As I flow through the transition from childhood to adulthood, not only has my self awareness in general strengthened, but the awareness and image of my body has grown to become more vivid. Growing up, my early knowledge of nudity was based around it s censorship, and how being nude is inherently sexual, due to the way it was depicted in the media and education I consumed. When I began to observe my own body, I noticed how most of the time, I’m observing it at the most mundane times like getting in and out of the shower, or changing into my pajamas after a long day in a fully clothed environment. Seeing people in self- portraits pose in their naked form and Renaissance paintings celebrating bodies similar to mine have made me question why the nude body is seen as something sexual and too taboo for the mainstream, rather than something that is simply natural and celebratory.
“Nudity to me is a baseline—we are all born naked and we have a body. It is one of the few things we share with every single living being,” says tattoo artist, textile worker, and illustrator Lucinda Drake (@Lucinda.fasce.art on instagram). She continued to say,“because of social customs the body takes on many meanings and I don’t think it is possible to detach those meanings from the word. Nudity is natural and sexual and political and normal, all at once.” Although Drake creates many types and styles of art, one of her main focuses when it comes to her paintwork are the nude bodies of not only her peers, but also her own. Painting her own body has greatly improved her relationship with her body, and how it changes and flows through life on a daily basis: “Looking at my naked body used to fill me with disgust… Now I am much more comfortable with my body but still do not feel comfortable being nude outside of specific settings. Art has helped with acceptance immensely. Seeing my body as just another body and as something neutral…has been huge in self acceptance…I am the painter, my representations of my body are through my own eyes.”
We should be celebrating the bodies we, as well as our peers inherit, however, the naked body is also a sacred entity, which is when nudity being censored is justifiable. However, the censorship of nudity can be connected to the sexualization of nude bodies (nude women, specifically). Drake explains that, “Normalization of nudity is important but what’s more important is the type and context. It is vital that every size, shape, gender, and color are shown in many different contexts to reflect the infinite ways there are to have and live in a body.” Primarily, if we continue to put the nude body inside a box of sexual deviance and cishet normativity, how are we supposed to learn about the human body, and the way it moves, grows, and functions? Drake adds that, “The type of nudity we show matters. If all the representation of nudity is white, cis, thin, women and in sexual contexts that pushes the idea that, firstly, this is the ‘ideal’ body, and secondly, that women’s nude bodies are inherently sexual.”
One common (and controversial) way that people are first exposed to the nude body is seeing their parents naked. Often, parents share a nude moment with their kids as a way to bring connection, as well as educate them on how the body evolves as you grow older. Although this practice may not be for everyone, two concerns that are expressed are the awkwardness of it all, and the process of establishing boundaries. According to a pros and cons list of parental nudity made by Healthline Media, “You might get questions about the ‘fur’ down there, or why certain body parts are ‘floppy’, it will likely take you off-guard and make you blush.” Reactions to comments like these are normal, especially when it comes from a kid who is fresh to the world. These comments are made not out of harm, but out of wanting to learn.
As for boundaries, healthline focuses on the teaching of children about nudity with this method when they’re the opposite sex due to possible “dynamics” developing. While personally, the thought of seeing any of my parents naked is not preferred in the slightest, the assumption of a dynamic developing not only sexualizes parental relationships (teaching that adults are predatory to children only when they’re the opposite sex), but it also blocks the teaching of boundaries when it comes to how we interact with different bodies, and the teaching of continuing to have love for your body as it ages. Drake has developed this love for the aging process through artwork she did of the busts of her sister, mother and grandmother: “…the process was incredibly cathartic… It helped me see how my body would look when I aged and prepare for that with love and excitement, instead of the dread we are taught to feel about weight gain, gray hair, wrinkles. If I’m honest, wrinkles are the most fun to paint.”
Continuing to define the naked body as a place of lustful sex divides us from what our bodies are meant to truly teach us about each other as a human race: we are always changing. Whether it be gaining extra rolls on your back, or extra hair growing on your stomach, the body is nothing more than a palace of education seeking compassion and leeway from the brain that lives above it. The body is so much more than an entity for reproduction, and when nudity is stigmatized to be just that, it blocks our mind from bringing said compassion to nude bodies as a whole. When talking about her early stages of creating nude art, Drake wrote, “When I was making nude art as a minor there was some pushback from my peers about it being pornography.” She continues by saying, “there needs to be a distinction made between the nude body as a sexual object and the nude body as simply a body. At that time I was painting myself and my friends nude and it was a really healing process for me because it normalized things I felt self conscious about and feared nobody else had.”
So, how can we, as a society, destigmatize the naked body? While there is no concrete answer to this question considering that our nude bodies are a private thing for most of us, one way we can naturalize being naked is expanding our narrative on nudity. The nude body we see everywhere (sexual or not) is surrounded around being palatable to society’s standards of what is desirable,with a focus on what women’s bodies are desirable to the male gaze.
So, as I, and everyone else who lives on this earth continue to flow through our bodily milestones, keep in mind that the nude body is nothing more than the natural place our soul resides in to physically live and grow to our fullest naked potential.