The Nudity Question: To Bare or Not to Bare?

Outside, winter creeps apace, chilly winds heralding a glorious season of hibernation. It’s that sluggish time of year when we can stop exercising, grow lumberjack beards, and/or safely wear jeans over unshaven legs, content in an external, sub-zero justification of self-neglect. But one noble industry is pumping away, determined to keep America—nay, the world, steamy and self-consciously alert. These heroes never sleep. They are the masterminds that work year-round to bring you Bond girls, most Kate Winslet films (sorry, Kate, much respect) and Hugh Jackman’s naked backside (Not sorry. Thank you, Days of Future Past). That’s right! For actors, there is no off-season, not when nudity is so frequently used to provoke, reveal, and, of course, sell.

If you plan to pursue a serious career as an actor, you will most likely be confronted with some variation of the following sign-in sheet question: “Are you comfortable with nudity?”  Sometimes it is part of the character description. Sometimes it is the only character description. If these words strike terror into your heart, never fear. We’re here to strip away the outer layers and expose the truth of the nudity question. (Article disclaimer: all puns intended). Here are some factors to consider if you don’t know where you stand:

1.     Answer The Question Honestly. First things first. If you are staring the question in the face before an audition, it can be tempting to fall back on the actors stand-by of say yes now, learn new skills/negotiate later. I am every bit as guilty of perpetuating this policy as anyone else, and I am not saying that it never applies to the nudity conundrum. Just remember, this is one of those white lies that will become pretty immediately apparent, and potentially a problem. If you know in your bones (or bone. Geeeeeeet it? I’m done), that you are not and will not be comfortable with nudity, don’t go out for that role. It’s just bad form. Everyone will be justifiably annoyed if you pull a bait and switch on this one, which will be bad for your reputation, if nothing else. On the flip side, remember that nudity does not always mean full frontal. If you would be fine in a Calvin Klein ad, but feel queasy at the thought of flashing the family jewels, advertise your comfort with partial nudity. Just be honest, specific, and make sure you know what’s in a contract before you sign it.

2.     Do It For The Right Reasons. Honesty is all well and good, as long as you know where you stand. But if you have never been confronted with the possibility of bringing your birthday suit to a costume fitting, it can be hard to locate your true feelings on the matter. While neither I nor anyone else can answer that question for you, here is what I can advise: if you’re going to do it, do it for the right reasons. Those reasons include, but are not limited to:

a.  Because it is necessary to the plot.
b.  Because it has an artistically compelling message and a reason.
c.  Because you are genuinely excited about it.

On the other hand, if any of the following are the backbone of your argument, it might be time to reconsider:

d.  Because you are trying to prove something.
e.  Because you feel pressured to do so.
f.  Because you are getting paid a lot and think it will make up for your discomfort.

Either way, try to keep a level head. Remember that this industry is often voyeuristic and exploitive, especially when it comes to young actors hungry to begin a career. Before you even consider nudity onstage or in films, you should be one hundred percent sure the project is safe and legitimate, that you trust the people for whom you are working, that you are being appropriately compensated, and that your needs will be heard and addressed. Also, regardless of your personal opinion on the matter, know that there are certain perceptions in the media about actors who bare all. Discuss the implications on the direction of your career with your agent or other advisors before wading in. Nudity is not a way to get attention and kick-start a career. It’s an artistic call that should be handled with utmost professionalism on all sides.

3.     There Is No Wrong Answer. It is your career, your body, and your decision. You get to decide what is right for you as an actor and a person. Doing a nude scene does not make you a slutty, trashy, cheap, or less worthy of respect as an artist. It also does not make you more daring, edgier, or more serious than your fully-clothed colleagues. Declining a role that requires nudity does not make you prudish, cowardly, or less committed to your art. It also does not buy you class or clout. You will define your career by your talent, character, and work ethic. All the rest is someone else’s problem.

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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at