For the final installment of today’s Women on Wednesdays offerings, I share some reflections on the gaze of the female nude.
Recently, I came across a piece in the Huffington Post “Who’s Afraid Of The Female Gaze?” This article covers a current exhibit at The Untitled Space gallery in New York called “In the Raw: The Female Gaze on the Nude”. This is a topic that has been on my mind since before I can remember, even prior to my clothes free life. However, when I stepped into clothes free living, the subject became of heightened importance to me.
Preface: For some (not all) of the artists mentioned in the exhibit and the Huffington Post piece, female nudity is connected with sexuality. While I acknowledge sexuality as a present subject to those artists, my focus in today’s post will be on the non sexual aspects and discussing male gaze of the female nude in the context of naturist, nudist clothes free living promotional media.
The following excerpt from the Huffington Post piece caught my attention:
The curators hope, through the show, to combat the historical domination of the “male gaze,” a term coined in 1975 by Laura Mulvey in reference to the way women appear on film. “Woman… stands in her patriarchal culture as signifier for the male other,” Mulvey wrote, “bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his fantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of a woman still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning.”
This quote describes how I felt when I stepped into the clothes free arena online. When I fired up Twitter, Instagram and WordPress accounts, I saw many posts put together by naturist individuals and organizations using images of random women from the internet. So many of those pictures seemed to focus on the contours of the posed young female body rather than the woman living: she didn’t move and she didn’t speak. She had no story.
The images that were especially frustrating to me were the ones in which, for instance, a young woman was holding a musical instrument the wrong way, which meant that it was all about just getting those boobs into frame and promoting the good naturalness of naturism, nudism and clothes free living.
While I wondered about these behaviors when browsing Twitter and WordPress, it was the activity on Instagram and Flickr that brought it to a head. I observed that many (not all!) men photographed, sketched, painted and sculpted the female nude exclusively, which unnerved me. What was with men’s obsession with the female form? These men were happy to consume and reproduce depictions of naked women, but interest in and appreciation for their own natural nakedness was nonexistent.
I remember one instance when a photographer sent me a private message, begging to do a shoot with me, because he “needed” me. I asked him, “What’s your take on nudity? What inspires you to do this kind of work?” He said that he “appreciated” everything about women’s curves and wanted to capture the “sensuality.” Indeed, all of his images were of naked women, and the “sensuality” was illustrated in pictures that focused on the contours of their breasts, thighs, buttocks and hips. The women often had closed eyes and parted lips in the same manner filmmakers depict them in the midst of sex scenes. I subsequently cut off communication with that photographer and eventually blocked him.
The Untitled Space Exhibit site says this:
When you look at the history of art, television, advertising, and media in general — the image of women has always been how men wanted them to look, versus how women do look and feel — inside and out.
Across societies, the female nude often seems to be used to embody extremes: the goddess or the promiscuous outcast. Her body is used as something to either worship or hate, to embody good or evil. So, when naturist organizations and individuals take random images of women, it reminds me of this perceived tendency in greater society to illustrate philosophy and create meaning by using silent soulless female objects. It reminded me that my own story is often sacrificed for “his” narrative.
Once I came across women such as Emma James, The Amusing Muse, LadyGod1va, Felicity Jones, Isis Phoenix, Gingerbread and ToplessTopics, and connected with a whole host of others, I began to see the difference in how they shared their lives. These women were in action, hiking, talking, giving thoughts on lots of different topics. They were living and breathing human beings, and the way that they told their stories through words and/or images was very different than how these other individual and organizational accounts wrote of naturism, nudism and clothes free living. They didn’t have a lot of blanket philosophical statements. Their commentary was personal and lived. They had stories. That’s what I was interested in reading, that’s what hooked me, and that’s what I was interested in sharing of myself as part of the greater conversation.
The truth is that this happens not only with women, but with people generally. I have seen plenty of pictures of young thin anonymous men used to describe how awesome it is to be nude with friends. I observed the affect of gaze, and how anonymous individual or organization accounts used those undefined young men to communicate their ideals and priorities. And truthfully, even my depiction of another female would still be through my own eyes rather than hers, real talk.
So, when sharing about the potential blessings of naturism, nudism and clothes free living, we have to ask ourselves whether we are behaving like the rest of society, imposing our gaze and narrative on the bodies of others, or whether we’re giving them a platform to share themselves authentically.
It’s the difference between etching “This is freedom” on 20-something body #726 and that person posting “I am free” on their own terms.