Normalize and desensitize. We need more nudity, not less. But by more nudity, I don’t just mean more perfection, more sanitization, more photoshopped, starving, plastic models. The sight of a breast should neither offend us nor rile us up into a sexualized frenzy. Enjoy them privately with your consensual sexual partner if you’d like, but there is really no reason why a glance at a breast outside of that situation should reduce women to little more than a sexual commodity, to be judged and dehumanized. Nor should we assume that men are incapable of seeing women beyond that scope.
Seeing real nudity, not airbrushed in magazines or plastered on billboards, reminds one of a simple fact: human bodies are inherently sort of silly looking. We have parts that bounce when we want them to stay put and other parts we wish were larger or smaller or smoother. We waste time thinking about what we can’t change. So off came the shirt. Off came the shorts. And a funny thing happened: nothing. Nobody laughed and nobody stared. That quick and painless moment was a liberating page in the body-pride struggle I’ve been writing since my first training bra. I’m not perfect, but with time comes the true realization of universal imperfection.
I didn’t know if I could ever be healed but seven years after the shredding, I found myself taking off all my clothes and teaching a yoga class. I didn’t know how I was going to feel when I walked in there—I only knew that it was important for me to have this experience: the experience of nakedness. And you know what? I felt amazing. I felt space between my ribs that I’d never felt before because of compression of my clothes. I felt a completely new expression in my chest with my skin being exposed to air. And I felt… accepted. There was no weirdness, no misaligned intentions, no self-consciousness. It just seemed obvious to practice in a room of people without clothes. And as I stood there, totally and completely naked, I felt accepted.
Like me, many moms in this generation of baby boomers have raised their daughters to be more empowered and accepting. Today you see so many young women who are much more open with their bare skin and bodies – a concept that seems so foreign to many women of my generation. As all of us ladies sat on my bed talking, one of my daughter’s single friends spontaneously said; “let’s go topless” – so we did! My first initial feeling when removing my top in front of these young women was to question if I did something bad and dirty. But I pushed those thoughts back and after some time we all just forgot we were topless. We laughed and talked about nipple sizes and nudity. It was such a fun and freeing experience that now we are planning a girl’s nude dinner party!
My concerns showed me how strongly the society I grew up in understands nudity as something that should be frowned upon or discouraged in the public realm. As if somehow we’re all pretending that we aren’t completely stark naked underneath a few pieces of cloth. Rather than treating bodies as integral to being alive, we’ve collectively shunned our bare skin and forgotten what it’s like to really feel normal and accepting of every inch of ourselves without additional layers.
Judy Wilson* describes herself as one of the most “incorrect” body types to go about naked, yet she would rather go to a nudist beach than find a swimming costume to wear to a beach where clothes are required. She says people often make assumptions about you based on your appearance but at a nudist beach, “no one judges you. No one has clothes, make-up or jewellery and you’re starting from a blank canvas. So people have to talk to you to get to know you.” One of Judy’s friends, Lisa Brooks*, takes naturist holidays. At first, she says, she was quite nervous. “It was a big step for me to take.” She now regains her body confidence with each holiday. (*Names changed for privacy.)
When I was 21, I was diagnosed with Lichen Sclerosus. A rare autoimmune disease that attacks the vulval skin, until it lacerates and comes off. It can stop normal intercourse, can make the clitoris scar over and disappear, and it has no cure. I may well take steroids for it for the rest of my life. But!! It has changed me. It has helped me. It has made me love my body, love what it can do, love its well parts, the way they work. Lichen Sclerosus is an illness that responds to stress, to psychological duress. And so – I think, I caused it, by hating this lovely, lovely body.