Nudity in the Public Domain

by Dr. Carla Cornelius, Christian Examiner Contributor |
Jessica Biel giving interviews on the red carpet at a black tie gala, January 6, 2007. | Photo: Maggie/Flickr

The American actress, Jessica Biel, recently gave voice to a view which many women probably wish they had the courage to share. Speaking of her fashion choices when she was younger, she stated, "I wish I would've explored some different shapes, and not gone sexy all the time... I think if you look at some of my earlier choices, maybe it didn't need to be always about the body. I know it's a vibe you feel when you're young, but still that's what I would have done a little differently." (, "Jessica Biel wishes she didn't dress 'so sexy all the time' when she was young," by Jessica Sager, January 24, 2019). She previously expressed her regret at posing for topless photographs for "Gear" magazine at the age of 17.

How are we to deal with the massive, constant assault on the eyes ever-present in today's world? Men must struggle with the command not to look lustfully on a woman, which Jesus warned is the equivalent of committing adultery with her (Matthew 5:28). With females, it's more insidious. Nudity does not appeal, but we want to look trendy and fashionable. We're seduced more by the aesthetically pleasing way the clothes are presented on the female body on catwalks and in fashion magazines than by the clothes themselves. This allows us to imagine ourselves wearing these clothes, and how they will make us feel.

For the closing show of the "Maison Valentino" collection at Paris Fashion Week 2019, Naomi Campbell stole the show as she led the models down the runway. But it was not for the breath-taking elegance of the Valentino attire, but for the fact that the body-skimming see-through organza blouse showed her bare breasts (#Being Naomi, accessed March 16, 2019). There was no tangible reaction from the crowd other than rapturous applause at the end. Yet, would this be considered an acceptable way of dressing for a woman on the street?

Women in the west are particularly vulnerable to the influence of the more liberal fashion industry which does not think twice about exposing parts of the female anatomy which were once considered off-limits such as the breasts, the waist and the buttocks. It begs the question – does this truly liberate women?  Or does this stereotype them as "sex objects" and "eye candy"? Also, does this not encourage women to trade on their erotic capital rather than on their brains, wisdom, personality and other substantial qualities?

Impressionable young women may conclude that what's acceptable for the catwalk or red carpet is acceptable in everyday life. The popular ethos is that "if you've got it, flaunt it!" Many may still remember the Versace "safety pin dress" which Liz Hurley wore on the red carpet in 1994. It caused quite a stir at the time, but helped to normalise the trend in body-baring fashion which started in the freewheeling sixties and continues to push the envelope – including with hot pants, bare midriffs, "distressed" and "destroyed" Jeans and micro-minis. As if décollété blouses were not revealing enough, we now have butt cleavage. Now these peek-a-boo ensembles seem tame by comparison with today's overt and unashamed immodesty.

The culture norms of appropriate dressing have shifted so seismically that Thomas Cook recently felt the need to apologize to a 21-year-old woman who had been asked by flight crew on an airplane to cover up her bralette.

Post the #MeToo and TimesUp movements, women are at a crossroads in how they will both stand up for themselves and one another as well as how they will relate to men. How they choose to present themselves physically must also figure in their future re-calibrations. Since the sixties, the culture has bombarded us with the message that if women are feminists who therefore have the well-being of their gender at heart, they should have the right to dress as they choose. Yet, the fact remains that most top fashion designers are men. Would most women choose to dress in revealing attire if the fashion was not foisted upon them as trendy and for the "fashion-conscious." These are words which fuel peer-pressure and our need to conform in order to fit into our social circles and be deemed acceptable. But, this has clearly not helped women to be perceived as equals in the eyes of so many men, especially those in positions of power.

The Apostle Paul's injunction to Timothy was for "women to be modest in their appearance... wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes" (1 Timothy 2:9, NLT). It may be argued that this represents the other extreme of men in authority setting the standard of how women should dress. Two caveats must of necessity be mentioned. Under no circumstances should anyone feel justified in harassing or assaulting a woman based on how she's dressed. Secondly, there is nothing wrong with admiring the way a woman presents herself. Admiration and lust are polar opposites.

Ultimately, women must make their own wardrobe choices. Although many might like to believe it doesn't matter, and that they have the right to wear whatever they choose, the reality is that these choices may have undesirable repercussions. Their empowerment lies in not letting fashion make these choices for them.

–Dr. Carla Cornelius aims to shine a light on contemporary trends with Biblical wisdom and good old-fashioned common sense. Her heart's desire is to empower women in the truest sense of the word so that they understand who God desires them to be rather than simply riding the tide of popular culture and aspiring to cookie-cutter stereotypes of how they should look and behave. She is the author of five books including Culture Detox: Cleansing our minds from toxic thinking, Captive Daughters: Breaking the chains and No Way Out: Keys to avoiding suicide.