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Following the recent controversy regarding that Vanity Fair shoot, Olivia Cooke gives her take on the compatibility of feminism and nudity.

‘I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it’ said Emma Watson in response to the furore caused amongst the feminist community after Vanity Fair recently published a photoshoot of the actress. The problem. In one photograph Watson was wearing an open, white crocheted bolero jacket with no shirt or bra underneath.

Under the artistic influence of the renowned fashion photographer Tim Walker, the photoshoot aimed to portray Watson as having finally shed her child-star image alongside the release of her new film film Beauty and the Beast. Yet after the publication of these images, Watson has been labelled an ‘anti-feminist’ by other feminists for exposing her breasts.

The arguments surrounding Emma Watson’s Vanity Fair article highlight a recurring and very prevalent problem within the modern feminist movement. Can you call yourself a feminist if you expose yourself? Can you justify a belief in advocating women’s rights if you decide to bare part of your body to a public audience?

According to Watson you can. Having stated that she was ‘thrilled’ by how the photographs were ‘incredibly artistic’, Watson argued how ‘Feminism is about giving women choice’. The photographs embody the ‘freedom’ and ‘liberation’ she cites as core aspects of feminism, and particularly her choice to expose her breasts in this manner. Many commentators have viewed Watson’s decision to publish a photograph of her breasts partially covered as a betrayal of feminist ideals. ‘She [Watson] complains that women are sexualised and then sexualises herself in her own work. Hypocrisy’, said the radio presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer on Twitter recently.

Personally, I take no issue with the said photograph of Emma Watson. It is an extremely tasteful and artistic image: it is neither provocative or sexualised. When done correctly images of women of either partial or full nudity, can be liberating for a female viewer: it celebrates the female body without being subjected under a sexualised, male gaze.

However, a problematic aspect of employing nudity to advocate feminism, can be the intent behind it. How can we tell whether nudity has been used to either empower or degrade the woman, or women within a particular image? Has the image been produced purely to sexualise or celebrate femininity? These, I think, are the key questions at the heart of the problem.

In the case of Emma Watson, having been accused by other feminists for critiquing Beyoncé’s 2014 self- titled album for calling its visual film ‘a male voyeuristic experience’, Watson’s actions could be seen as hypocritical. I however disagree with these feminists: to take one artist’s opinions of another artist out of context in order to soil their achievements for the modern feminist movement is a reversion of core feminist principles.


A post shared by Emma Watson (@emmawatson) on

Feminism was not created to pit women against one another either in terms of race, nationality, beliefs, or sexual orientation. The controversy surrounding Emma Watson’s Vanity Fair piece, highlights how female nudity is still a contentious issue within modern feminism. To say if female nudity will ever relinquish its sexualised connotations is a mystery, however what the modern feminist movement can do now is to celebrate female empowerment in whatever form it may take.

Also read: Can fashion ever be truly feminist?

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