For this week’s Women on Wednesdays I look at the clothes free online environment for women. Most of the points covered here could apply to any gender; I’m simply focusing on women’s perspectives in this particular post and sharing some concerns that have come up in my life and in the lives of other women with whom I connect.
I‘m so over pics.
Also, I’ve muted and un-followed a bunch of people on Twitter, because I’m done with the constant stream of random naked pics of random people under the guise of “naturism, nudism, freedom, body positive” without true context or discussion of history or purpose. I’m also over the constant call for people to post pics online to prove that they are true nudists.
One big issue for women in the online space is the constant pressure and harassment from fakers as well as bona fide well-meaning naturists/nudists to post nude pictures online. I can’t tell you how often I see men say things like, “You should just be proud and out there,” “don’t be ashamed,” “prove that you’re a nudist and take a stand by posting a pic!”
Roll eyes, scroll by.
There are serious issues at hand in the greater online environment that contribute to whether women choose to post their pictures. If naturist/nudist online truly want to create an authentic and welcoming environment, they have to understand how their actions might read by those considering clothes free life, newly stepping in, or even seasoned folks (see the recent piece written by @sunnynaturist on how they almost lost faith in naturism due to the online community).
A recent segment on NPR Fresh Air called Teen Girls And Social Media: A Story Of ‘Secret Lives’ And Misogyny brought up some very important points relevant to this topic. NPR host Terry Gross interviews Nancy Jo Sales on the topic of teen girls and all the sexism, misogyny, pressure and harassment they encounter online. At one point, Sales recounts:
I went to Snapchat and I started looking at it, and it was really hardcore. I mean, there was a lot of really violent images and sexual images and so forth. And what struck me about it was how it was using the pictures of girls to get attention – you know, the pictures of girls naked or having sex or being in these sort of degrading positions was what was really getting all this attention…So it just brought home for me a lot of the themes that I had been covering, which is the way in which images of girls and objectified images of girls are so normalized and really used sometimes to get attention.
This is important to note, because well-meaning naturists / nudists who constantly flood feeds with naked pics of young women can come off as having the same ill intentions as these other sites. I certainly thought so when I first started to engage online, and other newbies have been saying the same in recent conversations. So, we need to be careful, because the way some promote clothes free life can be indistinguishable from ill-meaning sites.
Continuing on in the interview, Sales shares that she has had a number of conversations with teen girls about the repercussions of sharing in the online space:
“It’s very risky for girls to send nudes because when they do, if they chose to, those photos are not private. They can be shared and very often they are shared. I heard story after story of situations where girls had pictures of themselves sent around to groups of people. It has become such a normal thing to them.“
Sales then makes a really important point about lack of resources for teen girls:
Sales: “I mean, I think back to when I was a girl and, you know, the things that would come up in your life that were difficult or troubling or whatever. There was always a Judy Blume book for it, you know…There’s nothing for them to turn to to know, like – how do I react to this? This picture popped up on my phone. How do I respond to this – that some boy that I barely know is asking for a nude picture of me? Should I be flattered? Should I be outraged? Should I send it? What if I don’t send it? Uh-oh. What is he going to say about me if I do or if I don’t? You know, so, these are the things that I talk to girls about and girls talk to me about and that I think parents need to be talking to their kids about.”
This is the present reality of teen girls. Grown women experience this, too. So, the naturist/nudists in the online space must keep this in mind when asserting women SHOULD post/share nude pictures of themselves. Does that pressure to post pictures online sound similar to ill-meaning behaviors elsewhere online? Are some well-meaning naturists/nudists asking women to do something that feels very dangerous? Do teen girls, young women, women in general feel unsafe with no place to turn to talk and ask questions? Probably. In some cases, definitely. I sure did, and so do other women I know.
One final part of the interview really stood out to me in the context of this discussion:
“Terry Gross: OK. So on these apps, the first thing you see is the photo of the person and then you can opt to read more about them and find out more about them before deciding if you’re going to swipe right or swipe left. But…
“Nancy Jo Sales: Well, there’s often very not much to read. You know, it’s like, sometimes there’s nothing to read or it’s just maybe a couple words.”
As a community, we say that we aren’t just interested in naked bodies, yet some flood WordPress, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr feeds with naked bodies without thoughts. Some preach, “Naturism is so beautiful and natural!” on unexplained, photo-shopped overlayed image of 20-year-old blonde #47 in a random field cropped in Microsoft Paint.
What we are seeing is that teen girls live in a world where the picture always comes first. People look at their picture and decide whether or not they actually want to know something human about the body in front of them. I’ve had the same experience as a grown woman, as have others: so many people in our spheres are generally only interested in the body. So, when naturists/nudists post random naked pics without thoughts, without true consideration, they come off in the same way – only interested in a body, not what people embody. As a community, we say that we aren’t just interested in naked bodies, yet some flood WordPress, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr feeds with naked bodies without thoughts. Some preach, “Naturism is so beautiful and natural!” on unexplained, photo-shopped overlayed image of 20-year-old blonde #47 in a random field cropped in Microsoft Paint.
Many of those same people say “naturism” is a philosophy, yet they tell people that they don’t believe that they really are true naturists until they show their naked bodies, when the original definition of naturism was never about just being a naked body. Even I remember thinking, “Yeah, you keep blogging random people’s naked pics, and pressuring people to post, but who are you as a person?” As many naked bodies as I saw, I hardly ever saw people authentically sharing themselves. Many in body, few embodied.
Not once have we sent each other random naked pics of ourselves even in one-on-one conversations. Not once. We don’t insist on something that isn’t organic to our interaction in the moment.
Honestly, the most fulfilling interactions I have in the online sphere are ones where we just shoot the breeze about anything. We know that each of us engages in clothes free life, but we don’t tweet “I hate clothes” three times a day, nor do we send each other naked pics. And think about it: is that something we do in the rest of life, constantly send people we barely know random pics, even clothed, throughout the day? Personally, I don’t. I share images of my life with people I’ve known and trusted for a long time. So why would I send or post random naked pics in response to pressure from strangers online?
I connect with a few women, and when we chat, we talk about work, tough life situations, funny stories, write letters (I have a clothes free pen pal! She knows who she is 🙂 ). Rather than asking, “What are you (not) wearing?” we ask, “How are you?” To me, that is truly embodying the life. Not once have we sent each other random naked pics of ourselves even in one-on-one conversations. Not once, folks. And that’s not to say that we never will have an image as part of an honest conversation; there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. My point is that we don’t force or insist on something that doesn’t come organically in our interactions. When I read about people building things, painting, writing, creating, cooking, hiking, hanging out with family, whatever is authentic or true to them, that’s what makes me feel like clothes freedom is something REAL to EMBODY and LIVE.
No one owes anyone any pictures, and there is nothing for anyone to prove.
Many women drop social media in the blink of an eye when things get unpleasant, because we just don’t have time to deal with that kind of negativity from 400 naked strangers. So many women I’ve met in the clothes free yoga and clothes free life circles have either lessened their nude posts or abandoned them altogether due to constant pressure and judgment by anyone and everyone, including bona fide well-meaning naturists / nudists. In the grand scheme of all the things people have to deal with in the day (e.g. work 2+ jobs, care for family and friends, fix sink, chop wood, etc.) who wants to waste time dealing with that?
So, if folks in the naturist/nudist/clothes free online community truly want to be a support, they need to take approaches that aren’t about pressure. No one owes anyone any pictures, and there is nothing for anyone to prove. Live and embody your own authentic clothes freedom as a testimony for others.
As I mentioned at the very beginning, you could replace “women” with any gender, as this is not an issue that only affects women. Others have articulated that they wrestle with pressure and harassment from all sorts. It’s funny that way: so much of what I share on women can actually apply to anyone. It’s almost as if we were all humans or something.