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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Jack Seale

Naked Education review – the look at pubic hair is wonderfully revelatory

Dr Alex George, Anna Richardson, Yinka Bokinni and  models in Naked Education.
Dr Alex George, Anna Richardson, Yinka Bokinni and models offering a Naked Education. Photograph: Channel 4

Channel 4’s long-running but to-this-day terrifying dating show, Naked Attraction, must hold the record for the number of boobs, bellies and balls shown on British television. Its host Anna Richardson has always tried to steer the judging of strangers’ anatomies towards a message of positivity about our endlessly different shapes and sizes, with limited success – and now she has a new series, Naked Education, with which to atone. Again, the hook is unbridled nudity, but this time the focus is definitely on acceptance, myth-busting and affirmative shared experiences.

We’re in a light-factual magazine format, flipping between clearly labelled sections that recur reassuringly every week. “Teen Talk” gathers together a group of teenagers and asks for their views on a particular aspect of body image, before a gentle re-education takes place at the hands of co-presenters Yinka Bokinni and Dr Alex George. Their unconventional, unforgettable teaching aid? A lineup of fully naked adults.

The first topic for the teens is body hair, a subject that turns out to be, for secondary-schoolers, a funky morass of legend, rumour and prejudice. Bobbi, now 14, laments only having developed pubic hair at the age of 12: “Quite late!” Equally incorrect, in a way that is also half adorable and half alarming, is 15-year-old Elliott, who shaves his armpits and thinks pubic hair should be eradicated as well, because it’s unhygienic and helps spread sexually transmitted diseases.

Once Dr Alex has hit the kids with the facts – there are no hygiene issues, and inflamed skin caused by unnecessary shaving actually makes some STDs easier to contract – four figures in robes emerge, and it’s time for the blushing and giggling to start because those robes are about to hit the floor.

When the teens have calmed down, however, the passing on of wisdom that follows is wonderfully revelatory. One of the nude volunteers explains how her ex-partner insisted she remove her pubic hair, which is why he’s no longer around but her bush visibly is. Another, 26-year-old Bethany, has embraced the hairy legs and beard that are a consequence of polycystic ovary syndrome. Her quietly defiant speech about how she accepts the way she looks and challenges others to follow suit is, to an audience of trainee adults who, five minutes ago, thought nobody could ever love a girl who isn’t utterly hairless, a gamechanger. They’re impressed just by the sight of three women and a man lifting up their arms, to show eight pits all naturally, beautifully hirsute.

Elsewhere, 32-year-old mother of two Lauren and a stranger seven years her senior, Libby, are bonding, thanks to what Richardson’s narration insists is “a powerful naked exchange”. Visually, this part of the show is an odd offering: in keeping with the bare theme, their conversation takes place in a studio that’s unadorned apart from two stools in the middle. The robes come off in due course but the two women’s clothed conversation is the more important event: both had emergency caesareans, both had postnatal depression in the weeks following. They have already shared a valuably destigmatising conversation about the mental toll of motherhood, even before they stand up to compare their changed bodies. The older, calmer Libby demonstrates how scars grow pale and faded with time.

Richardson talks to the series’ resident group of nude models, all of whom have a story about overcoming being bullied over their body shape. Each week, the “Naked Brigade” – it’s hard not to flinch at these forced nomenclatures, but the whole show is about finding words for things we fear to discuss, so perhaps cheerful labels are a good way to ease us in – climb jovially into a minibus and travel to meet a civilian who needs help.

In episode one, it’s 32-year-old Hannah from Cardiff, who is six feet tall and has, since she hit puberty, been desperate to take up less space. Now, though, she says: “I don’t want to spend one more minute worrying about how I look.” The programme’s solution is a group nude photoshoot, with Hannah and the Naked Brigade’s bodies painted with the insults they’ve had thrown at them, so they can take ownership of them: in Hannah’s case, her torso says “giant”, “massive”, “tall”.

After a makeover from the show’s stylist, including an up-do to accentuate her height rather than apologise for it, Hannah disrobes and looks terrific. Is the photo “kind of like an iconic piece of art”, as the ever-enthusiastic Richardson claims? Maybe not, but Hannah is happier – as are, hopefully, viewers with the same experiences. Another layer of our collective insecurity has been stripped away.

  • Naked Education aired on Channel 4 and is now available on All 4.

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