“Body Positivity or Heteronormative Trash?” Biscuit Reviews Dating Show “Naked Attraction”

NINTCHDBPICT000259628882“Lets watch the naked dating show!” I’m two glasses of wine in by now so I’m sure I’ve misheard, but no. There is a television show of the classic one person picking a date from a room full of candidates format, only no one’s wearing any clothes while they do it. Its called Naked Attraction and my two glasses of wine think watching it is a great idea, if only because we’re not entirely sure this thing is real.

The show is real and the intro is so frighteningly cisheteronormative, with its cheerful announcement about finding out “what men and women really want”, that I start to feel like an anthropologist observing an alien culture. My friend promises that they have a bisexual candidate later on, but as the write up talks about her wanting to find out if she’s more attracted to men or women I remain dubious. However, bribed with a refill, I agree to keep watching and see.

The naked contestants appear in a disturbingly Logan’s Run-esque rainbow of coloured pods, and are revealed section by section, starting from the feet and moving up. One of the contestants has a prosthetic leg though, and not everybody is white, so that’s nice. Its also nice, though really frankly astonishing, that they’re willing to show a whole parade of penises on national television. Most shows are happy to perpetuate the power imbalance where women’s nudity is exploited but men get to keep their pants on (Game of Thrones I’m looking at you), while here the presenter and the woman looking for a date are really frank in their inspection of and discussion of the men’s genitals. There’s also a nice frankness around women having body hair and an acceptance of the your body your choice approach to it, as well as an open and shameless embrace of women’s sexual pleasure.

Then the evo-psych appears. Cartoon cavemen are used to explain why women like men with round, muscly asses. I make a derisive noise and heckle at the screen that pink was only designated a female colour last century, and then I have to explain to the rest of the room what the hell I’m talking about and why on earth its relevant. Thus begins a small tirade on the field of evo-psych in which I explain that despite pink being considered a boy’s colour until early last century, with blue being assigned to girls, evo-psych maintains these preferences are hard wired because of cave-time food procurement gender roles. The entire field is like this and revolves around using pseudo science to justify regressive gender roles and uphold the status quo. It is generally agreed that yes the field is very stupid but no, I may not have any more wine. We still have most of the show left to go. It contains more evo-psych cave men. I despair.

The lucky winner is the man with the prosthetic leg (and fairly hilarious elephant pelvic tattoo) and during the glimpses we’re shown of their date we see him talk frankly about his disability. It feels normalised rather than exploitative, and other than the weird heteronormativity and reliance on evo-psych to inform women what we like in bed the show isn’t doing too badly. But now its time for the bisexual candidate and so we all brace ourselves.

Naked-AttractionThere are some good bits, like when she brings up the fetishisation of bi women and when she and the presenter high five over being bi, but somehow the cisnormativity of the show is made even worse by including contestants of two genders. There’s a lot of casually equating gender to genitals in this segment, which at least when the contestants were all men wasn’t quite so blatant, and there’s something really uncomfortable about the inspection of the various women’s vaginas. The inversion of traditional power dynamics that was so refreshing about the first round, where a woman judged the bodies of men, obviously isn’t present when fully clothed women judge other women’s nude bodies – especially when you can’t see their faces.

Even though all they have to say is positive it still feels like yet more commodifying of the female form. Also the conceit of the show is that everyone is pared down to their raw physical form, with none of the accessories or daily alterations we make to go out in public, but when you do get to see their faces the female contestants are still wearing makeup. There’s nothing wrong with wearing makeup at all but it seems like a strange exemption to the nothing but the naked self rule, and one that plays into the assumption that a fully made up face is an integral part of womanhood rather than an option. There is no attempt to explain bisexuality through evo-psych at least, for which we can all be thankful. All we get on it in this segment is a short caveman cartoon on pubic hair and pheromones.

 

There is no attempt to explain bisexuality through evo-psych at least, for which we can all be thankful. All we get on it in this segment is a short caveman cartoon on pubic hair and pheromones.

We’re left largely puzzled and unsure how we feel about the show afterwards. A lot about it is good. The body and sex positivity of the presenter and the focus on the female gaze in this episode is something you hardly see, especially in mainstream media. At the same time, future episodes will feature straight male seekers and there is no way to avoid the problematic aspects of that yet. No matter how well intentioned we still live in a culture that places very specific meanings on the naked female body laid out for male judgement, and alternating the genders of who judges who can’t counteract that.There’s also the issue of trans contestants, because again, something that’s fine in the context of the cis male body – something the rightness of which is never questioned – becomes highly problematic when applied to trans bodies, especially if the judges are cis.

Naked Attraction is trying to be sex and body positive, but if there’s no way to avoid replicating patriarchal and transphobic power narratives then it can’t succeed at that, and right now there isn’t. It was a lot better than we had any right to hope but our culture isn’t at a point yet where a show like this can exist without reinforcing the problems its trying to deconstruct.

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Sioban Ball

Sioban is a DM wearing, cat owning archivist and medieval historian because some stereotypes should be full on embraced. She's written for Biscuit, Diva and the Upcoming Living History magazine and is working on a book on Irish Goddesses for Wolfenhowle Press.

One Response to “Body Positivity or Heteronormative Trash?” Biscuit Reviews Dating Show “Naked Attraction”

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    Libby Baxter-Williams says:

    Ugh, evo-psych is such a crock. It’s doesn’t even adhere to its own internal logic, never mind *actual* logic.

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