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Shoulders-Up Nudity

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With bent up kneecaps in case it wasn't clear.

Many times when a character is supposedly naked, a woman will only be shown from the shoulders up. A male character in a similar situation might be shown from the waist up, though this is not so common.

The level of titillation from this trope can depend on many factors, including the scene context, the mood, the actor(s), and the presence of others of the same or opposite gender. Some viewers might consider such scenes fanservice regardless.

This trope can be easily subverted by a later camera shot that reveals a Modesty Towel, or for that matter a tube top, a strapless bikini, etc.

Subtrope of Sexy Discretion Shot. Compare to, and sometimes see it combined with, Toplessness from the Back and Godiva Hair, especially to "prove" that the character is actually at least partly unclothed.

The trope codifier is the opening sequence to Petticoat Junction, where the three women are visible from the shoulders up while Skinny Dipping in the water tank.



    open/close all folders 

  • Bugle Boy Jeans: In a famous commercial from the late 1980s, a Ferrari is seen driving down a desert highway, and a young man is walking down the shoulder, when the car comes to a sudden stop. The car's driver rolls down the passenger-side window... to reveal to show an incredibly sexy, bare-shouldered woman behind the wheel, asking, "Excuse me, are those Bugle Boy jeans you're wearing?" The young man says yes, the woman replies, "Thank you," before she speeds off — leaving the hapless hitchhiker disappointed. The woman in the commercial was Annabel Schofield, 25 at the time of filming. Schofield reprised her role in a spoof of the commercial for Ace Hardware. The man walking down the road is NFL coaching legend John Madden.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Happens a lot in Inuyasha. Whenever Kagome or occasionally Sango are shown bathing, the water covers any questionable areas (at least in the anime, anyway). We still do see enough of their breasts for some definite Fanservice...
  • In one episode of Pokémon Ash, Misty and Brock are relaxing together in a hotspring. This would raise a few alarms on its own, until a commotion startles them and they jump out, revealing that Misty is actually wearing a strapless bikini.
  • The trope picture comes from the first episode of Three Leaves, Three Colors, during the Public Bathhouse Scene.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Alice in Wonderland (2010), after Alice is left naked due to her clothes being torn off after becoming giant, she's only seen from the shoulders up due to Scenery Censor.
  • The Archer: Lauren is shown in the shower alongside Rebecca with the camera never moving below shoulder level.
  • Done in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery with Austin and Alotta Fagina, in a hot tub.
  • Invoked and ultimately subverted at the end of Camp Nowhere. Betty, seemingly naked, swims up to Walter (who has spent the entire movie trying to get her to skinny dip with him) and goads him into stripping as well, only to reveal she was wearing a strapless suit as she leaves with his.
  • In the Seltzer and Friedberg movie Disaster Movie, when Juney strips she's only seen naked from the shoulders up.
  • In Hot Bot, the camera stays above Bardot's shoulders when she drops her Modesty Towel in front of the boys. Later when she malfunctions and passes out on the bed still naked, Nard's chainsaw conceals her body from the audience.
  • In How To Beat The High Cost O Living, a naked Elaine (Jane Curtin) is shown from the shoulders up after she performs an impromptu striptease to distract the crowd and security from the ongoing heist.
  • Jennifer's Body:
    • When Jennifer takes off her shirt to seduce Jonas, the camera doesn't pan below her shoulders, except for a brief Godiva Hair shot.
    • When Jennifer gets out of the lake and walks up to her clothes naked, the camera either stays above her collarbone or focuses on her bare feet and legs.
    • Similarly, when Needy is having sex with Chip, the camera stays above her breasts in the moments when she's not covered by him or something else.
  • James Bond:
    • Played with in The Man with the Golden Gun. After Mary Goodnight and Bond have a make-out session on Scaramanga's ship, she's shown holding up a sheet covering her body with her shoulders exposed. She drops the sheet and reveals that she's wearing a Modesty Towel.
    • In The Living Daylights, Bond rips the top off General Pushkin's mistress to distract a bodyguard entering the room. The bodyguard's POV is shown as a shoulders-up shot of the mistress. This is followed by a Toplessness from the Back shot to imply her naked chest without actually showing it.
  • La Famille Bélier: Mathilde and Quentin's shoulders and heads are shown after they have sex, but nothing below that.
  • The Legend of Lizzie Borden: Censorship requirements in 1975 American television meant that Lizzie Borden (Elizabeth Montgomery) could only be shown from the shoulders up, and in Toplessness from the Back shots, after she strips naked to kill her father and stepmother in Full Frontal Assaults.
  • Christie Brinkley's character in the pool in National Lampoon's Vacation.
  • In-Universe example: In Porky's Revenge, after the girls promised the guys an orgy after they won the big game, they all went into a swimming pool at night. The girls proceeded to seductively pull down their straps (while standing with their shoulders above the surface) then threw their swimsuits out of the water. In reality, they actually divested spare swimsuits; the suits whose straps they pulled remained on.
  • Screamers. Jessica strips off her top to take a hand bath, showing her bare back to Hendricksson who then reveals some shocking news, causing her to whirl to face him. Her lower half is offscreen and Hendricksson doesn't even blink, but then says quietly, "Good lord, you're beautiful."
  • Spartacus: Varinia displays this after taking off her tunic, which is aided by it being in shadow which hides her breasts.
  • Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl: Adela takes both a shower and bath in the film, with the camera always staying at her shoulder level.
  • In Wild Wild West, we see James West and a girl swimming in a water tank, shown from the shoulders up.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "The Inside Man" has a naked Daisy Johnson shown from the shoulders up after undressing herself before having sex with Lincoln.
  • America's Next Top Model: Usually, the contestants are shown bare-shouldered in the photos. Subverted when backstage stuff shows that they're wearing tube tops or strapless bras of some sort.
  • Babylon 5:
    • Lyta appears this way during the show's only sex scene, between her and Byron. Combined with Toplessness from the Back.
    • This is also used during a dream sequence when Ivanova imagines herself naked in public.
  • In this scene Kendra Reilly wears a monokini when she goes swimming with Cody Madison in the "Baywatch Down Under" episode of Baywatch.
  • In "Shark Island" episode of Baywatch Hawaii, Jessie Owens goes Skinny Dipping when a nearby swimmer is stung by a jellyfish and has to rescue him in the nude.
  • Being Human (US): Female characters are shot from the shoulders up while naked to avoid showing their breasts most of the time.
  • The Benny Hill Show seems to like this trope. One example is where two female singers, seen from behind their couch, appear to be demonstrating this trope until the couch turns around and they are shown to be wearing strapless dresses.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • The title character demonstrates this trope at least twice: in Season 2's "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered" when a potioned-up Buffy tries to seduce Xander, and in Season 6's "Dead Things" during a Buffy–Spike sex scene.
    • Anya, while propositioning Xander in "The Harsh Light of Day".
  • In the Firefly episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds", Saffron gets naked in Mal's cabin, and is seen from the front, shoulders up, and from the back waist up.
  • His Dark Materials:
    • After being taken to Bolvangar in "The Lost Boy," Lyra is forced into a Shameful Strip, though Lyra is more just irritated than anything else. There are a handful of shots of Lyra shot from the shoulders up indicating her nudity. The scene is played for Squick, both because the staff is attempting to intimidate and humiliate her, and that it's happening to a child (Lyra is portrayed by then-14 year-old Dafne Keen).
    • Another in "Betrayal" when Lyra is taking a bath while talking to Roger. Keen's shoulders are just visible above the water.
  • The Hogan Family: The fourth-season episode "The Naked Truth" centers on a painting of Sandy that is on display at an art gallery (where Mark and Willie are touring as part of a school trip). Viewers only see the painting from angles showing the shoulders upward, but it is very clear, by Mark and Willie's stunned reaction, the painting shows far more. Sandy learns about the painting and demands that its painter — an old college boyfriend, who had painted another student's nude body, but then painted on Sandy's head instead — fix the situation immediately. He does... by painting a dress on the bottom half. He admits he had fantasized about her in college and wanted to advance their relationship.
  • One infamous example from iCarly where the girls were in changing booths. There was the implication that they were topless, but all you really saw were their shoulders. You'd think that this being a kids show, with actual under-18 actresses, that the girls would be wearing something underneath. Except Sam really WAS topless and they had to re-film the scene after the episode aired to eliminate the nip-slip that occurred. Oops!
  • A brochure for Inspector Rex (Rex: Special Unit) has an image of a shoulders-up Marco Terzani pointing with his pistol while being shirtless.
  • The Malcolm in the Middle episode "Houseboat" has Malcolm stuck on a fishing boat with Hal while Reese and Stevie are across the lake partying with cheerleaders at a summer camp. At one point, Malcolm dozes off and briefly hallucinates a naked cheerleader swimming up to his boat to flirt with him, and she's only seen from the shoulders up.
  • Pandora:
    • Jax is only seen from the shoulders up when stripping to take a shower in the first episode.
    • It happens again in episode 2 with the Atria clones coming out of their tanks nude but, since this is a CW show, only shot from the collarbone up or with Foot Focus.
    • Pilar is shown this way part of the time when she's made to parade around nude in the school.
  • Petticoat Junction: The "bathing beauty" scene in the opening credits is the trope codifier. One might think that the producers did not "know their own strength" regarding titillation for a 1960s show. However, that may have been subverted by an episode that showed the girls actually swimming in the tank; here, they wore swimsuits, albeit with straps.
  • The Price Is Right: For a time from the mid-1980s through about 1992, whenever a prize such as a sauna or a hot tub were being shown, one of Barker's Beauties — despite likely wearing a Modesty Towel or a strapless bikini top — would pose in such a way that everything below the shoulders was beneath the edge of the window, hot tub deck, etc. Host Bob Barker would then joke to the audience implying that said Barker's Beauty was naked. The joke faded once Barker's affair with Dian Parkinson became public and, after leaving the show, she filed a sexual harassment claim against the legendary game show host.
  • The Republic of Sarah: Alexis and AJ are shot like this after having sex offscreen.
  • The Secret World of Alex Mack: The first time Alex Mack turns into a puddle, she inadvertently leaves her clothes behind. When she re-materializes behind a convenient stack of boxes, only her head and bare shoulders can be seen. Because this was a children's show, it caused a small amount of controversy (and a little embarrassment for the lead, who had been wearing a Modesty Towel to encourage the proper reaction), and the incident never recurred in the series.
  • Shadow and Bone: In "The Making at the Heart of the World" when Alina is stripped naked by the servants, we only see her from the shoulders up in the bath.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • Lwaxana Troi attends her own wedding naked as it is Betazed tradition. Majel Barret was filmed from the shoulders up.
    • In another episode, Lwaxana Troi, her daughter Deanna, Worf and his son Alexander enjoy a mud bath. The audience doesn't know whether they were supposed to be have any kind of swimwear.
  • That '70s Show has an episode where both Red and Hyde are helping Bob move some stuff in his home. When they open a door, they are flashed by Pam. The whole scene is a combination of this and Toplessness from the Back, so that we can see both Red's and Hyde's mouths on the floor.
  • In an episode of Without a Trace, two agents have their tryst interrupted by a phone call from their superior. The man rolls of off the woman and we get a very brief example of this before she quickly covers her chest with her arms and gets up.
  • The Wilds: Fatin shows this in her sex scenes during the flashbacks.

  • The video of the Dixie Chicks' 2000 video "Without You" involves each of the people in the video being naked, including the trope-fitter with Natalie Maines, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire shown from the bare shoulders up. One source indicated that vulnerability was the general tone.
  • The cover of Eurythmics' Touch shows Annie Lennox's bare shoulders, with Lennox wearing a mask and holding up a gloved hand.
  • The cover of Heart's Dreamboat Annie album shows sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson sitting back to back, apparently topless, but the image is cropped below the shoulders. Other publicity photos from the same session exist that make it clear that modesty towels were involved.
  • The cover of The Judds' 1987 album Heartland shows Naomi (then 43) with bare shoulders; the photo is posed and cropped in such a way that Wynonna's bare shoulders are not seen; however, the image on the back — bare backs — makes it clear she was also (at least) bare-shouldered.

    Music Videos 
  • The famous sequence at the end of the clip for Michael Jackson's "Black or White" features men and women of various ethnicities morphing into one another. The bare shoulders certainly helped making the morphing more seamless, with no clothes getting in the way of the special effect. The end of the video, in which the scene zooms out of the filming set, even shows how it was done: we can see that the female model who sang the last part of the song was wearing a strapless top.

    Print Media 
  • Many women's magazines will show models with this trope in simple photos depicting hairstyles, makeovers or both. Presumably, this is done to avoid bias, or so clothes don't add to or distract from the new look.
  • The Washington Post published a photo of news anchorwoman Wendy Rieger swimming.


    Western Animation 
  • Male version: In the Looney Tunes short "Forward March Hare", Bugs Bunny is waiting in line with a bunch of men to take an Army induction physical. All the men are shown undressed from the waist up.

  • Some "china girl" models, also known as "leader ladies", have been photographed nude from the shoulders up, for insertion into the head leaders of films.
  • Dolls with realistic china heads and shoulders and jointed wooden bodies that resemble the figures used by artist models (in other words, no curves). They seem to have been designed to show off fashions that left the shoulders exposed and covered up everything else except hands and (barely) feet.


Video Example(s):


"A Lady Should Be Modest"

After getting out of the shower, Lara finds her butler offering her a dress to wear. Lara brushes him off and makes a point to discard her towel.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / ModestyTowel

Media sources: