The Naked Truth

Jessica Brown explores the taboo surrounding nudity in the modern age of technology and social media

“The naked truth”. “Naked as the day she was born”. “Barely there”. Nakedness has saturated our conversations since forever, and these days its even more widespread—in branding and everywhere else. Nakedness is what makes wearing clothes so exciting. The power to strip them off dictates much of the attributes of our fashion choices—zips over buttons, straps over sleeves, and so on. Labels like “Bare Minerals”, “Naked Juice” and “Naked Eyeshadow” all play on our fascination with nudity.

On one level it’s to do with the frisson of sexual excitement that the word provokes, but nakedness also epitomizes wholesomeness, honesty, and innocence—hence its prevalence in the annoying-smoothie business.

Ever since Adam and Eve put some clothes on, we’ve been desperate to get them off again, so it seems paradoxical in a modern, relatively liberated climate that nakedness is being so highly problematised again in social media. Body-related campaigns such as #freethenipple have aroused mixed emotions, ranging from proud boob-barers riding the activist wave with sheer tops and bras to those who believe that such movements miss the point.

Our very own Oxfeud records one frustrated response, “Do you even realise how privileged you are if you can sit around worrying about freeing the nipple?” And it’s true: it is a position of privilege to be concerned with fighting to uncover what constitutes about two inches of flesh online and on Instagram. But that does not mean that it does not matter.

Facebook recently reformed their nudity policy, amid a storm of frustration at Facebook’s censorship of an “iconic” image of the Vietnam War, featuring a naked girl. In case you were wondering, you’re now allowed to see and share “all handmade AND digital nudity” and “handmade Sexual Activity” but the line has been drawn at “Digital Sexual Activity” (which sounds like the least sexy stuff ever created, but each to their own).

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Initially, on reading the new policy, I was just deeply confused—why does it really matter if a “hand” or technology has created or recreated an image? Surely that’s the least important facet of the problem—its like allowing watercolours but banning crayons. But thinking deeper, I realised I’m affected by the same prejudices—I guess you could call it snobbery—towards digital art.

I’ve never shared a naked photo but I’m hoping to apply to be a life model. It’s likely that a digital version of my naked body would be more detailed or realistic than a drawing, painting, or sculpture, but not necessarily significantly so. In which case, why does it make a difference to me whether people see my body at an art show or on their phone?
The answer is, of course, an anxiety surrounding being sexually commoditised, as opposed to the desire to contribute to art. Without attempting the impossible task of defining art, I want my nakedness to be entirely my own, and the digitalisation of it for sexual pleasure would, for me, be a violation of the ownership of my body.

Being drawn appeals to me as a liberating, ungendered, and generous action that fascinates me on many levels. But, again, I’ve recently started to question the validity of my reservations. Naked photos used to be a subject of horror for me. Having witnessed underage friends’ naked selfies, and the betrayal, exposure and public shaming by both schools and social circles that would inevitably ensue after the unworthy receiver of the image sent it on, I swore to myself that I would never subject my body, or my self-worth, to such scrutiny.

However since coming to university, the ubiquitousness and creativity of the way people treat and share images of their naked bodies has made me doubt my vow. As someone who likes to get my kit off pretty frequently (I just don’t find clothes very comfortable!) with my friends, perhaps the next stage in accepting my body image is to create an image of body.

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It’s a tricky and divisive topic to gauge/ Too many women my age have been hurt or helped through the way their bodies have been viewed by others. But either way, a new tryst needs to be wrought in our digital society that bridges the gap between undressing ourselves and expressing ourselves, and I’m not sure #freethenipple quite cuts it.