Nudity is an odd thing. It seems as though we are at once surrounded by it and shielded from it, oscillating between offended and titillated. We can’t show a breast on television, nor should a mother take hers out in a public park to give her child its afternoon meal. But breasts are everywhere — on our computers, on our movie screens, in our fantasies — both in full reveal and implied under a sheer tank top. We play at prudishness, but we long for full-frontal. It’s hard to understand what the real significance on nudity is anymore.
I like nudity. I don’t always enjoy it in an erotic way, but I almost universally enjoy seeing it. (Provided that it is consensual and adult, of course.) I like it because there is so often an element of liberation, a feeling of “Finally, it is all in the open.” And maybe that’s me projecting, because I wish that I had the courage to show myself naked with impunity. I wish that, aside from the obvious self-consciousness I hold about my body — something most of us struggle with on some level — that I hadn’t internalized all the rhetoric surrounding what nakedness means. I wish I didn’t feel that it would be a judgment of my character, or a reflection of who I was as a person. Other people have learned to get past what we’ve been taught, and I like seeing them do it.
Yet even in the domains of nudity which seek to be different and liberating, there seems to be a fairly constant theme in what is “acceptable” to show in its natural form. We like pretty people, we like young people, we like able-bodied people, we like thin people, we like white people. We may put a tattoo on them and call them a Suicide Girl, or allow them to roll around in their own bedsheets and call it Me In My Place, but it remains a more digestible kind of nudity. It is the kind that has in some ways been spared by the shaming rhetoric that surrounds what it means to take your clothes off, especially for women. We deem it attractive (and pleasing to the male gaze), and let it slide. It is sexy where a breastfeeding mother or wheelchair-bound grandfather would be offensive.
I want to see them naked, though. And they don’t need to be erotic to be enjoyed, though there is no limit to what kind of bodies can be sexy if they choose that they want to be. I want to see the inherent dichotomy we make in nudity between “erotic” and “ugly” to become a spectrum which we can all make the rubric for ourselves. I want the idea that a woman choosing to take her clothes off automatically makes her less deserving of respect to be as outdated as the old cameras we used to photograph them with. I want to see naked men with big beer bellies and hair in odd places and a large bald spot on the top of their heads. I want to see naked women of every color, speaking every language, at every age. I want to see people who have lost their breasts to cancer proudly showing their chests and refusing to acquiesce to a slogan as offensive as “Save the Boobies.” I want to see people covered in wrinkles and freckles and sunspots and cellulite, naked as the day is long, incredibly happy to be in front of the camera.
I want this because we have come so far from what is, at the end of the day, our most natural state. I want it because none of us should look at our own bodies and think that they are deeply unloveable, or nothing that anyone would ever want to see, or all that we are good for. I don’t want some girls to feel that they are uniquely sexual while others feel that they will never be seen as erotic. I don’t want us to scoff at a Playboy model’s thoughts on politics simply because we have seen her vagina. Because none of this matters. Our bodies are a mode of transport for our personalities and intelligence and collective memory. They are as malleable and as subject to change as any other physical entity in this world. And they are not who we are. Being naked should be beautiful, and liberating, and a state in which we all feel represented — not something that most of us hide away because we assume that being natural is something reserved for a certain caste of beautiful people.