Photo via Discovery Channel On Tuesday I was in Las Vegas again, and my trip had me thinking about butts.
I spent the wee hours of the morning writhing in pain while trying to avoid disturbing my partner’s sleep. Sometimes my body decides to stage a full-on menstrual revolt replete with cramps and some migraine-like symptoms—which I guess kinda make sense if you believe that migraines can be triggered by hormonal cycles. I chalk it up to God hating me because I’m a pornographer. (That last sentence was a joke. Mostly.) Like many women, my periods suck and aren’t on a perfect cycle. It could be worse, but I still envy women who always know when their three magically pain-free days of moderate bleeding are going to happen. I turned on the television to distract myself from my internal grumble-rant and stumbled upon this survival reality show called Naked and Afraid.
Every episode pairs a man and a woman who have above-average survival experience or knowledge. They meet each other for the first time in whatever area they’re going to be living in for the next 21 days. They are each allowed a single personal item; usually a knife, pot, or thing to start fire with. Oh, and they don’t have any clothes. No underwear, no shoes. Buck-ass naked. I wondered if I was watching the Playboy channel, but then the Discovery logo popped up. The first episode I saw took place in Tanzania with a pair named Kellie and EJ.
EJ came off as pretty chauvinistic. Kellie seemed like a bit of a hippy. Their personalities clashed in a standard reality TV sort of way and eventually Kellie saved the day by basically using her vagina to catch a catfish. Seriously. She sat down in the water with her legs spread, this catfish swam up between them, and she used her hands to corner the catfish in her crotch. The glee in her voice while she narrated this incident for the camera made me fall a little bit in love with her. I was entertained by the unorthodox fishing antics so I stuck around for Alison and Jonathan on the Maldive Islands. Jonathan insisted on walking in the sun while complaining about being at risk for a serious sunburn, which he ended up getting. Then he spent the next few days lying on his back while Alison wove sun hats, foraged for berries that might help with Jonathan’s burn, and scaled trees to retrieve coconuts. Once Jonathan was back on his feet, he dug a well. When Alison told him the water didn’t look safe to drink, he chugged it while chiding her for being a baby. It turned out that Alison was right, and she was extremely kind when she later informed him that no matter how bad a person’s diarrhea is it is never a good idea to poop right next the shelter.
Viewed sequentially, the first three episodes of the show take on an interesting ideology. Each man is presented as dude-lier and more chauvinistic than the last and the women seem successively more frivolous *and* more competent in their ability to survive. The men from the Africa and the Maldives Islands episodes both vocally reassess their opinions of women at the end. I started wondering if this show was actually some kind of anti-man propaganda. But the one thing both sexes share—and Naked and Afraid is delighted to display—are asses.
The show is full of butts. The female breasts and genitals of both sexes are pixelated, but postmilitary man butts, 38-year-old grown woman butts, loner survivalist dude butts, and lean surfer chick butts all get a serious chunk of screen time. These butts aren’t presented in a licentious way. Nor are they presented in an artistic way or flattering way. They’re just butts, attached to people who are far more concerned with finding water and hunting down something to eat that contains protein than they are with whether or not they’re being documented from the most attractive angle.
The author with a butt.
The vast majority of the butts I see in person belong to people who work in pornography or are involved in other sorts of work in front of cameras or on stages. There’s a certain amount of physical awareness that develops when you use your body professionally to portray characters or deliver aesthetically pleasing entertainment. I frequently see my colleagues subconsciously position their bodies into flattering poses, pointing their toes or turning towards good light even when they’re not on the clock. One of my comedian friends probably couldn’t describe to what precise angle he lifts his eyebrow when delivering a wry look, but he lifts it in the funniest way whether he’s on stage or having coffee in his living room. When I try on lingerie, I usually catch myself in the mirror making the same handful of shapes with my body that get used on my promotional materials and box covers for Digital Playground.
Most people don’t spend their entire professional lives using their bodies as tools for creative expression. They provide medical care, deal with the paperwork involved in keeping our judicial system and economy running, or work one of the many jobs involved in growing and distributing food. We don’t see their butts very often. What we do see are the professionally photographed, well lit, and frequently photoshopped butts of models, musical artists, and porn performers.
Naked and Afraid seems pretty scripted. Critics have accused of its producers of being less than forthcoming about the medical and nutritional aid given to its survivalists. One thing I don’t think the show can reasonably be accused of is sexualizing the people who appear on it. My career in pornography may skew my definition of salacious and lewd intent, but I caught nary a whiff of either.
Even though the people shown nude on Naked and Afraid are physically active, I think showing their butts helps to balance out the image of body types and ass shapes that Victoria’s Secret and Brazzers display. The prolific asses on this hour-long program provide a context for human asses writ large.
We all know that the butts in fashion magazines are outliers, and one Discovery Channel show won’t give viewers familiarity with the range of human bodies that say, a massage therapist or a person who frequents nudist colonies has, but I do think it’s a step toward counteracting the “Bikini-Ready Body” headlines that dominate the covers of women’s magazines every spring. Or maybe I’m just full of PMS rage and glad to hop on the side of anyone who might be trying to overthrow the patriarchy through prolific documentation of butts. I’m also really good at making everything in the world somehow about my period. Previously - Stoya on Starvation Economies and Getting New Cats
And more about butts: Things I Have Fished Out of Other People's Butts