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  • Cheryl Hill

The value of shock campaigns for charities - nudity included

A while ago I attended a wellness festival and the person who I went with had signed us up for a workshop called "Boob Painting". I thought this must be like life drawing, but with a focus on boobs. Imagine my surprise when we walked into the room and the women introducing the class explained we'd actually be painting our own boobs and printing what we'd painted onto paper. I'm a huge supporter of body positivity and people having control over their bodies, but this was absolutely not up my street. However, I'm trying to lean into things more so thought why not. It was liberating. A really unique moment of being in a room, bare breasted and not feeling the oppressive obsession of the constant over-sexualisation of my body or breasts for the first time since probably childhood.


I mentioned this at a networking event, I wanted to share my experience with it being so powerful and good for my mental health. I joked we could do a networking boob painting event, maybe make the prints into a calendar and sell them for charity. I genuinely didn't expect the reaction I got from one of the members. He was very disgusted at the thought of using nudity or body parts to raise money for charities. I quote "As a company we've raised thousands for charity without ever getting naked". It got me thinking, is it vulgar? Is it so bad? Should more people be repulsed? So I thought I'd take a look into other fundraising or awareness done by charities through nudity and other "shock" tactics to see if it does make a difference and the reaction to it.


Let's take a look at one of the first examples that came to my mind where nudity and fundraising went hand in hand. A true story made into a film and later a musical this particular campaign has had a huge impact on our culture and a knock on effect of similar projects ever since. It's the Calendar Girls.



After a close friend of a member of the Women's Institute passed away from Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, she gathered eleven friends between the ages of 45-65 and created a calendar in which they posed nude with every day objects obscuring their more intimate areas. The goal was to sell the images as an alternative Women's Institute calendar and raise a grand total of £5,000 for the charity Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research.


The end result at the time included the story being in the national newspapers for 3 weeks and as mentioned earlier they made a film out of it, a musical and in the 20yrs since they came up with the idea they have raised a jaw dropping £5 million for Bloodwise (previously Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research). The women said early on, after request from national papers to pose naked for them, that it isn't about taking their clothes off it's about supporting Angela, Miss February and the wife of the friend the calendar was done in memory of.


In this instance nudity or semi nudity shocked the nation but had a huge impact on battling a serious issue.


Another cause known for it's use of nudity to share their message in Peta. In 1994 Emma Sjoberg, Tatjana Patitz, Heather Stewart Whyte, Fabienne Terwinghe and Naomi Campbell appeared in the well-known poster for animal charity. Peta's goal was getting the issue out there, getting people to rethink their decisions or being more ethically aware of what they are purchasing.



Peta has come under a lot of negativity for their marketing tactics but you can't deny them the ability to start a conversation, with the charity likening it to Lady Godiva riding naked on a horse in the 11th century to protest taxes. They reason their argument for the use of nudity on their website.


So we've had a look at the impact of nude based campaigns and the positive impacts of increased fundraising and also creating awareness. However, nudity isn't the only way to shock people into thinking about a cause. I want to take a look at another outcome from a more recent shock based campaign.


CALM's "Project 84" took over the news reels and created a real shockwave through the nation. Each sculpture that could be seen standing on top of the ITV buildings on London’s Southbank represented a real man who took his own life, their stories are further reflected on the projects website. The number 84 is based on the statistic of 84 men ending their lives through suicide each week in the UK.



“CALM has been campaigning and providing support services for 11 years but, try as we might, it isn’t enough to tackle the enormous problem of male suicide,” “So with Project 84, we wanted to make the scale of the situation very clear to everyone that sees the sculptures.” said Simon Gunning, CEO of CALM. 


One of the goals was to encourage people to sign a petition to make suicide prevention and support a government minister's responsibility. This would mean that a Government minister would be held to account for the delivery of effective suicide prevention plans for every local area. This petition made change with 392,812 supporters. The power of shocking people can truly make a difference.


Another way of noticing the change in focus is the commercialisation of campaigns with social impact, such a Nike's advert with civil rights activist Colin Kaepernick or Gilette's take down of toxic masculinity.


This is also influenced by younger generations being the most conscious of what they are buying and in particular buying from companies that have strong ethics and culture, this being relevant to their products buying power. Brands behind charities and causes do better.

So should fundraising for or by charities be penalised by a societal norms of associating nudity with being something to be disgusted by as being purely sexual? The interesting thing is that behind the idea of creating a series of boob paintings being they wouldn't of even contained any nudity, just the association was enough to cause disgust. So is that too far?


Nude and shocked based campaign have a proven track record of creating opportunities to raise vital funds and start potentially life saving conversations that have been shown to go beyond expectations. Charities shouldn't shy away from being bold, especially in a time when news moves so quickly and grabbing attention is difficult. I say be smart and dare to try.


For reference here is my offensive boob painting...


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