cHanil 4’s dating show Naked Attraction should long ago but to this day hold the record for the number of boobs, bellies and balls shown on British television. Show host Anna Richardson has always tried to steer judgment on Alien Anatomy toward a positive message about our endlessly different shapes and sizes, with limited success — and now she has a new series, Naked Education, that she can atone for. Once again, the hook is unbridled nudity, but this time the focus is definitely on acceptance, myth-busting, and positive shared experiences.
We’re in a light-format magazine, flipping through clearly defined sections that are reassuringly repeated every week. Teen Talk brings together a group of teens and asks for their opinions on a particular aspect of body image, before gentle re-education by co-presenters Yinka Bokinni and Dr. Alex George. Their unconventional and memorable teaching aid? An assortment of completely naked adults.
The number one topic for teens is body hair, a topic that, for high school students, turns out to be a funky morass of myth, rumor, and prejudice. Poppy, now 14, laments that her pubic hair didn’t grow until the age of 12: “Too late!” Equally wrong, in a half-cool, half-disturbing way, is 15-year-old Elliot, who shaves his armpits and thinks pubic hair should be eliminated too, because it’s unsanitary and helps spread STDs.
Once Dr. Alex hits the facts for kids—no hygiene issues, and sore skin from unnecessary shaving actually makes some STDs easier to contract—four figures in robes emerge, and it’s time to start blushing and laughing because those robes About to hit the ground.
But when teens calm down, the next transmission of wisdom is amazing. A topless volunteer explains how her ex-partner insisted she remove her pubic hair, which is why it is no longer there but her bush is visible. Bethany, 26, embraced her leg hair and beard as a result of her PCOS. Her quietly defiant speech about how she accepts the way she looks and challenges others to follow suit, to an audience of trained adults who, five minutes ago, thought no one could love a girl who isn’t completely hairless, is a game-changer. They were just moved to watch three women and a man raise their arms, to show eight holes all naturally, beautifully elegant.
Elsewhere, 32-year-old mother-of-two Lauren bonds with a stranger seven years her senior, Libby, thanks to what Richardson describes as a “powerful nude exchange.” Visually, this part of the show is an oddity: in keeping with the exposed theme, their conversation takes place in an unadorned studio apart from two chairs in the middle. The robes are removed just in time, but the conversation between the two costumed women is the most important event: both had emergency caesarean sections, and both had postpartum depression in the weeks that followed. They’ve already engaged in a stigmatizing conversation about the mental toll of motherhood, even before they stand up to compare their changing bodies. An older, calmer Libby shows how the scars become pale and fade with time.
Richardson talks to the series’ resident group of topless models, all of whom have a story about overcoming bullying over the shape of their bodies. Every week, ‘The Naked Brigade’ – it’s hard not to slack off on these obligatory labels, but the whole show is about finding words for the things we dread discussing, so perhaps the flashy labels are a good way to ease us – cheerfully boarding a minibus and traveling to meet a civilian in need of help.
In the first episode, 32-year-old Hannah is from Cardiff, six feet tall and, since hitting puberty, anxious to take up less space. Now, though, she says, “I don’t want to spend another minute worrying about how I look.” The program’s solution is a group nude photo session, with Hannah and Brigade’s bodies painted naked with insults hurled at them, so they can take ownership of her: in Hannah’s case, her torso says “giant,” “massive,” “long.”
After a change from the show’s designer, including one made to accentuate her height rather than apologize for it, Hannah freaks out and looks great. Is the photo “kind of like a signature piece of art,” as the ever-enthusiastic Richardson claims? Probably not, but Hannah is much happier – hopefully, viewers who have had the same experiences. Another layer of our collective insecurities has been stripped away.