The Big Way Camping Is Handling Female Nudity Differently Than Girls

Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
Sunday night’s Camping premiere caps off our introduction to the HBO comedy’s titular weekend trip into the woods with an impromptu skinny dipping situation.
During a walk towards some scheduled bird watching, the Camping friend group comes upon a lake. Despite type-A task master Kathryn’s (Jennifer Garner in her first lead TV role since Alias) repeated reminder “tomorrow we swim,” chaotic addition to the crew Jandice (Juliette Lewis) quickly strips off her clothes and runs directly into the water, urging her new pals to come along. First, you see Jandice’s bare behind frolicking into the lake; birthday boy Walt (Jessica Jones villain and former Doctor Who David Tennant) is shocked. Then director-slash-co-creator Jenni Konner holds the camera on Jandice’s joyous and carefree full frontal nudity. Soon enough, everyone — save for Kathryn and young son Orvis (Duncan Joiner) — is in various states of undress, splashing around in the lake. Even Walt, Kathryn's supportive husband, is testing out the waters.
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The juxtaposition between Jandice’s very naked happiness and a covered-up Kathryn’s warnings of waterborne “brain eating amoebas” wrap the pilot. All of sudden, viewers expect Camping to be as obsessed with nudity as fellow Konner-Lena Dunham brainchild Girls was for six seasons. Yet, that isn’t exactly the case.
“In Girls, we absolutely explored nudity to maybe the corners of the earth, like maybe as far as you possibly can. That was a really important thing to Girls, and it didn’t feel important to this show,” Konner told journalists during an L.A. interview. “[Camping] is not about sex in the same way that Girls was about sex.”
Girls needed to be about sex because it asked how young women figure out who they are and what they want in one of the most tense periods of their lives. A woman’s relationship with her naked body and the bedroom is a large part of that quest. Yet, the adult portion of the Camping crew is in the 40s — their opinions on those subjects are mostly settled. Even when these characters are talking about how their sexuality has evolved since living in a long-term relationship for longer than a hot minute — a feat no one in Girls could quite accomplish — the crux of the conversation is about their attitude about, say, anilingus, rather than the act itself.
That’s why nudity was deployed “sparingly” on Camping, according to Konner. “We had long conversations with actors and never do anything they’re uncomfortable with,” the writer-director-producer, who helmed Camping’s first two episodes, added. “It didn’t feel like that’s what this show is about.”
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The woman bringing previously mentioned skinny dipper Jandice to so much life, Cool Girl icon Juliette Lewis, has a similar outlook on Camping’s nudity. “Throughout my career, I’ve always been more open to nudity when it’s not related to sex. In American cinema, it’s so gratuitous — naked [equates to] sex,” the star told journalists. “I’m more interested in the European vein of [acting where] you can do a scene eating dinner with no underpants on.”
Jandice’s skinny dipping scene certainly falls in line with that perspective. The DJ-reiki healer-notary's premiere episode nudity isn’t about sex — it’s meant to show a type of freedom that’s totally alien to Kathryn and exciting to the rest of her friends. When Kathryn’s sister Carleen (Ione Skye) has her own full-frontal scene later in Camping's first season, the moment is used to kick off Carleen’s own journey of growth and newfound self-love. “The more we can show women in a whole way, the better,” Carleen’s portrayer Skye said. “Sexuality is not the highlight [there] in that certain objectifying way.”
It sounds like the inclusive atmosphere on Camping, which had a female director of photography, women directing more than half the season, and people of color throughout the crew, only helped make these sensitive scenes all the more comfortable for the cast.
“It was really remarkable to go, ‘Oh, this is how it’s supposed to be,’” Lewis recalled of walking on set. So, when it came time to shoot the skinny dipping scene, which happened late into filming due to its location, the actress was completely in her element. “I couldn’t have had more a supportive, sweet safe space,” Lewis added. “We’d been hanging out for so long by that point.”
Camping: Come for Jennifer Konner and Lena Dunham's post-Girls return to HBO. Stay for the loving attitudes — on-screen and off — about women's bodies.
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