While the naked female form has been celebrated in various forms of art throughout the centuries, it’s rarely featured in its entirety in the contemporary film landscape.
Breasts have become so commonplace in films that their presence doesn’t even garner an R-rating. In fact, baring the bosom has coincided with Oscar gold for the likes of Holly Hunter and Halle Barry. The full frontal female form is another story: a bare pubic area can get a film slapped with the unsavory NC-17 rating.
One of the tools directors use to combat this is the merkin, a pubic-area wig that dates back to the 1400s that covers the more explicit area of the vagina. Surprisingly, shaving of the pubic area was common back then too, not for fashion or aesthetic purposes like today, but to combat pubic lice. They were also favored by prostitutes for covering up signs of STIs like syphilis.
These varying degrees of onscreen female nudity are so enticing to some people that there’s a subscription-based website called Mr. Skin, where instances of nudity are located and rated. Name dropped in the Judd Apatow film Knocked Up, the website attracts millions of visitors monthly.
“It’s the greatest job in the world,” said Jim McBride, the company’s chief executive. “As a kid, I used to tape as many movies as I could with nudity and then I’d save the nude scenes on separate tapes. I really amazed my friends with my nudity knowledge growing up.”
I’m going to step into Mr Skin’s shoes and catalogue some of my favorite instances of female nudity on film, scenes that are revered for their brash and commonplace treatment of a controversial subject:
Sharon Stone – Basic Instinct
Quite possibly the most iconic flashing scene of all time, Sharon Stone never breaks eye contact as she brazenly uncrosses her legs and pauses for a moment before recrossing them during a tense interrogation scene with Michael Douglas. Even though the view is partially obscured by shadows, her confidence in revealing her cooch leaves a very distinct impression of a woman in charge of her own sexuality. I adore this timing and tone of scene so much I spoofed it in a play I was in last year called If Looks Can Kill…. They Will.
She’s on here partly for the way she channels her primal nude energy into dude-repelling feminist art, but mostly for the way she says “vagina,” tossing it out there with such conviction. I must admit, I’d love to try splattering paint while strapped naked to a harness, flying 30 feet through the air, but I’d change the music to something less childbirth-y. No stranger to skin on the screen, Moore has also shown off her feisty firecrotch in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts and her heavy breathing skills during a sexy lesbian tryst with Amanda Seyfried in 2009’s Chloe.
Winslet’s steamy sex scenes were enough to catch and capture the attention of the Academy, who had nominated her five times before finally handing her the statue for 2009’s The Reader. She plays Hanna Schmitz, a 36-year old woman who seduces and begins an affair with a 15-year old boy, only to cross paths with him years later when she’s on trial for Nazi war crimes.
Though we’re not treated to a full frontal shot, we get plenty of Winslet’s beautiful breasts and bare buttocks as well as a side flash of her nether regions. Since it’s a period piece from the 1950s, Winslet’s grooming had to match, although she revealed to Allure magazine that she had trouble achieving the unkempt bush: “Because of years of waxing, as all of us girls know, it doesn’t come back quite the way it used to. They even made me a merkin because they were so concerned that I might not be able to grow enough.”
What seedy movie about a stripper’s rise to Vegas showgirl could be complete without a bunch of gratuitous female nudity? Paul Verhoeven’s controversial 1995 film Showgirls was the first NC-17 film to be given wide release in mainstream theaters and distributors even had to hire extra staff to verify the ages of the filmgoers. While the film was ultimately a box office flop, it earned a tidy profit in home video sales from all those teenage boys who were banned from theatrical release. It features a predictable array of lap dances and sultry skinny-dipping by star Elizabeth Berkley, who shows off without anything on, on more than a few occasions.