you had better not ever set foot anywhere near a public pool, where young women regularly show off way more skin than what was visible on our front page. Avert your eyes, quickly, before you’re inspired to engage in carnal activities on wayward sidewalks.
You’d best also steer clear of Willard Hall, where not only are students’ drawings and paintings of nude figures displayed in the hallways for critique, but there could be real, live actual naked people being drawn in a classroom right now. In a publicly-funded state school, too. What a world.
Speaking of courses and publicly-funded institutions, you’d better not try to learn anything about art, either, as many of your lectures might feature—horror of unspeakable horrors—paintings and sculptures of naked people…full-frontal, too, and that’s the naughty side. Quick, better put all of your course notes and textbooks into the trash, before your younger sibling sees Michelangelo’s “David” and turns into a violent sexual deviant.
You won’t ever be able to set foot inside a museum, either—there could be thousands of depictions of nudity in there. Better make a phone call to the museum director and demand that they close their doors before some impressionable young child on a school field trip sees a Man Ray photograph and has a Code Orange moral meltdown. Oh God, they’re not even censored. The scandal, oh, the scandal.
Come to think of it, if you have any stray anatomy textbooks lying around from that biology class you took, you’d better get rid of them before some hapless teenager stumbles upon them and discovers some elicit scientific diagrams of what lies beneath every human’s clothing.
It’s your prerogative to be as shocked and offended as you want in any of these situations, but my guess is that you’re probably not offended at all by most of them. But if you’ve ever taken a photograph of a nude Roman sculpture in a museum, or opened an anatomy textbook in a biology class, or donned a bikini on a hot summer day, or abided a parent changing a baby’s diaper in public, then you have absolutely no rational grounds upon which to base your offense about the censored image in our newspaper.
You’re not mad because my design implied that three young women were naked. You’re mad because you, yourself, see something inherently sexual, and therefore morally reprehensible, about the bare human figure—specifically the female figure. You think that you should have the right to determine when young women do and do not show certain parts of their bodies, and the context in which these bodies are sexualized. If it were about anything else, there would have been an equally audible moral outcry when The Collegian ran a censored nude image of one of our male employees accompanying our article about revenge porn (spoiler alert: there wasn’t a solitary peep from the peanut gallery on that one).
You’re not mad about nudity. You’re mad about agency. If our critics were as morally concerned for these young women as they wished to appear, they would have asked them directly how they felt about showing their bodies publicly.
For the record, no one asked.
But, if they did, I would tell them how liberating it felt to, for once, have control over the situation in which someone else ogled. I would tell them how fun it was to model for an experienced photographer in a professional studio. I would tell them how rare it is to look at a picture of your own body and see vestiges of the same beauty you find in the sculptures and paintings you spend so much of your time reading about. I would tell them that all of the models would do it again in a heartbeat.
After all, I not only designed that edition of the newspaper; I was the naked young woman on the far right.
Iris LoCoco is a senior in art history and pre-law. Please send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.