Forgive me for jumping to conclusions or making far-fetched statements in what follows, but I’m merely trying to make sense of why made it to the front page of The Varsity (Sept. 24).

There are numerous unconventional ways to interview people and report on the street. One could impersonate Madonna or dress up as Frankenstein or broadcast the entire exchange with an amplifier. Lily Kwan chooses to do it topless.

“Reporting topless is a very empowering position,” she said. The position in which she displayed her toplessness—putting one hand on her hip while holding her microphone with the other—certainly made her appear empowered. But why does Kwan believe that empowerment comes with being naked on the job? Is it because the rest of us go to school and work fully dressed? Not only does she think it’s empowering to be nude in public, she also thinks that sex has nothing to do with it.

Sexuality is perhaps the most guarded aspect of human nature. It is also highly contextualized. You could be attracted to someone in a bar and perhaps even flirt a little and still retain respect and dignity; attractions and flirtations are anticipated in such places. Moreover, the degree to which you show off your body may be a sign of how “pick-up-able” you are. But once you display similar behaviour toward the object of your attraction in the office, or deviate from the unofficial dress code, you could be seen as unprofessional. In worse scenarios, you could be fined or fired. The same wink, remark or attire could be harmless in one situation but offensive in the next. His commitment to his wife notwithstanding, the (alleged?) oral sex between former U.S. president Bill Clinton and intern Monica Lewinsky was scandalous enough to draw national media attention.

I don’t exactly know why, but we seem to accept without question that work and sex are like oil and water. They just don’t mix.

Kwan is defying this social convention, consciously or otherwise. In her brief bio on, Kwan is described as “her own woman…(with) those philosophies and ideals which espouse freedom of expression.” Now, I don’t know if is simply pornography in the guise of freedom of expression, but it might well be that Kwan is among those in our so-called “civilized” society who enjoy toppling standards. And she does it by giving her job a sexual edge. Whether out of some unarticulated rage or instinctual rebellious urge, some creative mentality or indiscriminate openness, she upsets the traditional, tidy separation of work and sex by flaunting her body on the job.

In fact, her body has become a vital part of her trade. I remember an interview published a few months ago in a Chinese magazine, in which Kwan told the reporter that she noticed the men she interviewed had to abstain from looking at her bare breasts. She found this interesting. To me, her body (body as being, body as self, body as sex…) as well as other people’s reactions to it all enter into the equation of what her job is all about. The end is no longer just the interview; the end is also the means. What matters is not only what is said, but also how it is said. And Kwan says it with her unabashed toplessness. I mean, how newsworthy is it to ask someone: “What do you want to be after you graduate?” or “If you were to be killed by one animal, what would it be?” What makes these questions different is that the reporter is naked and likely exciting the however-fleeting sexual fancies of her target, and that the guy, after having answered them, also admits, “It was weird…but I didn’t really mind…And I wasn’t looking!”

So who says sex has nothing to do with it? Sex has everything to do with it. Kwan is unwittingly demanding her targets to refrain from eating eye candy. And she’s having fun while she’s at it. Front page material? Well…the fabulous picture of naked truth that perfectly illustrates the text wouldn’t have the same effect on any other page. And after all, it is an image of sex. Who could possibly ignore something like that when it’s right in your face?

Stay up to date. Sign up for our weekly newsletter, sent straight to your inbox:

* indicates required