Two weeks ago, my mother, aunt, brother and I went up to Manhattan for the day. As we ventured through Times Square, we came across a group of bare chested women body painted in red, white and blue who permitted tourists to stand with them and take a picture. I paused in my steps and, after a few deep breaths, shared that I wanted to take a bare chested picture with the women.
This would be my first time telling my brother and aunt about my bare-chested and clothes free life. My mom was over the moon and shouted ecstatically, “My daughter’s a naturist and she’s going to take a topless picture with these women!” in the middle of Times Square as she snatched my phone to capture the moment. It was heart-warming to see her excitement.
I pranced over to the women and informed them of my request, and they expressed some excitement given that I, too, would be standing bare chested, enjoying the right to be. The moment I freed my chest, the breeze brought a refreshing breath to my skin, and I felt like I was in my element. My mom was bouncing about with glee, and the rest of the world around me seemed to pause for that moment.
The thing is, just an hour prior while we were Grand Central Terminal, a random man had tried to attack me. I was fully clothed in a baggy outfit at that point. Fast forward to Times Square when I stood bare chested having a pivotal moment with my mother witnessing my public expression of my right with my aunt and brother nearby. I felt so pure, and my mom saw me as so organic and natural, yet, the second I bore my chest, others’ cameras went up, and some men kept lingering prying eyes on me even as walked away with my family. It’s interesting being a woman.
This experience, then, led to a rich discussion with my folks. I had been quite nervous prior to connecting with my family, because I didn’t know how my aunt and brother would react. They took in the things I shared about my clothes free life as well as my mom’s anecdotes from when we went to Hippie Hollow together last year. As it turned out, they were very happy that I felt comfortable enough to be myself around them. They also stated that it made sense, because this is how all humans were born, and that it’s our perversions in society that have created so many issues.
Subsequent conversations with my family about this experience opened up something else for me. This past Monday, my mom shared with me that my grandfather used to do paintings of nude people until the church scorned him for it. So he stopped and settled for working in a warehouse his whole life. I never knew he 1) painted and 2) that he saw the human body as pure art.
There is often the question around race and whether clothes freedom is foreign to other ethnicities and races. Is clothes freedom, for instance, something that black people just don’t do? I used to think that. But then Earl D, curator and Editor-in-Chief of clothesfreelife.com, did the series back in February on the history of clothes freedom in the black community, all the way back to Africa, and I thought to myself, “Wow, my heritage is clothes free.”
What really brought it home for me was to find out that it have been living and breathing in my family even now, albeit suppressed. I’ve had similar discussions with another black woman where, upon reflection, she realized that there was a member in her family who simply enjoyed being clothes free. Then she realized that she actually did it, too, at home, and enjoyed it as well. So, on first mention, clothes freedom seemed like foreign concepts to us, but when we sat back and thought about it or had further discussions with people, we’d see that this actually is part of who we are, and there is a deep historical connection there. This is something clothesfreelife.com is going to explore through a new podcast show “Bare Black & Brown,” so keep a lookout for that.
I am still reflecting on that experience in New York. It was an interesting intersection of being a woman, being black and being with family. As a woman, it reminded me that my body is often seen as something to regulate to control the behavior of others, and the state of dress actually seems to have nothing to do with it. In my life, I have been attacked or almost attacked in both states. So often I read cavalier remarks from folks in the clothes free community about how being naked comes to men more naturally and how women just need to be more confident. But the truth is that it’s just not easy or safe living in this world as a woman (and othered classes) period. And, whether it’s clothed people blaming our state of undress as inviting attacks, or some clothes free people blaming our state of dress (e.g. sarongs, etc.) for causing arousal / erection and welcoming advances, it’s the woman to blame for others’ behaviors in both cases. Really, I just want to be without it meaning anything.
Then, as a black person, initially looking at all the discussions about naturism, nudism and clothes free living, there usually isn’t much discussion about the history of it in othered cultures. It felt like I was engaging in cultural appropriation when I first started my clothes free journey, until I realized that there are many of us who do it, that there is a rich historical connection, and that it has also been in my family in some form through my grandfather, who just turned 80. This is mine to own.
There is much left for me to unpack after that trip. Ahh, the joys of luggage.