Britain Uncovered interviewed by student newspaper, The Badger!
When Éloïse Armary, Artist Focus Editor of The Badger, recently reached out to ask if Britain Uncovered would be willing to take part in an interview for its dedicated arts supplement, The Burrow, we simply couldn’t resist! Here, courtesy of The Badger, is a full re-print of Éloïse’s conversation with Simon, Editor of BU, which explains our site’s origins, the ways we’re seeking to desexualise nudity, the reasons body positivity needs to be made available to people of all genders, and more.
As we’re rapidly approaching our website’s second anniversary, it’s hard to believe that we’ve already amassed in the region of 60 full-length interviews – with several others in the pipeline for the summer months ahead – and it’s been fascinating speaking with artists, models, photographers and many other creatives about their thoughts and feelings regarding body image issues, social nudity, body positivity, and so many other important issues that don’t always get the mainstream media coverage they deserve.
However, up until now, we’ve never really had the opportunity to explain in any great detail how and why this website of ours was even launched back in 2020 – and we have generally been happy to stay out of the spotlight and to simply provide the platform through which our interviewees are able to share their views and attitudes on so many of the important subjects referenced above. We have intentionally avoided asking any leading questions, and we do our best not to sway people in any particular direction with their answers, and I’m proud to say that this has resulted in a really great mix of contrasting viewpoints across the website.
However, when Éloïse Armary – Artist Focus Editor of The Badger and one of the recent participants in our body positivity photoshoot in London – recenty asked us if we would like to be interviewed for the second ever edition of The Burrow, it seemed like the perfect time for us to finally step into the spotlight and to share some of our own perspectives on so many of the issues we cover on a regular basis. Although this reversal of roles did feel a tad unusual to start with, it proved to be a really valuable exercise that helped remind us of our original goals and objectives; and it was also a really good way of introducing the website to a brand new audience. I hope you enjoy reading through some of our perspectives below (and if not, don’t worry – normal service will resume later in the month with our next batch of interviews!)
The theme for the latest edition of The Burrow was ‘Let’s talk about sex’ – with the pull-out including an eclectic range of poetry, articles, opinion pieces, photography and beyond – and here, for the very first time, is the full-length publication of our entire discussion.
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Éloïse: What is Britain Uncovered?
BU: Britain Uncovered is an online magazine that seeks to promote body positivity, body confidence and all things self-love via the arts and beyond. Feeling confident in the skin you’re in can have such a big impact on your happiness and overall well-being, so it’s really important for people who may be struggling with body image issues to realise that they’re not alone.
We conduct in-depth interviews with everyday people about the body image issues they have faced growing up and the ways they are managing to overcome them, and we also provide event coverage of art exhibitions and various other events that are seeking to promote the increasingly prominent body positivity and body confidence movements.
Éloïse: Why was it important to you to start a project about portraying nudity in a non-sexualised way?
BU: For so long, the media in this country has depicted nudity in an inherently sexual way, and compared to the rest of Europe where people visit beaches and saunas au naturel without any hint of a sexual connotation, us Brits have always lagged behind.
However, thanks to the body positivity movement and various social media influencers who are encouraging people to celebrate their bodies, I think the current generation coming through is far more open to the idea of non-sexual nudity experiences (such as those mentioned above); and nudity is definitely becoming less and less taboo here in the UK, which is really encouraging to see.
This was never more evident than back in 2019 when I attended several events that helped put the body positivity cause on the map, including Body Love Sketch Club’s joyful life drawing classes, and artist Sophie Tea’s Send Nudes exhibition that featured an empowering nude catwalk. By attending these, it became abundantly clear that there is actually quite a big demand for these types of liberating events. Yet despite this, it still felt at the time like an underground movement that wasn’t really being discussed in mainstream media, and I had a natural curiosity to find out more.
Despite being nearly two years into the website, body positivity can still feel like a niche topic at times – especially when you encounter people in daily life who are blissfully unaware of the movement – but overall I feel as though societal attitudes are evolving in the right direction and I’m pleased that Britain Uncovered is helping to get the message out there.
Éloïse: You are a male photographer and most of your models are female, but your photography aims to show nudity in a non-sexualised way. Would you say that you challenge the ‘male gaze’?
BU: Absolutely. Over the years society has conditioned us to believe that nudity is inherently linked with sexuality, but this absolutely doesn’t have to be the case, and it’s important that we fight back against this notion. Whenever we host photoshoots, the images are of people, often naked, merely existing in their own bodies with a total air of nonchalance. By depicting it as an unimportant, everyday occurrence, perhaps we can begin to look at bodies without the sexual male gaze and show people that nudity doesn’t equal sex.
Éloïse: What are your relationships with the models, do you manage to establish trust with them?
BU: Due to the topics and themes of Britain Uncovered and the self-love concepts we’re seeking to promote, we typically attract models and interviewees who are equally as enthusiastic and passionate about the body positivity cause as we are – and this really helps set the tone for a successful collaboration. I think it’s worth pointing out too that we don’t seek out high-end models from casting agencies; instead the website prides itself on featuring real people who have stories to tell who are brave enough to step in front of the camera to help facilitate this. I think this produces interviews and stories that are real and relatable, and our models and interviewees have been so crucial to the site’s success.
Going back to establishing trust, I think that when the website first launched there was perhaps a little scepticism from people before getting involved, and understandably so; but having now generated a really great archive of interviews and features, people can see for themselves how we have approached shoots in the past along with what to expect. This, combined with open and honest communications every step of the way, helps ensure that the required trust is in place and that everybody is on the same page before we get started. The majority of models I’ve worked with have returned for follow-up shoots (some as many as five or six times!), which is always a good sign that the trust is there.
Éloïse: Do you think that sometimes your photography can be interpreted in a sexual way by the viewer?
BU: I think it could be, because the way the viewer interprets an image is so subjective and it’s something that’s hard to control – and as mentioned above, British attitudes towards anything involving nudity are often so closely linked with sex and sexuality.
The key to success, and the element that we can control, is the way the models pose and the manner in which they’re portrayed in the images. Rather than having glamour models posing in a sexually suggestive ways to appeal to the male gaze, we work with regular, everyday people who are more often than not simply existing in their own skin – and often times not even posing. By taking a candid and more relaxed approach, and by presenting the body as just a body, we’re hoping that the nudity will be seen as something very normal and incidental.
Furthermore, by depicting the body in such a normal and desexualised way, perhaps we can begin to re-shape and re-evaluate the ways we perceive the body. As one of our past interviewees told us, it’s important to change perspectives so that the human body, and particularly the female form, can be acknowledged as something human and natural, instead of purely just sexual.
Éloïse: Would you like to photograph male models in the future?
BU: Absolutely, because people of all genders suffer with body image issues, but for various reasons this has been a tougher nut to crack. But we’re definitely working on it!
In many respects, women have been leading the charge with the body positivity movement over the years, and projects like Dove’s Be Real campaign, Cosmopolitan’s body confidence covers and Sophie Tea Art’s catwalk events – along with many other campaigns – have all been really beneficial in helping women to feel happy and confident within themselves.
However, I don’t feel that the body positivity message has been quite as loud or as accessible for guys just yet, and I think many men still suffer internally with body image issues; with some too afraid to speak about them publically due to a culture of toxic masculinity and the perceived risk of being mocked by their peers. Although women are being encouraged to celebrate their bodies of all shapes and sizes, and rightly so, I still feel as though this message isn’t quite as prominent for men yet, which is why there seems to be some reluctance when it comes to baring all for a body positivity photoshoot.
It was reassuring to see recently that underwear brands Surge and Savage x Fenty have started including more diverse male body types to model their clothing, but responses on social media such as, “This is the first body inclusivity for men I’ve ever seen” shows that we do still have a long way to go.
Éloïse: Have you ever been a nude model before and if not, would you like to?
BU: I have, and I first gave it a go as part of Rosy and Ruby’s Body Love Sketch Club events, which are fun, joyful life modelling classes where attendees get the chance to pose in small groups if they would like to. I thought this would be the ideal way of dipping my toe in the water, and it was important for me to force myself out of my comfort zone and experience exactly what it feels like.
The feeling of letting go and just existing in your own body in the presence of others is an incredibly powerful experience, and I’ve found that I grow more and more comfortable with it each and every time I return to these truly fantastic body acceptance events. It’s not always a walk in the park, as body confidence does fluctuate from day-to-day, but I’ve always found it to be a valuable experience even on days when I’m struggling to accept my body.
Éloïse: What do you think a nude photoshoot does to the model’s relationship with their body and sexuality?
BU: In the best case scenario, I think a model can come away from a nude body positivity photoshoot feeling confident and empowered, and sexy on their own terms if they want to be. The resulting images can also help them to see themselves in a new, more positive light, and can serve as an ongoing reminder that their bodies are beautiful – which is especially helpful during times when they’re perhaps struggling to accept or love themselves.
But in truth, the actual experience of participating is just as important as the resulting images, if not more so. Stepping out of that comfort zone and daring to bare all can be a massive step for some people, and simply the act of participation is an incredible feat and worthy of praise in its own right.
Éloïse: What does it do to your own relationship to your body and sexuality, as a photographer?
BU: Being around individuals who are feeling entirely comfortable and confident in their own skin is hugely infectious. Everyone has parts of their bodies that they have doubts or reservations about, so it makes you stop and think, “Well if they can cast aside any fears or worries and just take the plunge, then what’s to stop me or anyone else doing it as well”? Everyone in front of the camera always seems to be having such a fun, liberating experience, and the shedding of layers – both physical and emotional – ends up being hugely impactful for me on the other side of the camera too.
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This article was originally created to appear in the second edition of The Burrow, a dedicated arts pull-out of The Badger. Many thanks to Éloïse for the thought-provoking questions, all of which set the tone for a highly enjoyable conversation.
The Badger is the University of Sussex’s official student newspaper, and its unique range of news, features and comments is published both online and in print on a bi-weekly basis. For more information, head on over to www.thebadgeronline.com or follow their Instagram page at @thebadgersussex.