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.