Grab my… calendar

Three years spent at university is enough to turn any prude into an innuendo spouting, motor-boating obsessive ready to tear their top off the moment Baywatch is played in any establishment.

The university’s sports teams in particular are as well known for getting their kit off as they are for never taking it off. Step into the Copper Rooms on any Wednesday evening and copious amounts of bare skin will inevitably be witnessed. The ability to appreciate toned abs and tight buttocks being flaunted under the slogan ‘hate sleeves’ is down to personal opinion. Although in my experience, that opinion is only divided as far as a preference for rowers or rugby boys, netball or hockey girls.

Love it or hate it, our athletes’ aversion to clothes has certainly not been put to waste: our sports teams save their best nude poses for charitable causes. This year 12 clubs will pose au natural for Warwick Sport’s naked calendar in aid of Right To Play UK – a charity aimed at improving the lives of disadvantaged children through sport.

You’d expect a photo shoot like this to be full of averted gazes and awkward giggles as too much is accidentally revealed switching poses. The reality is far from it; even the girls are relaxed and laughing. Emily Cox, women’s football social sec, said that persuading girls to strip for the calendar isn’t too difficult, “everyone’s willing to get their tits out for a good cause.” Fair enough, especially when it is so successful; last year the Warwick Sport calendar raised nearly £1,000 for Right To Play.

Some clubs have taken the naked calendar to new levels. The Warwick rowing team have achieved global fame stripping off for their calendar, which this year is in aid of Ben Cohen’s Stand Up Foundation working to eradicate homophobia from sport. Now in its fourth year, the calendar has sold thousands of copies in over 25 countries. Since expanding to online sales through their website and Facebook page, large orders have been taken from American rowing organisations and free publicity snaps have reached 200,000 downloads. With the latest addition to the collection – a behind the scenes video featuring footage of the photo shoots – getting great reviews, it seems the rowing calendar has become its very own business enterprise.

Following the men’s inevitable (look at them!) success, the women’s rowing team have peeled off the lycra suits for the first women’s rowing calendar in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. “Not only is it a money raising event it is also a lot of fun,” say Rowing’s PR officers, Hettie Reed and Frankie Salzano. The girls hope to raise the same four-figure sums as the boys through online sales via Facebook and their website, though judging by the previews they won’t need to try too hard to reach this goal. Surely though, the prospect of following in the men’s footsteps and creating a female version of the calendar must have been intimidating given their success, not to mention confidence; “after all they are rowers who have good bodies, who can blame them for wanting to get their kit off?!” Nevertheless, they tell me, inhibitions are soon cast aside along with clothes and “everyone ends up getting really into it and having a great day!”

It’s not just the students that are revealing all; getting naked for charity has become a worldwide phenomenon. And who’d have guessed it was started by a group of Women’s Institute ladies from Yorkshire? Women’s football player, Emily Cox, said the film Calendar Girls was an inspiration: “If that’s what raises money, that’s what we need to do.” Ever since the film, based on a true story, was released in 2003, everyone – from airlines to the ambulance service, scientists to coffin makers – has been stripping to raise money. “There’s no denying that naked calendars always sell well and are a bit more interesting than more old-school methods,” says Polo player Daisy Kemp. It certainly does rake in the cash; last year the rowing calendar brought home nearly £1,000, which is a considerable amount more than any homemade bake sale would raise.

It appears to be the first real trend in charity fundraising. Previous eras have seen the sponsored walk, the bake sale, the sponsored head shave and the charity fete, but none have caught on quite like the naked calendar. But if we date its rise in popularity to the release of Calendar Girls, the phenomenon has been going strong for nearly a decade now. So what is it about naked calendars that still has them popping up like mushrooms after the rain this time of year?

Angus Malcolm, the man behind the lens of the rowing calendar, has a strong opinion on the benefit of naked calendars. He reckons they can be an uplifting experience for everyone involved: “it’s liberating, exhilarating and perhaps most of all unifying to get together with a group of like-minded people and take all your clothes off in pursuit of a higher purpose, whether it’s art or fundraising.”
Fun and undoubtedly successful as naked calendars are, is the obsession with getting naked for charity a result of a more altruistic society or a more exhibitionist one? Are we now willing to give more of our selves (namely our dignity and privacy) for a good cause compared with previous years, or is this simply because we care less about exposing ourselves?
The UK is well known as being one of the more generous of the developed nations so it’s no surprise that we have taken to this phenomenon like Pop! goers to purple. Certainly, we have become more aware of the need for it over the past couple of decades and the introduction of Gift Aid has made donating more beneficial to the charity and more worthwhile for the donor. Other in-your-face fundraising attempts have surpassed the bake sale in recent years too. Public flash-dances, extreme sports, consecutive marathons and other jaw-dropping feats are the fashion these days. Surely, then, we have become a more caring society, willing to go the extra mile and do something extraordinary for a good cause.

Nevertheless, it can’t be ignored that as a nation we have become less modest when it comes to covering up. Nudity is now the route taken by many fame-hungry youngsters and who can blame them? No longer is disapproval and shame the general reaction to explicit photos and videos. Just look at Tulisa’s success rate: since that video hit the web, she has been voted FHM’s sexiest woman and her sales have hit the roof. The snaps of Prince Harry’s ‘naked billiards’ night, in which the royal spare is seen cupping his balls in a Vegas hotel room, has only served to improve his and even the royal family’s domestic and international reputation.
The naked calendar, therefore, is a pragmatic response to a more exhibitionist and voyeuristic society. The irresistible temptation to study in detail the contours – chiselled and not so – is the key factor in the naked calendar’s longevity. Abseiling off a tall building, climbing a mountain or running a marathon are all good and well but they don’t place you in the vulnerable position that being naked does. An obsession with comparison, judgment and the endless fight to challenge our ingrained attitudes to body image is what keeps the naked calendar relevant.
Given that the invention of smartphones means wall calendars are fast becoming obsolete, organisational necessity won’t fly as an excuse for those of you bringing home a naked calendar this year. Angus Malcolm is well aware that “fairly hot guys with no clothes on” is a key selling point to the rowing calendar. Even the photographer’s octogenarian aunts are “frank about this aspect of the calendar’s appeal!” So perhaps the rest of us should embrace our real motives for the purchase too.
Our interest in other people’s birthday suits is an undeniable factor in the ongoing popularity of naked calendars. What remains exciting about them – apart from the seemingly endless ways the rowing team come up with to cover the interesting bits – is that they offer the right balance of raunch and innocence. They allow people to indulge their voyeurism without feeling guilty as, not only are the snaps amusingly tasteful, but those featured are there of their own accord, putting an entirely different spin on the word “volunteer”.

Charity calendars are about more than just raising money; they are about demonstrating team spirit and removing inhibitions. Malcolm reckons people love the nude calendars so much because of the humour and camaraderie in the images. Above all, they are a challenge to existing attitudes to nudity, which are still firmly associated with porn. They offer an alternative to the sexploitation of the naked figure splayed across the internet. By focusing on the spirit in which the content is created, they transgress the boundaries of what is generally considered adult entertainment by demonstrating that nudity can be sexy without having to be sleazy.

We may have become more exhibitionist, but we have also become more caring as a society. So who cares if we are so (excuse the pun) barefaced about it? Naked calendars are a fun way to raise awareness and money for a charity, but perhaps the reason for their continuing popularity is because they are an apt and amusing response to the serious and contemporary issue of body and sexual imagery. Whatever your opinion, there’s no denying that 12 months of photos like these would trump homemade rice crispy cakes any day.


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