Bat for Lashes NSFW cover

Natasha Khan aka  Bat For Lashes performs on stage during the iTunes Festival earlier this year.

Natasha Khan aka Bat For Lashes performs on stage during the iTunes Festival earlier this year.

I once saw Natasha Khan, better known as Bat for Lashes, standing outside an ancient Roman amphitheatre in Nimes, France (I even took a photo of the back of her head). It was 2008, before her second critically acclaimed album Two Suns and before her bestselling single Daniel, when Bat for Lashes was touring her first album Fur and Gold and supporting Radiohead.

Wearing black jeans and a stripy jumper, she looked decidedly normal - no headdress, no sequins or glitter, no crazy eye makeup, no folksy Native American vest. My boyfriend leaned over to me and said ‘Hey, isn’t that Bat for Lashes?’. He was right, but she wasn’t being Bat for Lashes. She was just being Natasha Khan.

Her eclectic style has become synonymous with her stage name: the headbands, the feathers, the fringed dark hair, and outlandish costumes. Bat for Lashes’ third highly-anticipated album, The Haunted Man, was released earlier this month, but instead of the colourful adornment that we’ve come to expect of her, the stripped back style of the album cover is distinctly different. The cover is a striking black and white photograph, shot by New York photographer Ryan McGinley. Khan is naked, makeup-less, not retouched, and holding a naked man; his limp torso weighing down on her shoulders like a dead animal. It’s an arresting image that has been labelled as NSFW (Not Safe For Work) by media outlets and retailers all over the world. Probably because you can see a couple of pubes.

Not safe for work: Bat For Lashes

Not safe for work: Bat For Lashes

Khan responded to website Spinner  on the label saying, “It says something about our day and how we view women as sexual objects. I chose a specifically unsexy pose. There's lots of shots, I could've chosen one where I looked more curvy but I didn't want to do that. I think it freaks men out because I'm carrying a man, which is kind of a crazy thing, it's like 'Ooh, I don't know if that's sexy.’

Speaking to NME about her decision to pose nude, she said she wanted to make a point about the music industry's treatment of female artists and has been surprised by the attention and controversy it had sparked.

"I love Beyonce, but I saw a video of her [for The Best Thing You Never Had] and she's just in white lingerie and nothing else," she said. "It's really sexual and really suggestive and there's loads of front covers [that are] photoshopped, glossy skin, lip gloss, boobs out, really sexual pose. And so I'm surprised people think [mine] is controversial.”

Safe for work: Nicki Minaj

Safe for work: Nicki Minaj

She continued. “It's generally acceptable if it's really sexual and provocative, and they look perfect. And I felt a bit wistful for those album covers like John and Yoko, or Patti Smith, where bodies were allowed to be really natural and represent more than just this one-dimensional kind of sexual provocation. I got into the idea of not shaving my legs and being a bit raw and wild about it," she said. "And celebrating that side of women, and all the complex things you can be except for just being sexy."

It’s interesting that an image that is deliberately non-sexual has been called NSFW, a tag that is often used for pornography. Images of naked women are everywhere - on advertisements, magazine covers, in music clips, films, and all over the internet - so much so that we’ve become desensitised to them, and more often than not they are heavily sexualised.

It’s a telling exercise to contrast Khan’s albums against recent releases by Nikki Minaj and Rhianna which seem to embody the sexy yet “safe for work” album covers she’s describing.

Safe for work: Rhianna

Safe for work: Rhianna

But is her nude cover any different? Is it ‘empowering’ in a way the others are not? I think so. This isn’t a declaration of war on body ideals and ideal bodies. What’s most exciting about this photograph is that it that it reminds us that there’s much more to a woman’s naked body than being desirable.

The cover of The Haunted Man makes a bold statement about being raw and natural, being unembellished and unvarnished. Khan isn’t heralding her shape, size, or weight as something to lust after or over, but rather that a woman’s body is simply a natural thing that can symbolise something other than sex. Khan is trying to subvert the importance of being desirable and that unfortunately flys in the face of what has become the convention.

She's also trying to impart a lesson. She told Spin  “There's a lot of young girls that struggle with body image or just struggle with the fact that you can have hairy armpits if you want. If they see that and think, 'It's cool to be natural and raw'," she says, "then I've done my job."

As a fan I can also tell you that the cover is a powerful illustration of the stripped back sound and intensely personal lyrics that the album contains. There’s a vulnerability and sparseness to the music that the image duly reflects.

Perhaps what’s most confronting about the image is that she looks decidedly normal, just like when I saw her outside that amphitheatre in France. She’s still being Bat for Lashes, but now she’s being Natasha Khan too.

30 comments

  • This album cover is beautiful. I love the stripped back, non-air-brushed, naturalness and honesty of it. It's a great album, too. Natasha is the kind of female role model I'd like for my daughter - if I had one. How hypocritical are we that this is seen as inappropriate, and yet videos of Beyonce or Rhianna and their ilk thrusting their groins, shaking their 'booty' at the camera and wearing very, very little, is seen as acceptable.

    Commenter
    eponetara
    Location
    Blue Mountains
    Date and time
    October 25, 2012, 8:13AM
    • Non hair-brushed, too. It's refreshing to see a woman with pubic hair, even a glimpse of it. Maybe the pre-pubescent pudenda look has had its day at last.

      Commenter
      yeah-no
      Date and time
      October 25, 2012, 10:16AM
    • The Nicki Minaj album cover shown on this page makes me vomit in my mouth. I'm really not a prude - I couldn't care less about full frontal nudity on album covers, movies, wherever... but there is something really disgusting about that album cover. I'd be seriously embarrassed to have that at work. It's definitely NSFW. On the other hand, i think the BFL cover is beautiful, artistic and has many layers of meaning. Even with the pubic hair, I'd be happy to have that at work and anywhere else. Minaj is nasty.

      Commenter
      Anathema
      Date and time
      October 25, 2012, 12:19PM
    • The Chili Peppers Mothers Milk is a great album cover as well.. Pushing boundaries back in the late 80's.

      Commenter
      Ryan
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      October 25, 2012, 1:05PM
  • NSFW? Who came up with that determination? Some patriarchal twat who doesn't like the connotations of female power implied in this image? The other covers in this piece (apparently "SFW") tell it all. We've still got so far to go to let women be women.

    Commenter
    Rachel
    Location
    Wodonga
    Date and time
    October 25, 2012, 8:25AM
    • I think the NSFW inclusion in the title is simply referencing the fact that the cover includes naked people. Even if their genitals are covered, many workplaces would not consider it suitable - the naked body is still considered offensive by some people, and HR rules are designed to protect even the most priggish among us. It might not be terribly mature, but then neither is working in most offices.

      Somehow concluding that the NSFW relates to a male being deeming female connotations of power being unsuitable for the workplace? It's a pretty long bow you're drawing if you ask me.

      Commenter
      Cranky
      Date and time
      October 25, 2012, 8:50AM
    • Woah there, hold the rage back a second and just look at what you're saying. the NSFW (Not safe for work) label is used primarily to let internet users know that the content of the website or article including nude or semi nude pics are not suitable for looking at in a work environment. That mean female and male nudity. It's simply a mechanism to stop you getting fired. No Patriarchal oppression i'm afraid.

      Consider if a female colleague of mine saw me looking at that image and decided to file a sexual harassment claim.That's what NSFW is for! It's to protect women against in work harassment as much as anything else which is what feminists want!

      If you hadn't noticed there is also a naked male being carried in this image. I think it's a great cover and as the first commenter said, it's a very empowering cover.

      Sometimes it's worth looking at something and thinking about it before letting the righteous rage take over.

      Commenter
      Yeah Yeah Yeah
      Date and time
      October 25, 2012, 9:24AM
    • You must be new to the internet.

      NSFW is a very common acronym that has been around for quite a long time that merely states that the content is not appropriate for viewing at work as it may contain nudity or anything else that may offend in the workplace. It has nothing to do with "some patriarchal twat" as you so elegantly put it.

      Commenter
      Marc
      Date and time
      October 25, 2012, 10:17AM
    • I agree - why are the other covers deemed as OK when this one is NSFW? The other examples are sexually aggressive compared to Bat for Lashes' which is just simple, and quite thoughtful in my opinion.

      Commenter
      gelk
      Date and time
      October 25, 2012, 10:18AM
    • Also, call me cynical, but throwing NSFW into a headline is usually a surefire way of increasing your hits.

      Commenter
      Cranky
      Date and time
      October 25, 2012, 10:23AM

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