Jane Seymour, 67, has become the oldest woman to pose nude for Playboy magazine. The actress, who has posed for Playboy before, is wearing a fluffy coat in the photographs and looks beautiful (because she just is). Clearly efforts have been made to do things in the “best possible taste”. But still, why did Seymour do it? And why would she be applauded for doing it?
It’s not that posing nude can’t be interesting or valid (Germaine Greer’s confrontationally raw photos from generations ago are still spoken about today) and I’m not interested in denigrating Seymour. However, there’s a certain brand of “you still got it – go girl!” cheerleading that I increasingly find bizarre. Why would older famous women disrobing for such shoots be deemed “liberating”, while younger women doing similar work for cash or self-promotion is seen as glamour modelling?
Seymour’s shoot is further complicated by her recently detailing her own Me Too moment in her youth
Is it viewed as a straightforward “last yahoo” (not to be begrudged)? Or is it something more complicated, even with a feminist undercurrent – the rationale being that older female flesh is considered to be so unsightly and horrific that it amounts to a huge rebellion to put it on display? I could buy that – the defiant sexual display of the older woman – although if there’s an element of rebellion, it’s missing in the Playboy photos, where Seymour is depicted simpering like the ultimate declawed sex kitten.
In some ways, it ties in with Femen’s topless protests and the “Free the Nipple” movement, stances that come perilously close to colluding with the very “male gaze” they aim to lampoon and defy. Merely displaying female flesh isn’t enough to make it a valuable sociopolitical statement.
Nor does Seymour’s age negate the fact that these images will be objectified, like everything else in Playboy. Seymour’s shoot is further complicated by her recently detailing her own #MeToo moment in her youth, when a Hollywood producer tried to pressure her into having sex for a role. Obviously, the situations are fundamentally different – she exerts control and choice in the Playboy shoot – but there is some overlap, as in both scenarios are normally experienced by women.
Just as there are far fewer men who say that they were harassed sexually by people in positions of power, you don’t tend to see a lot of older male stars getting their kit off in the name of “You go, boy!” liberation. Why not? If it’s all about society’s ageist reactions to older flesh, surely either sex would do? The obvious retort would be that no one is asking older men to strip, but again, why are older women asked? While we could kid ourselves that female beauty is more lasting and powerful, the brutal truth is that the enduring power lies elsewhere, with the sex that isn’t routinely expected to get its kit off. At which point did exposing her body become a woman’s surest route to “owning” it and how can we make it stop?
•Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist