Bob Shell: No Nudes is Good News

Topless. Photo by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

Photography and Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

No Nudes is Good News


As far as the Virginia Dept. of Corrections is concerned, that is. They came out with a new OP (Operating Procedure) a couple years ago, banning all nudity in publications, with no exceptions. The OP bans any depiction (photo, drawing, painting, sculpture, even cartoon) of a female human breast unless it has a “fully opaque covering” of the nipple and areola. Huh? Yep, you read that right. Isn’t it illegal to discriminate based on sex? But bare male breasts, like Vladimir Putin’s, are OK. And what about the breasts of a hermaphrodite, or a transgender person, born with male genitals, but through hormones or surgery has fully developed breasts? What about men with gynacomasty, who just develop large breasts for no known reason? Like most things they do, the DOC issued this OP without thinking it through. I’m particularly affected by this policy because it prohibits me from having copies of most of my own photographs and most of the books I wrote. A friend tried to send me a copy of my Pro Guide: Mamiya Medium Format Camera Systems and it was disallowed due to one small bare breasted photo in which the breasts in question were tiny. Must have gone through the book with a magnifying glass looking for nipples or areolae! How silly! I saw the actual breasts when I took the picture and it’s now going to harm me in some way to see the photo years later???

And, when they find a single offending picture, they don’t black it out or cut it out, they disapprove the entire publication. This in spite of the Supreme Court saying that books and other publications must be considered as a whole, and not disapprove for a single image.

Thankfully, the Virginia ACLU has gotten involved on behalf of the American Humanist Association because an issue of the American Humanist magazine was prohibited for containing a famous painting of Adam and Eve by Peter Paul Rubens, one of the great old masters of art. The lawsuit over this is currently in federal court.

For any Virginia agency to prohibit showing of bare breasts is particularly silly because the official Great Seal of Virginia has depicted the Amazon warrior goddess Virtus, whose tunic bares her left breast, since 1776! This seal appears on all Virginia Governmental stationery, including the DOC’s, as well as on the state flag, calendars, signs, guard badges, and. in numerous other places. Am I supposed to avert my eyes from all these things lest I be harmed in some unstated way? Must the state stop using its official seal on anything that might find it’s way into a DOC facility?

Has exposure to this bare breast driven all Virginia politicians mad? The whole thing is just stupid and silly!

When I first came into the DOC system eleven years ago, you could subscribe to Playboy, Penthouse, etc., and they showed us “adult” movies on the TVs. Since then they’ve grown more and more prudish and puritanical. But those are religious proscriptions based on perverted misogynist versions of Christianity to which I do not subscribe. My personal religion contains no such proscriptions. Does the DOC have the right to shove their religion down my throat?

If you think I sound angry about this, you’re right. I’m sick and tired of having my magazines disapproved because someone thinks they can see a tit! Just this week I had the latest Rolling Stone disapproved for nudity. I subscribe to Rolling Stone to keep up on music and politics, not for the chance to glimpse Lady Gaga’s nipples. That’s why one issue was disapproved. She was covered, but the blouse wasn’t “fully opaque,” and with a lot of imagination you might have just made out a nipple. I know this because disapproved magazines go to the DOC’s Publication Review Committee and in that case I got the magazine after they approved it — months later! Not much good for a news magazine! Most magazines disapproved at the institutional level are eventually given to me, but the process is slow. I did eventually get three issues of Rangefinder,, but not until a year later. So much for new product news.

Apparently the people who wrote this policy have an unhealthy breast fixation. Were they all bottle fed as babies? There’s something very wrong with a person who cannot look at a bare breast without being consumed by deviant thoughts, and assumes that everyone else is just as perverted. Human breasts are natural, normal, and beautiful. These people should visit European beaches, as I have, where bare breasts are proudly displayed, or just public parks and walking trails where encountering nude hikers, male and female, doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. Even in stodgy old England there are public nude beaches dating back to Victorian times. I know because I’ve been there. What’s the big deal about nudity, anyway? Were these folks born fully clothed in opaque fabric? Equating all nudity with sexual titillation is just plain sick!


About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 11th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here:

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on

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