Gemma Atkinson's not a nudist. But you wouldn't know that from headlines about her
Who is Gemma Atkinson?
That, apparently, is a question many of us were interested in on Thursday morning.
Google search queries for Atkinson, a British model and actress, were trending all through the first half of 4 August.
Atkinson is making her Hindi film debut with the Rajeev Khandelwal-Guahar Khan film Fever.
However, that's not why she was trending.
Atkinson — who has always struggled with body image issues — took to Instagram this week to inform followers that she had stripped for a photo shoot with a health magazine: She had been following an intense workout regime that had given her more confidence in her body than ever before, and she felt stronger and fitter. Indeed, in the photos, Gemma does look strong, and fit.
She posted a message alongside her photo, a heartfelt articulation of why she did — despite her initial hesitation — agree to appear naked in the magazine.
She talked about how, at the age of 31, she finally felt comfortable in her skin, and told women readers about her reasons to do the shoot:
"(I did it) To stand up and say, this is ME. This is MY shape. This is MY body. And I am PROUD OF IT! It took me a while but at 31, I am happy within myself. Mentally and physically. I hope this picture inspires woman to love their bodies and embrace every freckle, every inch, every muscle every curve and every bloody stretch mark on it! YOUR body tells YOUR story. Some of you have even housed babies in there! Be proud! You are incredible. Don't forget it," Atkinson wrote.
Ok... So here it is! 🙈😳 A behind the scenes of my @ukwomenshealth #nakedissue. (Taken by me on my phone off the computer screen on the day so NO PHOTOSHOP.) When I was first asked to take part in this shoot my answer was No. In fact it was a "Naked? Are you kidding?!" 😂 But after a lot of thought & reading past issues & discovering why the Naked issue is out every year I jumped on board. This issue is about woman being comfortable in their own skin. I'm in it along with 10 beautiful woman all of us different in physique, height, weight, you name it. The one thing we have in common is our mutual support for females. To stand up and say, this is ME. This is MY shape. This is MY body. And I am PROUD OF IT! It took me a while but at 31 I am happy within myself. Mentally & physically. I hope this picture inspires woman to love their bodies & embrace every freckle, every inch, every muscle every curve & every bloody stretch mark on it! (Me included on the latter) 🙋🏻YOUR body tells YOUR story. Some of you have even housed babies in there! Be proud! You are incredible. Don't forget it. You can see the article in Woman's Health on sale now 👍🏻 @ollyfosterfitness I couldn't have done this shoot without your support. Thank you for your continued guidance with regards to my nutrition & training and overall ass kicking when I need it. And to the @action_reaction_training Thank you for inspiring me with your lovely meals 😋😋😋
While her followers posted messages of support for Atkinson, and how much they appreciated her courageous move, it seems not everyone got the memo.
Take a look at the headlines that accompanied reportage of Atkinson's shoot:
Let's take a closer look at one of them, that is fairly representative of most of what was said about Atkinson:
Looking at merely these pieces, one might have got the impression that all Atkinson did was pose in the buff. There's nothing there about why she did it, or about the message she was hoping to convey. Or even that the whole photo shoot was about promoting body positivity — the exact opposite of what the reportage around it suggests.
Atkinson probably isn't too bothered by what headlines have chosen to make of her decision. As is evident in her post, she's pretty done with having others take charge of her narrative, and she'll put out what she wants the world to see about her.
Why the Atkinson headlines are troubling, are because they aren't isolated.
These were the headlines that accompanied photos of Pooja Bedi's daughter, Aalia Ebrahim, in a bikini. Aalia is 19.
Somehow, wearing a bikini gives other people the right to slut-shame you.
In this context, Alia Bhatt's comments in a recent interview about why she chose not to talk openly about who she is dating seem almost prescient.
"...you are a part of a society that's very judgmental," Alia told Huffington Post. "Here, girls having multiple boyfriends is still a huge-ass deal and something that is frowned upon. I mean, look at Taylor Swift. She's dated, like, everybody. But if she was here, she'd be totally shamed for making those choices. Her image and appeal would be very different. The reason actresses don't talk about their private lives is because in our society there is a lot of slut-shaming. Eventually... I have to protect myself."
At the other extreme, are recent headlines about Kareena Kapoor's pregnancy. "Can you spot her baby bump in these photos?" one report excitedly asked, perhaps expecting readers to whip out marker pens and make a round circle around the actress' tummy.
We suppose that's still better than the headlines about Nargis Fakhri, which all seem to be in the "she's so heartbroken, she quit Bollywood" mould. Are they better or worse than the ones that proclaim: "She isn't heartbroken, she's vacationing in a bikini!"?
There's a point to all of this — and we're getting to it, we promise.
The point is that the way we write about women in the entertainment industry is incredibly sexist. We've always known that of course. It's something we, and the women being written about, accept as a fact of life.
But does it need to be this way?
Isn't there a better way to talk about these women, and their work, in a way that's similar to the way their male counterparts are written about?
Twinkle Khanna did a far more eloquent job of this in a recent column for The Times of India, which was pithily titled "Why I Googled Leander Paes in a wet T-shirt".
Despite the humorous headline, Khanna, who writes under the moniker Mrs Funnybones, makes an entirely serious point about misogyny, and the ways in which it manifests itself against women.
You can read about it here.
One might argue that if women didn't want their bodies to be talked about, they shouldn't "put them out there, for public consumption". "You can't control how people are going to react to things," you hear being said.
When Deepika Padukone's decolletage was highlighted by a website photo-gallery, which screamed in its headline: "Take a look at this actress' cleavage", the argument put forward by them when Padukone objected was, "If you didn't want us to talk about it, why show it?" We're paraphrasing of course.
The paradox is that women are rarely in charge of the narrative about their own bodies, how they are perceived — and dressing the way they wish to, or appearing in the nude, is their way of taking back control.
Sadly, as the Atkinson story shows, those efforts often just boomerang, and make other women warier of body/slut shaming.
Published Date: Aug 04, 2016 11:42 AM | Updated Date: Aug 04, 2016 11:53 AM