Coming from a juxtaposed cultural background, being born in Finland but growing up in an international environment in various parts of Southeast Asia, I experienced different views of nudity.
In my parents’ culture of Finland, nudity is viewed as something natural and is even embraced.
From summers spent in Finland, I recall many things involving nudity: going to the sauna, swimming in the lake, and seeing a few penises and vaginas on daytime TV (it was not pornography, I promise you). However, when I would mention these activities to some of my friends back home in Asia, they would occasionally be shocked. “You went to the sauna naked and even with your cousins?” From comments like these, I would feel as if I had done something wrong, that there was something inappropriate about nudity.
Which made me wonder – what is the big deal about nudity? All human beings are born naked, and throughout our lives get naked on various occasions. There is a range of diverse opinions within different categories of society that fascinate me, due to the juxtaposition of opposing ideas, which I hope to shed light on in this short article.
Culture: Nudity = Inappropriate?
In certain cultures, nudity represents sexuality, and the revealing of flesh becomes synonymous with being sexual. Additionally, in modern society we are bombarded by media that seemingly sexualises the human form. But is nudity doomed to be tied together with sexuality? Perhaps there is something more revealed through being naked. We automatically assume there is something sexual about wearing fewer clothes, but could nudity be taken as a sign of liberation or empowerment, or just a way to say ‘who cares’?
There are several female movements that are pushing for the stigma of topless nudity to become normalised, while Playboy is publishing magazines, such as their March 2016 issue, without nudity. Additionally, an increasing amount of TV shows that show nudity, such as “The Game of Thrones,” “Orange is the New Black” and “Shameless,” evokes the question of what the normalising of nudity does to society. Does it make us more prudish or more open to it?
Art: Appreciation of the Nude Form?
Nudity is commonly found in art, during various time periods. There is a great range of bums, breasts and bits especially during the Renaissance period, Michelangelo did a whole sculpture dedicated to the nude male form! So what makes art that different from say, seeing a photograph of a naked man on the internet? I guess there is a certain aspect to the way a photograph is taken, and maybe Michelangelo did spend more painstakingly long hours carving out David too, but in essence, they both are appreciating the nude male figure. There is a great debate between what makes something involving nudity an art, or just provocative.
There is a movement on Instagram currently, with a few female artists challenging the censorship of female topless nudity. Artists Arvida Byström and Molly Soda have compiled a book titled “Pics Or It Didn’t Happen,” where they collect the removed photographs of people (mostly women) that have violated Instagram’s guidelines. Although these photographs do not have anything directly sexual about them, they are assumed to be so for featuring topless women. Many females on Instagram have considered this an act of censorship, unfair as photos of bare-chested men are not deleted. Artists encourage other females to continue to provoke this regulation as part of an art movement promoting the natural female form.
Religion: Nudity as a sinful act?
Throughout history, different cultures had many bans on nudity and the exposure of flesh. In India, women used to bare their torsos naked, but through the increasing presence of Buddhism, Jainism and Christianity they were forced to wear clothing that covered their bodies, and the exposed chest was thus seen as sinful.
There are still many religions that consider the revealing of flesh as something inappropriate. Why would these religions consider the physically natural state of a person as wrong?
There are of course religions that view nudity very liberally, such as Raëlism, a rather new religious movement where nudity is an essential part of their beliefs, conducting a yearly gathering where nudity is encouraged. “It is a fundamental right for everybody to be naked whenever they want. We are all born nude,” said Raël, the creator of Raëlism.
Even Pope John Paul from the Catholic Church said in 1981, “The human body can remain nude and uncovered and preserve intact its splendour and its beauty… nakedness as such is not to be equated with physical shamelessness.”
Thus we can ask ourselves again, why is it that nudity has negative stigma? If it is presented in a non harmful way, why not embrace the natural human form?
I leave you, dear reader, hopefully with a more open mind to the idea of nudity and with a quote by Henry Miller, “Our own physical body possesses a wisdom which we who inhabit the body lack. We give it orders which make no sense.”