Laura Dodsworth’s recent art and social project, Bare Reality, comprises of 100 women’s bare breasts photographed and displayed without airbrushing. The end result demonstrates the variation in women’s breasts: some tattooed, some saggy, some women with only one breast – barely any the perfect, perky and voluptuous breasts akin to those seen on Page 3.
Breasts are a common source of anxiety for women from prepubesence through to old age, and it isn’t difficult to blame media such as Page 3 for this. Women are faced with an image of what their bodies should be like if people want to look at them. The value of Dodworth’s project is that it demonstrates how you don’t have to match up to the bodies shown in the media because they are not necessarily reality.
Comments on The Guardian’s report on Bare Reality question the paper’s motivations in examining the project and including the photographs, suggesting that it wrote about the project as an easy way of drawing in readership, with some even comparing the article to Page 3. Does this mean that it is impossible to expose intimate areas of the human body artfully without objectifying them?
It is, of course, impossible to give a blanket definition of what is artful and what is not. To me, it involves a delicate but immeasurable combination of aesthetic pleasure and an important message. Maybe Van Gogh’s Almond Blossoms seems far more aesthetically pleasing than it does carrying an important social message. Dodsworth’s project would be the opposite in that it may be less aesthetically pleasing and even offend some people, but it definitely carries an important message.
The personal stories collected from Dodsworth’s anonymous interviews with each of the 100 participants provide enlightenment as to how a variety of women feel about their breasts. They may not all love them, but some do. One woman in her twenties hated her breasts until she had them surgically reduced, while a 101-year-old woman was perfectly comfortable with the appearance of hers even after a single mastectomy, which resulted from a breast cancer scare.
Works of art such as this not only surprise us, but inform us that life and people are artful and meaningful, and it does not seem fitting to equate them to superficial Page 3 photography.
The usual photographs of breasts we see have undoubtedly influenced our expectations of what they should look like.
These breasts look nice, and therefore it is not unreasonable or offensive to suggest that this kind of photography is art.
Dodsworth’s project definitely challenges expectations. She even commented that, when her husband first saw Bare Reality, he was dumfounded and remarked firstly at how different it was to what we see in magazines.
Thanks to this project and others like it, people’s expectations of what the female body should look like can be challenged and changed. Women may begin to feel differently about their breasts, which in turn can affect their relationships with others. It may also provoke men to think that they do not have to look like models either. Bare Reality is a reminder that, alongside aesthetic pleasure, the value of art involves an importance beyond its physical appearance. It is socially relevant.