VH1’s Dating Naked is exactly what you’d expect it to be. And I love it. Dating shows aren’t new, but meeting someone for the first time completely nude and then going on a date all while trying to avert your eyes is totally 2014.
Dating Naked claims to strip people of their clothes as well as the masks they hide behind. The host opens by saying, “In today’s modern world, we’re supposed to be more connected than ever but it seems like we’re actually pushing each other further apart.” The show depends on the idea that social media makes it easier for us to hide who we truly are, which in turn makes dating more difficult. I don’t necessarily agree with the notion that technology drives us away from each other, especially with Tinder and Grindr and the plethora of dating apps Silicon Valley pushes out every year. But there’s a tiny grain of truth in the idea that a social media persona may not be entirely genuine; it’s a lot harder to gauge a person’s authenticity by a profile picture and a quippy About Me.
MTV’s Catfish proves that sometimes the person you’re talking to online may not be who they say they are. On Catfish, the problem is that couples are emotionally connected but some of them have never seen their partner’s face. Dating Naked is VH1’s answer to that. Joe, the first contestant, says, “There are no secrets. I see you, you see me.” And, okay, I rolled my eyes, but it’s kind of refreshing to date someone who’s willing to be honest about himself and bare it all Adam and Eve style in front of their date, the cameramen, and God.
Maybe nudity does send people on the fast track to emotional intimacy because Joe immediately tells his date Wee Wee about his past. That kind of openness is rare after a single date, but if your date has already seen every part of you — bad tattoos and all — why not tell them about all of the other baggage you carry? The host says, “Before you can truly bare your souls, you’ll have to bare everything else first.” And it works, kind of. Joe and Wee Wee both say that they feel like they’ve known each other for forever.
Even though the premise suggests that its contestants will truly get to know another person, it promotes an environment where they can’t help but sexualize and objectify each other. Joe says, “I’m here for love. I don’t want just beauty and looks now.” It’s a valiant effort to seem less like a douchebag, but I don’t believe him. He’s on a dating show where viewers and contestants alike embrace superficiality and, let’s face it, casual sex. Hook-up culture is real and VH1 is not going to slut-shame you for enjoying sex. In fact, they’ll even create a TV show that caters to that kind of thing under the guise of finding an emotional connection. While Joe and Wee Wee are genuine with each other, the other four contestants they go on naked dates with don’t seem as interested in anything long term. Maybe Joe and Wee Wee are outliers, but the reality is that by stripping its contestants of their clothes, Dating Naked gets straight to the point. And you can’t fault a TV show for trying to be honest.
“Dating Naked gives me a way to trust someone possibly again,” says Joe. It’s really optimistic of him to think that way, but Dating Naked isn’t revolutionary — it just has a 2014 twist. It’s silly and desperate and a little bit confused with the message it’s trying to send, but isn’t that the point of reality TV? It doesn’t have to be good and it doesn’t have to make sense. I didn’t watch it because I wanted to be intellectually stimulated. I just wanted to be entertained.