WNC Woman magazine recently published a column by Kim Hartman, development director for Anam Cara Theatre in West Asheville, which has put on a local version of Naked Girls Reading for the past two years. Naked Girls Reading grew several years ago out of the Chicago burlesque scene.
It recently became clear that Anam Cara Theatre Company could no longer produce Naked Girls Reading shows. Not long after our February performance, Erinn and I had a Skype meeting with representatives of Naked Girls Reading’s international headquarters. They were trying to streamline their branding and update their marketing resources, among other things, and wanted to meet with each Naked Girls Reading producer to fill us in on the updates. Most of the meeting covered nuts and bolts about policy and other administrative changes, but toward the end of the conversation one of the representatives added a caveat. “The girls need to be beautiful,” he said, and then went on to explain that the women in the shows should look “put together.” He mentioned that they could be wearing stage makeup, pearls and high-heels.
This wasn’t really our style, but we think our performers look beautiful in neckties or cowboy boots, so we figured we had it covered. At the close of the meeting, they asked us to send along some photographs for use in online marketing.
Later, we sent along several professional photographs along with some snapshots, but each was rejected for reasons which remained unclear. After several interactions with Naked Girls Reading headquarters in which we tried to ascertain exactly what types of photographs would be acceptable, it became apparent: none of our photos would be acceptable. “Take a look at the pictures on the website,” they told us. “That’s the kind of thing we’re looking for.”
This was the kind of thing they were looking for: thin, large-breasted women posing seductively in the nude with only a book covering their privates. Women who fit the socially imposed mold dressed in only high heels and pearls, their faces caked with makeup. We were stunned.
We wish that this could be the standard for Naked Girls Reading generally. We feel that the kind of forum that Naked Girls Reading Asheville has been is important and necessary for women in our society; however, we find the new branding to be sexist and limiting. It has become clear to us that we cannot be “on brand” without betraying not only our organizational mission but ourselves as women. To suggest that our performers are not “sexy” unless they are in high-heels, pearls, and layers of makeup runs utterly counter to our purposes in producing the show. We are about empowering women, not fueling the fire of women’s sexual objectification. Furthermore, as a queer-run company, the implication that only feminine women are sexy is offensive and alienating to many of us. It seems our view of what is “sexy” — real, intelligent, empowered women — is not compatible with the latest manifestation of the Naked Girls Reading brand. Not only would conforming to these new expectations violate our principals as an organization, but it is unlikely that our loving Asheville audiences would continue to support us if we were to betray their interests and values in this way.
Thanks to loyal reader Jen for the heads-up.
So in other words, they don’t have any thin, good looking, busty women. Just lesbians.
Just looked at their national website. I say “good riddance” to them and “good move” by Anam Cara.