Naturally, I turned my head to look. Wouldn’t you?
Yes, I am a product of my culture.
I was listening to entertainment news on television. It was evening, and I was editing. By the time the commercial break was over, I was immersed in writing again and missed the segment. Most likely, the line about nakedness was a hook – an effective one at that – but I’m guessing the photos were of a celebrity as a baby, perhaps on the proverbial bear skin rug.
Then I had a flash – remembering billboards and commercials I saw in Europe many moons ago as a teenager. How surprising it was at first, and how natural it became over time – for example, seeing a nude body in the shower for a soap ad.
So why do we get so hot and bothered over nudity?
Naked and Vulnerable
It’s interesting to me that English offers us the nuance to capture the sensual aspects of the unclothed form in the word nudity, as well as elements of innocence or vulnerability in the word nakedness. As for getting hot and bothered, perhaps I should rephrase. In the right setting (and with the right person), we generally hope to find ourselves in that enviable condition, and ready for mutually enjoyable engagement.
But most of the time, whether we’re talking about nakedness or nudity, we react to bared body parts like school children. We’re shocked or we’re curious; we’re comparative or we’re disapproving; we replay “nip slips” ad nauseum when they happen to our sports and media celebrities. Why is it that we’re so breast-obsessed?
Are we drawn to the reality of other human beings revealed, in part because it is off limits?
Of course, sometimes nudity is purely about art. Whether drawing, painting, sculpture or photography, as observers, we are appreciative. Also, the more we see, the more the naked human form becomes “business as usual.” We are intrigued by the variations, but that’s about it.
I can only imagine that medical professionals are unfazed as hundreds or thousands of human parts pass through their days. Another example of business as usual.
Nudity in Advertising
We are all familiar with the expression that “sex sells.” And it does. We are sexual creatures. We respond to sexual stimuli. Beauty and sex appeal – however we define them – will grab us, and hold our attention.
Will we pay attention to the product or service?
That depends. Will we feel shamed into purchasing a product or service, based on some esteem-undermining combination of visual and verbal messages? By that I mean: If I don’t buy (magic) Product X, I will never look like (digitally altered) Person Y…
That also depends.
There’s little question that brands sometimes go too far (yes, a matter of opinion), and others use partial nudity to their marketing advantage.
I’m recalling topless Calvin Klein ads with the stunning Ms. Eva Mendez. Apparently breasts were a bit much for the American crowd. And as I remember, one version of the commercial was banned in the U.S.
But shouldn’t any advertising equation be about the bottom line? Did the campaign meet its objectives?
Of course, we become desensitized to nudity depending on the circumstances. I’m thinking again of the billboards and television commercials I was accustomed to in Europe. I’m also thinking of nudists, to whom the rest of us must seem ridiculous with our ogling and our judgments.
Having enjoyed a few tropical vacations in my twenties, with destinations taking me to French-influenced shores, topless beaches were a non-event. In short order, I paid no attention whatsoever to anyone’s body, and felt completely unselfconscious about my own.
Where we seem to get into trouble, women in particular, is in the self-destructive comparisons that undermine confidence. We hold ourselves to unachievable standards, and remain convinced that our bodies aren’t good enough.
But good enough for what, exactly? Do we ever hazard answers to that question? Then do we assess their rationality?
Of course we know precisely where this self-deprecating attitude leads: We don’t feel comfortable in our skin; we don’t feel secure in our relationships; we worry that a partner will have a roving eye – for someone he (or we) may perceive as “better.”
What if we appreciated our bodies as they are, recognizing all they do for us? What if we worked to improve what we can – in a healthy and realistic way – without considering how we stack up next to Photoshopped and surgically enhanced versions of the “ideal” woman?
What if we just say no?
Loving Our Bodies
Of course, like many women, I enjoy gazing at the male figure. Beautiful biceps, muscular thighs, a well-developed (but not over-pumped) chest and back. Beautiful hands… These are, to me, both elegant and arousing.
Also like many women, I find it terribly unfair to see how well men age, relatively speaking. Even if they grow a modest pot belly, their toned arms, legs and butts make me wish for a little testosterone coursing through my system.
Recalling my own figure (before children), my body was curvy and my skin was satiny, but I never felt good enough. Worse – I tortured myself with non-stop diets, I never gave a thought to how I used my body, and I was always concerned with how it looked.
Isn’t this a tragic waste of time – this persistent feeling of not being good enough?
The exception? Periods of time when I lived in Europe, or on those faraway beaches.
As for my younger self, if only I appreciated my body then, the way I do now, in retrospect. And I must remind myself that 10 years into the future I may look back to this time and say the same: If only I appreciated my body then, the way I do now, in retrospect.
Easier said than done, I know. But it’s certainly worth a try, don’t you think? Not only for ourselves but for our partners and our children, who do not benefit from seeing (or hearing) us beat ourselves up.
This message is driven home to me whenever I hear a man disparage his body – an infrequent occurrence, yet somehow more striking – and I realize that what may bother him is immaterial to me.
So let’s say yes to embracing the bodies that serve us, including their imperfections. Let’s say yes to finding beauty in the nude form, in all its healthy variations. Let’s understand that nakedness is about vulnerability and potentially, it places us on a more level playing field. Surely this could lessen the likelihood of unhelpful comparisons, and enable us to enjoy ourselves – clothed or otherwise – in all the ways that truly count.
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