Mayim MishegaasMayim Mishegaas

Beauty, Sexuality & Modesty in Today’s World

Trying to grok the concept of religious boudoir photos
By Mayim Bialik     Published on 10/19/2015 at 7:12 PM EDT

I celebrate women’s sexuality in general. I believe in the beauty of the female sexual being. And I am a liberal feminist. But I am also a person who believes in boundaries. (I’m socially conservative, I suppose.) I simply don’t think the only way to appreciate one’s sexuality is to post it on the internet or walk around with one’s butt cheeks hanging out (although I do understand that this is the new style; alas, I will not be participating!) So the recent story about Orthodox Jewish women posing for “boudoir” photo shoots (sometimes called “sensual portraiture”) was alarming to me. (See the full story in the Guardian.)

I feel like I so badly want to “get” this; to grok it. But maybe I don’t have enough information or friends under 25 to do that…

The article brought up a number of issues for me:

  1. Age: This article made me feel old, firstly because I didn’t know what a “boudoir shoot “was. In my day, those “glamour shot” booths at malls were considered racy (but didn’t usually involve nudity). Apparently, now women want their boyfriends and husbands to have sexy and/or naked pictures of them. You know, because every woman truly wants to be a sexy and/or nude model. Or maybe it’s just that our society has increasingly convinced us that the only women worthy of attention are sexy and/or nude women. Or maybe it’s an outgrowth of our exhibitionist culture, in which we are all looking at ourselves and others with greater frequency and scrutiny, and post/circulate photos of ourselves so freely, assuming they won’t get out (even after they sometimes do). In either case, I’m feeling old and disconnected from this part of the culture.
  2. Modesty: Here’s the thing. Judaism loves sex. We love having it and we love making it safe for women to be protected and satisfied sexually. It’s actually in our holy books, for realz. (See this post at MyJewishLearning for traditional Jewish sources on sexual pleasure.) Yup. We also revere privacy and boundaries. It’s kind of a thing that most every civilization in the history of the planet, in some way, believes in. It’s not prudish to not want to parade around naked or have sex on camera and post it on Facebook. It’s about wanting privacy and boundaries. So technically, for the married women featured in this shoot, each Orthodox husband can see pictures of his own Orthodox wife naked. But publishing these photos and publicly identifying your naked or partially naked body with your name is definitely not kosher by Orthodox married standards. (In the above-linked article, the photographer doesn’t use the photos of her religious clients on the website – she does an annual promotional shoot “featuring non-Jewish models posed in the same manner that her religious clients would pose.”) And for the record, get as naked as you want and be as sexy as you want in the privacy of your relationship and bedroom. I think it’s the posting and making it so…concrete (and public) that makes me a tad nervous for these women.
  3. Trite Fantasy: The sort of fetish of the religious girl being undressed and sexualized is definitely not a new one. When it comes to this topic, we think more of the Catholic schoolgirl than the Yeshiva Flatbush one, but whatever – this extension to religious Jewish girls and women is just a further fetishization, which in the world of erotica and pornography is its own genre, for sure.
  4. Depression: I think I’m just depressed about this altogether. Because it used to be – when I was a young person 6,239 years ago, that sexual excitement – at least in the community and culture I was raised in – came from actually being able to be with a person you were deeply committed to. Like, in love. Together for long enough to say “I love you” and have it have some weight behind it. And the sexual excitement was to come from being able to touch that person and love them and do things we do to make babies. Because that to me, as a teenager, sounded terrifying (because of my innocence) and also thrilling. It never occurred to me that I would be competing with internet porn or billboards that feature naked women that – because of constant exposure to such media – I would constantly compare myself to. It never occurred to me that it would not be enough just to be someone’s beloved. To be someone’s partner and wife, and to make a life together. And of course I dreamed of enjoying a sexual relationship with someone, but that dream never looked the way contemporary sexuality looks today in the US: with casual hookups as part of daily life for single people, and with the pressure for all women to look like the models and actresses who are essentially paid to have plastic surgery so that they can conform to a heterosexual male fantasy. That was probably never part of anyone’s dream, but it’s part of our reality.

So it depresses me.

I wish things were simpler. Not just for the women, but for the men, too, who are also surrounded by the images and expectations that our culture presents. I would imagine it’s exhausting to be a man who is told he needs more than just a naked person he cares about in his arms. The influx of information about what women should do for them, and what they should do for women in bed; it must be exhausting for them to try to filter out the madness and focus on the real people in their lives.

Anyone else know how to better grok this? Because I am at a loss here!

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