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The “Nu” image of woman

Editor’s note: Images contain nudity, potentially NSFW.

The Nu Project is a series of photographs that exposes the great diversity of women’s bodies. Nude, in their homes, and happy, each woman photographed exudes an infectious sort of confidence, a silent declaration: “Here I am! This is simply how I am.”

The photographer, Matt Blum, began the project in 2005. He notes on his website that he didn’t “fully realize the form the project was taking until Katy, [his] wife, became project editor and encouraged [him] to show more light-hearted images.”

Matt and Katy have traveled around North and South America since then, continuing the series with hundreds of women over the age of 21, and the light-hearted nature of the project has stuck. It has brought with it resounding attention: praise from writers (here and here), clamoring from Internetters, and massive financial support on Matt Blum’s Kickstarter page.

It is clear: people like everyday bodies.

What is striking about the Nu Project is its everyday-ness. There are no makeup tricks, no computer-editing the proportions of the models, or “un-models,” as one author puts it. There are no tricky poses to push out the bust and sink in the stomach. There are no attempts to hide the folds, sags, and blemishes of the skin.

There are only women in their elements, posing with objects meaningful to them: colorful kitchen instruments, walls of pictures, sports equipment, quilts, coffee cups, or with nothing but their smiling faces, which tend to attract the eye more than even the nude form dominating the frame.

One testimonial by a participant in the project sums it up perfectly: “The Nu Project is one that evolves how we view and love images, women, and the space they create.”

Furthermore, the Nu Project makes no attempts to pander to the current status quo of conventional beauty, nor does the (male) photographer make attempts to display the women only keeping in mind what pleases the male eye. “Empowering,” some might say!

Laurie Ouellette, however, a professor in gender studies and communication from the University of Minnesota, argues that automatically applying the word “empowerment” to the Nu Project might encourage something potentially negative growing in our culture—hyper-visibility.

She says, “My overall reaction is, ‘Wow, this is terrific.’ I wouldn’t discount the idea that having your image out there is also valued in ways that might be very different from a feminist project.”

In other words, we are praising these images without stopping to question whether feeling the need to expose oneself is very progressive at all.

That is a point worth considering. In the meantime, it can probably be agreed on that, in our growing culture of exposure, at least the women in the Nu Project are contributing to an uplifting message for the modern woman: “How I look—how you look—is okay with me.”

Stephanie R. Lawson is a graduate of the Family and Consumer Sciences program at CSU Sacramento. She is interested in promoting healthy lifestyles and self-image to all people. She is passionate about all things literary, linguistic, and gastronomic.

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