Thursday, May 29, 2008

Topless New York

I recently received the following email and told the writer I'd post for feedback. I hesitate to do so (the feminist in me shivers at the idea of a casting call for topless women), though I recognize the body acceptance possibilities involved in such a project. Is the photographer's speculation (about size) right on? Would you be willing to drop your top for art?

Dr. Stacey -

I was recently pointed to your blog by a friend after I asked him basically this same question, and I was wondering if you had any insight. I'm a photographer working on an art & politics project called "Topless New York" - celebrating the fact that New York is one of only a few states where women have the legal right to go topless in public anywhere that men have the legal right to do so. In addition to using a popular modeling & photography networking website to find women to pose for the project, I also use Craigslist, and I'm very clear in the headline and in the text of the ad that I'm looking for women of all ages (over 18, anyway) AND ALL SIZES.

Yet 98% of my responses are from younger women, and 99% of them are fairly thin (though there have been a few exceptions). I tend to think this may be because women are self-selecting when they even look for modeling gigs in the first place, but I had hoped that tapping the amateur/citizen-model market through Craigslist would allow me to reach more women of average or above-average weight who were willing to pose for the project as well. Do you think it might be a matter of body image and embarrassment over the thought of baring their tops in public, as well? Or am I overthinking it, and I just need to be happy with the responses I get?

Thanks for any insight you can offer, and keep on blogging!

Topless New York


Palmtreechick said...

I didn't realized that we're allowed to go topless anywhere men are allowed to. Yay! Just kidding, I'll still be keeping my shirt on.

This post, however, did remind me of that Seinfeld episode where Sue Mischky (correct me if I'm wrong on her name) walked around in just a bra.

Anonymous said...

I've heard of someone doing a project like this - is it you Jeff? I mean, publishing a book and the like.

Anyway, maybe you just need a wider target audience. You might e-mail someone who has an anti-diet blog or even a fat acceptance blog, and ask if you can post there- I know there is always a risk of people getting offended but you have probably dealt with rejection before, being a photographer. But many women who are not "thin" celebrate their bodies and would probably be happy to show that.

And for the record I am not at all offended by this, and I also learned something. I know there is at least one nude beach in NY, but I did not know women could go topless virtually anywhere. I wish I had the chutzpah to test that.

ps22 said...

Jeff - I'm not sure that there is a good answer here. I'm sure issues of body acceptance/body image are at play, though I am uncertain to what degree. I agree with anonymous (above) that there are likely many women who are quite happy with themselves and would be willing to participate.

I immediately thought of Spencer Tunick's work where thousands of average people were willing to go naked for his photos. But maybe that is because his pictures are so large scale that individuals know they can participate while maintaining anonymity? However, I am still surprised you haven't found anyone. I agree that maybe your methods of getting participants tend to draw a self-selected sample (especially in this city). Maybe there are other arenas where you could seek participants - like other areas of entertainment (art, music) or even the adult film folks (if you are ok with that). I think you may find people who are comfortable with their bodies, but more importantly, also comfortable with public display.

Topless New York said...

Just to be clear, it's not that I haven't found anyone - I've done several shoots already. I just don't get much response to my ads from women who are average or above-average size.

I also agree that Spencer Tunick's work may tend to attract a greater variety of body types because of the anonymity of the crowd. My work is far less staged and far more individualized, and anybody who models for it is easily identifiable. Body image could certainly play a role in that.

Thanks for the insight thus far, and I look forward to more.

Artemis said...

I would expect that the majority of women who would feel comfortable with that would be young, perhaps thin, and even more I suspect you would find a larger percentage of women who have somewhat large (comparitive to body size*) and.... otherwise societally acceptable (shape, "perky" et cetera) breasts.

I wouldn't do it. Because of my size, because of my stretch marks, because I have fairly small boobs, especially for being as overweight as I am. And they don't in many ways fit the shape ideals that we are taught about boobs.

*I say comparable to size because smaller boobs are more acceptable on thin women than the same size boobs an overweight/obese women. Overweight/obese women are expected to have much larger boobs, proportional to larger bodies.

PS- sorry if the formatting on this sucks, my computer doesn't want to recognize my enter key -_-

Anonymous said...

I've participated in nude photo shoots where the focus was unconventional beauty.

I am fat, beautiful, have large breasts and would pose for you topless.

I travel to New York about once a year. Release your contact information and I'll contact you!

Anonymous said...

What about modesty? Just because NY allows women to be topless doesn't mean they do it very often. Regardless of my body shape, I wouldn't walk around half-naked in a large city - especially with the way women's bodies/breasts are exploited and sexualized through the all-pervasive p*rn industry. There are parts of me that are covered up at all times, and the only people who get to see those parts are my husband and health professionals. I'm not against nudity in art, I'm for modesty in public - I hope you are able to fine enough subjects for your photography, and I'll never be one of them! :)

cggirl said...

They already did that project.

It's right here:

It's called "uncovered".

(I don't mean to belittle your endeavor, just wanted to make sure you knew what had come before...)

cggirl said...

hm i dont think my link worked.

just check out this site
and select the "uncovered" exhibition.

There are women of all body types, and it's in new york, and they even had a police officer try to get them to stop but it is legal to be topless in new york so...

Anyway, it sounds like what you're trying to do is the exact same thing.

Charlotte said...

Jeff - my first thought is that Craigslist is creepy. A woman in the next city over was killed answering a craigslist posting. My guess is that perhaps youngish skinnyish women might more easily believe that you are telling the truth because they think that someone actually would want to see them naked. Perhaps differently aged/sized women do not think people would want to see them naked and therefore you are some kind of crazy/pervert/scary person who wants to take advantage of them somehow. We've all seen those Oprah shows where the woman goes into a "photo shoot" that is supposed to be "tasteful" and ends up in totally raunchy porn. Not saying that your project is like that. just saying that we might not know the difference.

Second thought - younger girls are probably less risk averse than older women.

Stephanie said...

I agree with Charlotte - firstly that Craigslist is a little creepy and you never know who you'll find on it; secondly that women who aren't of the society-considered 'attractive' body type would be even less likely to believe your request is sincere.

Anonymous said...

Charlotte, with all due respect, your comment makes no sense to me.

Your premises, as I understand them, are:(1) thin women believe strangers want to see them naked; and (2)heavier women do not think people want to see them naked.

How, then, do you conclude that thin women are more likely than heavy women to feel safe with a strange man on CL? To me, it seems that someone who believes men want to see her nude would be far MORE wary of random people on the internet than someone who believes no one would want to see her naked.

Unless your point is that since only perverts want to see fat women nude, while lots of people want to see thin women nude, the risk to a fat woman of answering a CL add for a model and meeting a pervert is proportionally higher.

Charlotte said...

Anon - actually, my two points weren't meant to be taken together. I meant that a) ALL women, regardless of their size/age, MIGHT find a Craigslist ad like this potentially creepy and then b)the idea of posing topless might sound more credible to thinner/younger women because it reinforces what they already believe about themselves because of our societal bias (and you know there is one) towards young and thin.

I said nothing about the "pervertedness" or any other feature of the intended audience. I also don't claim to speak for women in general - those are just the two thoughts that went through my head:)

spacedcowgirl said...

Since this is a political project, I would consider emailing your request to the authors of feminist and fat acceptance sites and see where you get. (Although I think I see what you're trying to do, some people might find the project objectionable or feel that it objectifies the models; I'm not sure. But Leonard Nimoy's recent exhibition of photographs of fat women was well-received, so if your project is political/artistic and not sensationalistic or exploitative, I would think there might be some interest.)

I'm thinking of places like Elastic Waist, Shapely Prose, the Adipositivity Project, etc. and the major feminist web sites. Shape of a Mother is a great site promoting pride in real, fatter and thinner, younger and older pregnant and post-pregnancy bodies; I'm not sure about the site as a "model source," but to me the "battle scars" of pregnancy make these women so inspirational and beautiful and it is definitely worth a look by anyone.

And you could also check with the admins at Dimensions, where many actual fat models post and you may therefore find a bigger crowd of large folks who are comfortable being photographed.

My 2 cents.

Topless New York said...

To Anonymous:

I can be reached by e-mail at, and I appreciate your interest. The same goes for any of Dr. Stacey's other readers - I did not contact her with the intent to recruit, but since someone expressed interest here, I would certainly welcome hearing from any others who share her interest, whatever size they may be.

To cggirl:

I know of Jordan Matter's work and I admire it greatly, but I don't feel that I'm necessarily treading upon the same ground so much as providing a complementary viewpoint.

To the other anonymous:

You choose to cover your breasts at all times because of how they have been exploited and sexualized by society - but it is that very exploitation and misguided over-sexualization that led NY to pass its law against baring breasts in public in the first place many decades ago. Ultimately they are not considered sexual organs, and it was an enormous step away from that exploitation when NY's Court of Appeals struck down the law in 1992 as violating the state constitution's equal protection clause. One of the reasons I started this project is to discourage the exploitation of naked breasts, to convey that while they are beautiful, they are neither unusual nor to be feared for any reason. So while I respect your choice not to want to walk around the city topless, I personally believe that the more women who do choose to do so, the less anyone will care.

To charlotte:

I completely understand that responding to a random ad by a photographer you don't know could seem creepy, but I have to roll my eyes at a statement like "A woman in the next city over was killed answering a craigslist posting." Women get killed far more often by people they know and trust than by strangers. Craigslist is simply a medium for messages, and susceptible to the same kind of carelessness as any other medium. I highly recommend that any woman interested in any kind of modeling job whatsoever ask the photographer for references before agreeing to a shoot, and I happily include myself in that list.

Lori said...

I'm very late to the party with this one, but nobody has mentioned that some of the reason why larger women might not be signing up is because going topless when you are very well-endowed can be physically uncomfortable.