Hilary Duff is celebrated while Britney is condemned. The public's attitude to nudity seems to vary depending solely on the celebrity and the circumstance.
The naysayers will tell you “Britney is not ok.” Their argument? A portfolio of naked photos she’s shared with the world on Instagram. But, the public’s aversion to nudity is one reserved solely for Ms Spears.
What dreams are made of?
As a lifelong Lizzie McGuire fan, Hilary Duff is essentially my god. I saw her in concert, I bought the merch, I pored over her behind-the-scenes tour “book”. Her posters lined my walls and TG4 was my favourite channel growing up, largely because we didn’t have Disney Channel and it’s the only other place I could catch up with Lizzie, Gordo and Miranda on a regular basis. It was an era defined by dial-up connection, lest you forget.
Three years ago, my heart soared when I learned that a reboot was in the works. Duff would be reprising her role as America’s sweetheart, Covid didn’t exist and all was right in the world. One year later, the reboot was subsequently cancelled and all hopes for an adult take on the series were dashed.
Duff has stayed in the mainstream since then though, appearing in the recent How I Met Your Father and sharing adorable photos of her three kids on Instagram in the interim. Then, this week, she made headlines for another reason; her Women’s Health magazine cover spread, in which she was completely nude.
Public response to the photos was mainly positive – albeit, yes, very ageist. “Hilary Duff has aged like a fine wine”, the tweets said of her 34-year-old body. I’m not sure what women in their early to mid-thirties are “supposed” to look like, but it’s not like that, the internet proclaimed.
Hilary Duff has aged like a fine wine ? pic.twitter.com/KDJzL3troj
— Lizzie McGuire (@ImLizzieM) May 10, 2022
Flattery flooded in – everyday sexism masquerading as adulation – and popular opinion decided that yes, we approve.
Oops, she did it again
On the other side of the internet, we have Britney. No stranger to nudity, her Instagram feed is populated by a mixture of aesthetic flat lays, memes, and, well, naked photos of herself. However, unlike the response Duff received, Britney’s posts have instead been met with outrage and faux concern from supposed fans.
Spot the difference.
— Dolly Arthur (@DollyArthur_) May 10, 2022
Hilary was praised for her impressive physique after birthing three children. Britney is lambasted for “not having dignity as a mom”. Hilary was branded “classy” and “a body positivity role model”. Britney is written off as “trashy” or “attention seeking”.
So, what’s the difference? Is it that one set of photos was taken by a professional photographer, while the other was part of a home-orchestrated photoshoot captured on an iPhone? If so, perhaps then, it’s a question of vanity.
Hillary Duff's is very classy and it was for a photo shoot for a magazine cover –
That's the difference.
— ????? #BansOfMyBody (@ChronicalyCarly) May 11, 2022
I adore Hilary and she looks incredible, but the difference in comments on her post compared to Britney doing the same thing is astounding.
People are so brainwashed by social media that they think nudity is wrong unless you've hired a photographer and glam team. pic.twitter.com/QCII2KSfAp
— Fan Account (@breatheonmiley) May 10, 2022
There’s a quote from British essayist John Berger’s book, Ways of Seeing, that speaks to this point. “You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, you put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting Vanity, thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure,” it reads.
“The real function of the mirror was otherwise. It was to make the women connive in treating herself as, first and foremost, a sight.”
The female form has long been considered an object of desire, but only when the woman it belongs to is seemingly unaware of her beauty. People feel uncomfortable when women become the architects of their own image… even more so if they dare appreciate how they look themselves.
Duff has been held up as a beacon of womanhood, while Spears has been infantilised by complete strangers. The internet has appointed itself her new gatekeeper – they want her to be free, but not *that* free. Too much Britney, reel it in.
i swear people forget that britney was in a prison of her father’s design for the past 13 years. she missed the years when we were all terrible at instagram and used those tacky in-app filters. she’s feeling herself. let her be pic.twitter.com/KWAMAQ3bri
— matt (@mattxiv) May 9, 2022
What if Britney’s posts aren’t a cry for help as some seem to think, but rather a celebration of freedom in its purest form? The singer was a prisoner to a gruelling conservatorship for 13 long years. Her teenage rebellion was ripped from under her before it could even begin. She couldn’t withdraw money from an ATM, or drive her car or change her contraception without permission… so, it’s probably fair to presume that she couldn’t walk around starkers if she wanted to either.
As Ru Paul says, we’re all born naked and the rest is drag. Nudity is ok as an infant, it’s ok on the cover of a magazine, and it’s ok if Britney wants to post it on Instagram too.