Chris Roper

The naked truth

2009-01-21 12:28

Chris Roper

Quite why Minki van Der Westhuizen's parents named her after a small, slender whale with a curved dorsal fin and a porcelain white belly, we'll never know. Perhaps she was a chubby baby.

But what we can know is the amount of piffle generated in the press by that very same belly being prominently displayed on the pages of Marie Claire magazine.

For the last three years, Marie Claire has featured naked celebrities letting it all hang out to highlight social issues, with this year an emphasis on domestic violence. Every year, very similar criticisms are levelled in letters pages, on talk radio, and around drooping office potplants.

Although levelled is perhaps the wrong word. There's nothing level about most of the criticisms. Skewed would be a better word. For example, there's always someone who believes that showing a celebrity's tits in fact promotes rape, inciting uncontrollable lust in potential rapists.

Given that there's apparently a rape every nanosecond in our beloved country, it's difficult to know where the busy rapists of South Africa would find time to read Marie Claire. But leaving that aside, the enormously irritating thing here is that people who make this argument really can't seem to see that it's the exact same thing as saying that a woman in a short skirt was asking for it.


It seems a very simple tenet to hold, that women should be allowed to wear whatever they choose, or choose not to in the case of Minki and her fellow naked celebrities.

Now before some of you mail me and start ranting on about how out of touch with reality I am: would I send my 12-year-old daughter out into the streets of Cape Town wearing only a pair of lederhosen and Hello Kitty nipplecaps? No, I probably wouldn't, especially if I actually had a daughter.

But there's a big difference between that, and a naked celebrity in a magazine forcing the chittering classes to think about the very real problem of domestic violence (and more about this later).

I read a letter somewhere or other (and I paraphrase) claiming that the bountiful flesh on display in Marie Claire was "provoking perverts". Now Marie Claire is a quality publication (I have to be careful here, as most of the editorial staff are friends of mine), but I have to say, I don't see it as being top of your average pervert's pornography shopping list.

I suspect if we scratch a little deeper here, we'll discover that a lot of the fuss is because it's sweet Minki, everyone's favourite non-practicing virgin-next-door, flashing her national treasure breasts. Sure, some scandal rags have whined on about Christina Storm being sprayed copiously with her boyfriend's big ol' hosepipe, but otherwise nobody really cares about the gaily happy partnership of fashion designer Craig Port and clinical psychologist Bryan Hellmann (I have to say, you look at that guy's muscles and "shrink" is not the first word that springs to mind), or the comedic stylings of Soli Philander's blissfully domestic penis (actual penis not pictured).

Stop and think

Another reason people have reacted badly to the naked celebrity shoot is because most of us would rather not have to think too much about domestic violence, which for most South Africans is just one of a host of violences we're reminded of every day.

For some people, the kneejerk reaction to this has been to say, I can't see how showing your naked body in a magazine can make a jot of difference to domestic violence. There are two answers to that. The obvious one, which you'll find explained at the end of the article, is that the photographs get auctioned, and all the proceeds go to POWA.

Most critics of the shoot don't pick up on this because, in true South African fashion, they haven't actually seen the pics. It's such fun condemning stuff, why bother to actually find out what you're pissed off about. And before you think I'm being holier than thou, I include myself among those South Africans who condemn first, and apologise later, but hey, we can all strive to improve.

The second answer is that an intervention like this naked celebrity shoot raises awareness. If Minki's breasts can cause one person to donate money to POWA, it'll make a difference. And if any of us have the wit to read a little deeper, you'll notice that we don't actually see those breasts. We see far less of them than we would on a beach, for example. What we do see are her husband's hands cupping them, and I'm sure we can take a message from that that's a little more sophisticated than "sheesh, he must have BIG hands". Look at some of the pics.

  • Chris Roper is Editor-in-Chief of, and blogs at He knows that Minki's name is actually Willemien, and that she is not remotely like a whale.

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