In her new, NSFW photo spread in the quarterly fashion culture magazine Flaunt, Pamela Anderson looks great. In five eye-popping, surreal, high-gloss vignettes by David LaChapelle, she vamps around in heavy makeup, a dusting of glitter, towering yellow booties and not much else. At 48, the figure that was made famous jogging in slo-mo along the shoreline in Baywatch is as vavoom as it ever was.
This shouldn’t be a big deal: A woman has a right to do what she wishes with her body and cover or uncover it as she pleases. In Anderson’s case, though, she is woman over 40 — the age when, according to Hollywood by way of Amy Schumer, your vagina turns into a hermit crab — and so the idea of Anderson stripping down has become a bit of a media story.
Whatever subversiveness or empowerment there could have been in presenting an “older” woman as sexually desirable, however, is undermined by LaChapelle’s hyper-stylized, cartoonish version of Anderson, who looks like a generic babe rather than any recognizable version of herself. Her glossy body might as well be a life-size Barbie. Anderson has led an interesting life, has a deep commitment to animal rights activism and has always been supremely canny about the campiness of her sex-kitten image. No sense of that experience or self-awareness is conveyed in the photos. They expose her body but little else compelling or new about her.
Female flesh in popular culture has become so ubiquitous that the once statement-making act of baring it all — think about a pregnant Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair — has lost its power to shock. I don’t find this recent abundance of skin either outrageous or liberating or particularly sexy. For the most, I find it boring. I’m bored of Kim Kardashian’s butt. I’m bored of Miley Cyrus’s naked selfies. I’m bored by the endless stream of celebrity nipples on the cover of Rolling Stone. I’m bored by Beyoncé’s nearly nude gowns. The sea of see-through dresses on runways and red carpets of late so irritated the style bloggers at GoFugYourself that they began to protest the necessity of covering the trend at all.
The issue isn’t nudity in and of itself. It’s the way that nudity is deployed as a lazy fallback, just to grab eyeballs or break the Internet. This approach is tiresome in the same way the kid in fifth grade who snickered every time he typed 58008 on his calculator was tiresome. Yes, it spells BOOBS when you turn it upside down. We get it already.
Nudity, of course, can be delightful and sexy — for all the obvious reasons. It can also have tremendous power. Consider Rihanna’s moving vulnerability as she sings in the bathtub in her video for “Stay.” Or the way that Lena Dunham’s nakedness in Girls feels true to the narcissistic Hannah. Or comedian Tig Notaro’s courageous revelation of her mastectomy scars during her stand up act. Or the strong, diverse athletic forms featured in ESPN The Magazine’s annual Body Issue. These images have story to tell, insight about the person featured, or a fresh way of thinking about the body. They aren’t shocking simply for shock’s sake.
It seems, though, that we may be coming to the end of nudity trend. The newest provocation could be covering your body up. It was recently announced that the annual Pirelli Calendar, an exclusive showcase of erotic pictures of hot models, has reimagined itself for 2016. Shot by Annie Leibovitz, it will portray a diverse bevy of impressive, accomplished women, none of them naked, including Serena Williams, Patti Smith, Tavi Gevinson, Yoko Ono, Ava DuVernay and Fran Lebowitz. It will be interesting to see what these women reveal to the world by keeping their clothes on.