The ghost of nudes past

Gasp! We’re all naked underneath these clothes!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that human nudity is naturally attractive yet socially repulsive. Our relationship with our own bodies is complex because we censor ourselves—make ourselves uncomfortable—with clothes to create comfort for others. Now this might sound like a nudist’s endeavour to and encourage you to run off, appendages jiggling, into the sunset. But nudity in the 21st century is still a provocative taboo and this backwardness inspires social movements that they to normalise the natural.

Nudity has been shrouded in shame and this perception is documented in historical texts like the infamous story of Adam & Eve in the Christian Bible. After disobeying God, the pair covered their nakedness with fig leaves to conceal their sinful wrongdoing. And so the age long rivalry was set into motion: naked sin vs. clothed virtue. Oddly enough, we project shame more on daughters of Eve aka women than men. Perhaps it isn’t so odd since organised religion and patriarchy skip hand-in-hand, sexualising and policing the female body as a means to objectify, possess and control.

Each generation has had their own war on nudity. From the looks of it, women in the west have worn beautifully prudent dresses of an appropriate length and were praised for their propriety. White women in European countries were certainly not the only women in existence yet they were used as the global standard of ideal women. During the age of discovery, European conquerors, missionaries and settlers stumbled upon people with cultural dress codes that did not reflect the same shame surrounding degrees of nudity. To their alarm, they encountered unashamed men and women who lived their lives without pantaloons and corsets. And so they set about the noble work of spreading the shame.

However, as colonisers forcibly assimilated indigenous peoples an element of the curriculum devised by the colonial project boasted the mastery of European artists who ironically depicted a great deal of nudity. The human nude has been a timeless muse. Think back to the grand and detailed celebrations of the nude human form like Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus painting and Michelangelo’s David sculpture. Both very naked and both revered so much so that people still travel to museums in Florence, Italy to marvel at the very nudity we have been taught to fear and hate.

But before we receive this shameful mis-education, as children we try to see what all the fuss is concerning nudity. We were naive to the fact that somewhere along the road in our lives nudity and sexuality would eventually converge and cause anxiety. Children are oblivious to the shame that tars this metaphoric road. Things like age restrictions on films have ratings like S and N (sex and nudity) are arbitrary to unsuspecting minds.

I remember watching Titanic and discovering that nudity could be a token of affection intended for a loved one. This dawned on me during the iconic scene when a beautifully nude Rose shrugs off her robe, sprawls herself out and tells Jack to draw her like one of his French girls. The artistic voyeurism and willing exhibitionism left an impression on my 6-year-old self who watched the scene while secretly peeping over the couch and my mother’s shoulder because I wasn’t old enough for this kind of film.

Flash-forward to the present and we can imagine Rose being more casually candid. She could’ve simply sent her sweetheart a nude picture via Whatsapp, Snapchat or Kik. Granted, it doesn’t seem as glamorous as a painting or drawing but it’s still a form of intimacy. In a society that has indoctrinated people to police themselves: privatise your body or you shall be publicly shamed! The threat of ‘leaked nudes’ is a deterrent from spontaneous acts of digital intimacy.

Women are metaphorically stoned on the internet with hateful comments on the pictures and videos that they post on social media. According to Instagram if you’re a woman your nudity is perfectly acceptable if you edit decency markers over your nipples and pubic area. It harks back to old-fashion pornography magazines that places little red stars over the shamefully exciting bits of the female anatomy. This perspective thinks of female nudity as a meal for profitable and hetero-normative consumption in the comfort of a high school boy’s bathroom stall during break time.

Nudes are more than just a fleeting expression of sexuality sent at early hours of the morning to someone who either means the world to us or who is simply the third person on a booty call list. When we are naked we are our most essential selves. Stand in front of a full length mirror naked, stare unflinchingly and love what you see. Its confrontational and raw as we battle with fluctuating self-esteem because we have internalised an inherited a shameful body image.

Your naked body is inescapable and it demands a significant level of self-acceptance: learn how to be yourself shamelessly by embracing the purity of nudity.

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