John Berger's Ways of Seeing is a your part video series that “Criticize traditional Western cultural aesthetics by raising questions about hidden ideologies in visual images.”(1) In part 2, Berger discusses the concept of the female nude. He begins by making the distinction between “naked” and “nude” as such: “To be naked, is to be one's self. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for one's self.” (2) This distinction is used to help make the argument that in order for a naked body to become a nude, it must be completely objectified and exist only for the sexual pleasure of the owner or viewer. This claim is supported by a number of example paintings all of which containing characteristics of an object intended only for the viewer. Characteristics such as the lack of hair which according to Berger removes an association with sexual pleasure on the woman's part, the fact that the woman's gaze is almost always directed outward at the viewer even when a male figure is present, and the fact that the women in these paintings are almost always laying down, languid as “They are there to feed an appetite, not have any of their own.”(2)
Key Concept Edit
Berger discusses a contradiction in European paintings of female nudes between “the painter's, owner's and viewer's individualism and... the object, the woman, which is treated as abstraction.”(3) He believes that these differences within the relationship between men and women play a deep role in our culture and how women view themselves. He opens and closes this episode with a discussion focused around how women see themselves. At a round table discussion at the end of this episode one women discusses how, though she never thought about it until now, she doesn't see herself as she is, naked, when looking in the mirror, but instead sees a nude. What she means by this is that she is so influenced by the world around her, whether it be through advertising, opinions of others, or some cultural aspect influenced by the European paintings in discussion, that she doesn't see her true self but instead an image of what she wants to be or things she should be. It is also mentioned that men don't have this same image of themselves or constant reflection of themselves. This enforces Berger's belief that this inequality between men and women exists heavily in our society.