In the Nude

thoughts on nudity, art and identity

Historically in art, the female nude has been revered on canvas, in marble and on film - an inspirational muse channeling the artist’s innermost desires. By contrast, in modern society, the nude female body is either censored, sexualized, or vilified. These contradictions can empower  self worth and also lead to personal shame. At this intersection identity, nudity, and art collide.

The female body is central to many of the themes of the Femme Project. Ideas about body image, feminine identity, female sexuality and the right to control our bodies are important concerns to me personally, artistically and socially. Growing up, I had a natural comfort with my nudity, despite a fairly religiously conservative upbringing. I had no frame of reference for normal or different, only art and pornography as my education. 

Art taught me that a woman's nudity was powerful, intoxicating and elegant. My form and my curves were divine, so long as they fit a mold that could be reworked to idealism in paintings and airbrushed to perfection in Photoshop. Beauty was not granted to all, only reserved for a special few, but all women are held to a standard which expects them to aspire to a form of flawlessness.

Where art idolized the female nude, pornography corporealized it. Lips, breasts, vaginas and other secret regions of the female body were captured extremely close-up and, these days, in high definition. Pornography is  sensual and raw, erotic and grotesque. It said my nudity was an asset to be used, displayed, and consumed for the pleasure of others. However, though porn shows us everything, it essentially tells us nothing. Or perhaps worse, it tells us the WRONG things.

Surprisingly, today, female nudity remains a source of controversy. Nipples are inappropriate and censored; vaginas are misunderstood and misrepresented and almost never shown in their natural state. Nudity in art is tolerated, as long as it doesn't make you feel uncomfortable. Nudity in porn is expected, as long as it exudes sexuality and desire behind closed doors. As women, we are told that we need to love our bodies but we are taught to hate our bodies if they don’t meet an impossible standard. We hide and expose based on expectations of propriety. It is ok, in fact encouraged, for women to reveal their bodies without ever really understanding what it means to be women, what it means to be nude, and what implications may come from sharing our nude selves.

Nudity is our natural state. It is diverse, non-conforming and essential. To embrace our nudity is the ultimate leap of faith. When nudity is no longer taboo, we are free to explore an infinite world of possibilities. My journey as a woman has taught me that our nudity is something we need to own. It should not be the domain of male artists, frustrated or driven by their own desires. Nor should it be the domain of pornographers who seek to earn money by objectifying our bodies for the pleasure of others. And neither should it be something that politicians and religious leaders condemn as morally inappropriate for the safety of our society. These various players have tried to take possession of women’s nudity, to own it - every one of them using it to further their own needs or agendas. Their actions, words and characterizations marginalize women, making the struggle for true equality for women formidable. 

WE are the OWNERS of our nudity and in that conviction, we will eliminate the shame, embrace our identity and persevere in equality.