wow: my gaze, my terms, my story

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.”

Photo 04-05-2016 11 26 27This 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.

Photo 04-05-2016 11 17 32I 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.

Photo 04-05-2016 09 34 47The 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.

About the author: hontouniheart

5 thoughts on “wow: my gaze, my terms, my story”

  1. jochanaan1 says:

    I am with you on nudes and instruments. Yet where are the musicians who dare to play in the nude and let the images be released? Uhhh… I guess I’d better look in that mirror again. 🙂

  2. I had to share this with one of the photographers with whom I love to work, and whose work I deeply admire because he takes nude portraits of PEOPLE, not objectified humans. This article made me swell up with pride and happiness that another woman “gets it” about nude imagery.

    Admittedly, I have images that are erotic (implieds – I will NOT “show all” to the camera), boudoir, and lingerie that are meant to titillate. BUT, those are images that I wanted to shoot at that time – I’m still proud of them. My nudes, however, are overwhelmingly “natural”, and while some are “artsy fartsy”, they do not objectify me.

    Applause to you and for you, one again, my dear. Well written, well said.

    1. These are excellent points. When photography is intentional and purposed, it totally blows me away. As you mentioned, there are some amazing artists who are committed to something greater than their own passing “needs” *ahem* or greater than projecting philosophy on the bodies of people they don’t know. I love how you said it: they are about engaging portraits of PEOPLE with stories and so forth. They are about helping folks share themselves authentically on their own terms, whatever those terms are.

      And that’s what’s really been sitting with me a lot for the past few months: people speaking on their own terms. (Even when I have been one to objectify or take away another’s voice, let’s just be real about that.) And between watching naturist organizations splatter ideals on people’s bodies, and the random depictions of breasts, hips, and butts (and, um, etc.) by certain artists, I never got this sense of freedom. They all talk about wanting people to feel and be “free”, but anonymous subjects resonated with me as muted and caged. Whether naturist or distracted photographer, it was always just objects, objects. Neither party seemed to actually care about the people, to me anyway.

  3. jochanaan1 says:

    You challenge us all, hontountheart, to reexamine ourselves. I admit I enjoy gazing at nude women, but my own experiences are far more real to me. And I have too much respect for women ever to reduce them to an embodiment of any philosophy. — Write on!

    1. I am grateful for your thoughts and the respect that you have for women.

      I have continued to sit with this subject, and in reading the comments and thinking on them, I realized that what unnerved me was this: in some cases where artists exclusively appreciate and depict the female nude, those very artists adamantly choose to NOT observe and be with their own nakedness. I’ve come across a few who are happy to depict breasts and butts (and etc.), but they think their own nakedness “weird” so they say. They’ve mentioned not feeling comfortable with or liking themselves. (This is also a phenomenon of the “shout out” pages on Instagram, where such accounts constantly repost images of others, but you never see the account holder. And I’ve had a few tell me this very thing about how they don’t feel comfortable putting themselves out there, but hot girl #47? They just posted that.) That’s what really gets to me. Why is it so easy and desirable for certain artists to observe and depict the female nude exclusively when they’re not willing to look at, be in and appreciate their own nakedness? And why do they have no appreciation for any other type of living form, be it any other human nude, animals, plants…? It feels like “Women! women! women!” which is the majority of popular music videos, advertisements, movies, etc. in the States anyway. That’s what unnerves me and, ultimately, what makes me feel unsafe.

      And I felt that way about naturist organizations that would retweet or put out random images of people they didn’t seem to know. How they did end up finding and choosing these particular pictures of these random people holding violins and guitars the wrong way? And why were these types of bodies trending in the stuff they posted? Who are the people behind the tweets? Is anything real about these promotions for “natural” living?

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