In the promotional materials for this summer’s Sex Tape, there’s a whole lot of Jason Segel. The actor and his costar Cameron Diaz appear in various stages of undress, including altogether naked. Segel, of course, is no stranger to taking off his clothes for the camera. The former How I Met Your Mother star was famously nude multiple times in his breakout hit Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Many people found his nudity refreshing, given that it is usually women who are objectified sans wardrobe on the big screen, but Sarah Marshall costars Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis kept their clothes on. No matter how you slice it, though, Segel’s seems to be another example of the double standard.
When an actor with an imperfect body like Segel or Robin Williams doffs their clothes for a scene, it’s typically seen as funny. When Lena Dunham does it on HBO’s Girls, it results in social media posts imploring the actress to keep her clothes on and questions at press conferences about whether all the nudity is necessary.
Seemingly, for an actress to play an acceptable nude scene it either needs to be completely required by the story — think Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball or Jodie Foster in The Accused — or she has to look really, really good naked (as far as the vocal public is concerned). There isn’t an apt comparison for a woman, but when an actor like Jonah Hill or Mark Wahlberg comes out and openly states that he used a prosthetic device to cover his anatomy for a nude scene, everyone just shrugs. An actress can get away with using a body double occasionally, but if she’s going to do a nude scene the audience by and large expects to see the real deal… and if she wants to have surgery to enhance certain features then all the better.
Segel, and a lot of male stars, can get away with being naked without issue because our society views male and female sexuality differently. In much the same way, there’s no question about whether Segel’s character would really be with a former model such as Diaz, while Dunham was questioned about her character’s “unrealistic” fling with the very handsome Patrick Wilson.
Segel learned his craft under the tutelage of Judd Apatow, who is also a producer on Dunham’s show. Aptatow has long been a proponent of creative uses of nudity. When the writer/producer/director was confronted about the amount of time that Dunham spends nude on Girls by The Wrap’s Tim Malloy, he defended the practice for both sexes: “There’s male nudity in Walk Hard [helmed by Sex Tape director Jake Kasdan]. I have people naked when they’re willing to do it,” Apatow said. “Lena is confident enough to do it so we have the opportunity to talk about other issues because she is braver than other people. If Paul Rudd said to me, I’m willing to be completely naked in the movie, I would use it. If Seth [Rogen] said he was willing to be completely naked — he showed his butt in a post-sex scene in Knocked Up — I would use it because it’s more honest.”
While it’s commendable that Apatow thinks that we should look at nudity across the board, the truth is that many people just don’t see it the same way. Most of society continues to have an unrealistic expectation of women, wanting them to fit by turns into both sexual and asexual standard: the age-old Madonna-whore complex. Questioning Dunham’s right to have her character naked without questioning Segel’s or Kasdan’s decision making process is inherently sexist… there’s just no getting around that.
Benjamin Franklin, himself a fan of nudity, once told his fellow Founding Fathers, “We must all hang together or we will most assuredly hang apart.” Similarly, it’s either all right for all actors and actresses to be nude — regardless of body type — or it needs to be criticized equally for both sexes.
Quite simply, naked freedom for one should mean naked freedom for all.