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Posts Tagged ‘Posture Photos’



Monday, November 8th, 2010

I wondered if anyone objected to the nude posture photos.

You may remember the scandal. From sometime in the late 1930’s to sometime in the early 1970’s, incoming freshmen at Ivy League and Seven Sister’s schools were required to pose for nude photos, front and back. The ostensible purpose of these photos (nsfw) was to check for spinal diseases, but the real purpose was to attempt to validate some racist notions that body type correlated to intelligence. To call it pseudoscience would be a grave insult to pseudoscientists everywhere.

I’ve often wondered, why it is that nobody objected to these photographs. It seems incredible to me, that people would just accept it. I couldn’t accept it. Somebody, somewhere, must have objected. Somebody, somewhere, must have said no. I found this article by Ron Rosenbaum (single page, original source) that provided an answer:

What happened was this: In September 1950, Sheldon and his team descended on Seattle, where the University of Washington had agreed to play host to his project. He’d begun taking nude pictures of female freshmen, but something went wrong. One of them told her parents about the practice. The next morning, a battalion of lawyers and university officials stormed Sheldon’s lab, seized every photo of a nude woman, convicted the images of shamefulness and sentenced them to burning. The angry crew then shoveled the incendiary film into an incinerator. A short-lived controversy broke out: Was this a book burning? A witch hunt? Was Professor Sheldon’s nude photography a legitimate scientific investigation into the relationship between physique and temperament, the raw material of serious scholarship? Or just raw material — pornography masquerading as science?

I wish I knew who that young woman was. I would love to talk to her. What was she feeling when they told her what she’d be doing? Did she have the picture taken, and then tell her parents? Or did she storm out, and tell her parents immediately? Why is it that thousands of Ivy League kids allowed this to go on, and yet when Dr. Sheldon took his nutty show on the road to a state school, he was immediately rebuffed?

Rosenbaum provides an interesting theory as to why the men at least put up with the pictures. During the years that the posture photos were being taken, men were all drafted, and were used to military lineups and a complete lack of privacy. Not so with the women. Rosenbaum managed to find an archive of some of the posture photos that were not destroyed, and what he describes moved me:

As I thumbed rapidly through box after box to confirm that the entries described in the Finder’s Aid were actually there, I tried to glance at only the faces. It was a decision that paid off, because it was in them that a crucial difference between the men and the women revealed itself. For the most part, the men looked diffident, oblivious. That’s not surprising considering that men of that era were accustomed to undressing for draft physicals and athletic-squad weigh-ins.

But the faces of the women were another story. I was surprised at how many looked deeply unhappy, as if pained at being subjected to this procedure. On the faces of quite a few I saw what looked like grimaces, reflecting pronounced discomfort, perhaps even anger.

They felt helpless and degraded. Their welcoming gift upon entering college was to be sexually assaulted. I’ll say it again, god bless that young woman from Seattle.

So I’ve written previously about the nude picture machines at the airports, and my experience in avoiding being sent through them. But now they’re apparently doing an “enhanced” pat-down procedure that involved getting felt-up by perverts from the TSA. If you think it’s unfair that I should categorically call people who work for the TSA perverts, that they’re just guys “doing their job”, then why are they advertising “x-ray vision” as a job perk in their recruitment billboards? You get the type of candidate you recruit, and it’s hard to argue that they’re seeking out perverts with that kind of advertisement.

And so it is that I approach the holiday season this year with a sense of dread. I have to travel twice this holiday season, once for Thanksgiving and once for Christmas. Last time I flew, Boston only had the nude machines in the international terminal. I’m flying to DC for Thanksgiving, so I’m sure I’ll be hassled at least on the way home. But I’m concerned about my wife. She will be flying with our 1 year old son alone, and I am to join them a few days later. How is she possibly expected to go through a nude photo machine with a 1 year old? If she declines the nude photographs, which I assume she will (and which I will encourage her to do), who will look after my son while she is being man handled by the TSA perverts? How is it that they will conduct an “enhanced” pat-down on a diaper-wearing baby?

The whole thing sickens me.

If you haven’t yet watched the video linked by Drudge, of a woman discussing how male TSA agents wanted to manhandle her 7 yr old daughter, and how they sent a woman to do it after she intervened, you should. Personally, I prefer the grope to the photo because the grope is ephemeral, but the photo is everlasting. But in a free country, you really shouldn’t be subjected to either, not without cause, not without a warrant. The fourth amendment reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Nude photos constitute an unreasonable search, and groping my genitals an unreasonable seizure, and the fact that I want to fly on the holidays does not constitute probable cause that I’m a terrorist. Is there no politician willing to pander to the likes of me for my vote, to promise to rid us of at least the infernal nude machines and gropes, if not the TSA itself? Is the only guy on record against these things one rep from Utah? Are there others? I’m not being rhetorical. Politicians who stand up against this deserve our support, and those who support the TSA our scorn. So in the spirit of Christmas, I propose making a list…

* *

If anybody has Lexis Nexus and can search old news articles, I’d be interested in hunting down that woman from Seattle who blew the whistle on the posture photos back in 1950. I’m guessing that she’s 70 today, but I think she would make a great spokesperson for this cause. Also, I’ve tried finding an email address for Ron Rosenbaum to get his opinion on this matter, but to no avail. Any help any reader could provide in that effort would be appreciated.

UPDATE: Found a Time magazine article online from 1950, but it’s very much an apologia for Dr. Sheldon.