In this week’s Women on Wednesdays, I look at femininity as it relates to clothes free living. This issue surfaced loud and clear like sirens from an ambulance when I first started clothes free living. Today, I continue to notice certain trends in how femininity is promoted and expressed not only in images that are circulated by men, but also in how women express and promote femininity.
Of course the first thing I noticed when I started clothes free living was the smattering of images of young, thin, mostly white women circulated by men to promote naturism / nudism. But the other thing I noticed was how femininity was promoted and expressed by women themselves.
“Everything kind of defaults then to biological womanhood: motherhood, the very basic physical functions historically associated to being a woman.” – Ann Friedman
My introduction to women in the clothes free space came from naked yoga and, somehow connected to that, women who promoted concepts like goddess, wombmyn, earth mother, long hair, flowers crowns and lithe bodies. This is something I observed even among black women – the same long braids/locs, flowy, earth momma, sage, goddess, ecstatic this and that, everyone is blissed out trend…while I spin pivot tables for budgets at work with my cup of office coffee.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of that, but the abundance of those portrayals and how they were praised by women and men as THE representation of free, authentic, powerful femininity, no matter the ethnic group, gave me a sense of being an outsider. I did not feel like I belonged and I did not feel like women or men would respect and value me as a woman, because I did not present in those ways. For a while, I resigned to experiencing my clothes free life in my own little corner.
This is an issue women are talking about even outside of the clothes free community. Recently I came across a conversation on episode 57 “Make America Smell Great Again” of the podcast Call Your Girlfriend, hosted by Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow. The hosts speak about performed femininity and share points from Marisa Meltzer’s piece, Inside the World’s Chicest Cult, published in Harper’s Bazaar, on her “undercover” experience at a Spirit Weavers Gathering. So many of the points mentioned in the podcast and Meltzer’s article resonated with me deeply.
“We have created—and are creating—a community of mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmothers,” Spirit Weavers’ founder and trademark owner, Amy Woodruff, says into a microphone. She has long brown hair and a deep tan. In 2011, a photo of her doing a naked headstand while simultaneously breastfeeding her daughter Naia went viral. (“I was just doin’ my daily flow when the little sweet pea came to sneak a suckle,” Woodroff wrote at the time on her blog, Daughter of the Sun, where she also sells juice cleanses, incense, and “organic baby bootie balm.”) A Kundalini yoga teacher, Woodruff used her newfound fame to pivot into a kind of nexus for the sort of women who are drawn to water births and food-fermenting workshops.
Throughout her piece, Meltzer notes practices of cultural appropriation in the name of identifying and expressing “divine” femininity. She also observes how many of the philosophies and attributions of “femininity” could be quite othering for trans women.
Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman then share a number of important points about performed femininity and what it means to be a woman:
In one way, I’m happy that there are spaces that women can truly be themselves. You know honestly, if you’re all about ecstatic ovulation and fertility, by all means, please. But, I think the thing that stood out to me is how of much femininity is performed.
“The other thing that this made me so aware of…is why, and people write a lot about this, our skepticism around like Etsy vagina products, you know that whole cottage industry… and for me that starts at Diva Cup. That’s the slippery slope. And I hear you, Diva Cup / Soft Cup ladies, live your best life. But I realized for me that in the same way that I’m skeptical about organized religion, I’m skeptical about this kind of stuff.
It gave me a lot to think about my own biases and the things that I’m really dismissive of. Because I understand why women gather like this: society sucks. The medical industrial complex is awful. There are so many reasons psychological, history, even just practical, why people do things like this. But at the same time, I’m just like, I don’t think that this is the answer.
If I’m going to argue with myself about why I wouldn’t just go back to Catholic church as opposed to going to this Spirit Weavers thing in the forest, is that it’s true that a lot of traditional organized religions are pretty derogatory towards what women are capable of, how powerful they are, or what roles they are able to fill. And Marisa gets into the downsides of getting super into praising of the traditionally feminine. Everything kind of defaults then to biological womanhood: motherhood, the very basic physical functions historically associated to being a woman.
It’s womb worship, is what they’re doing.
First of all, not all women have these reproductive organs that you are worshiping. And again, the performance of it, that’s interesting. I looked at the Instagram of this place [Spirit Weavers], and the aesthetic is very beautiful women, thin, long hair… This is some Charlie Manson shit all over again. And it’s like what if you don’t present that way? Does that mean that womb worship isn’t for you and that you don’t deserve to sit in a Mongolian yurt surrounded by Moroccan rugs braiding each others’ hair?
I had similar conversations with folks last year. I remember sharing with a few people about my first experience with womb balancing. I was over the moon about how powerful it was for me. Then, one person, while expressing support for me, said, “I just don’t identify with my ‘womb.’ I don’t know that I could ever have an experience like that, because that imagery doesn’t work for me.” That was such a powerful moment for me, because it highlighted that fact that not all women present, experience and value womanhood / femininity in one way.
I am constantly exploring my femininity, my whole naked self inside and out really, and exploration should never stagnate. It is valuable and necessary for every human to consistently engage self-study. I try lots of different things (including “hippie dippy” things from Etsy; menstrual sponges are the next adventure). I have yoni eggs. Then again, half the time I drink kombucha just because I love burping obnoxiously. I poop just like everybody else. Some days I’m farting while fixing a clog in the sink. I like dancing to drums and ethereal rhythms as much as I love busting moves to “Jump Around” by House of Pain or to mixes by Skrillex and Diplo. Whatever. Still black, still a woman. Always me.
Not every woman experiences, presents and values “femininity” and “womanhood” in the same ways.
Wherever any woman is in her journey, I want her to feel welcome, valued and respected, to feel like clothes free living can be for her just as she is. Nude yoga and naked dancing are authentic to me. Sometimes I like the Diva Cup, sometimes I don’t (I know, right? Shame on me). These things are not authentic to every woman, and none of it makes any woman more or less than. I don’t want women to think that they have to evolve into some other potentially oppressive, defined concept in order to experience something “powerful” in clothes free living.
Clothes free life is for any woman, however she presents or identifies. There is nothing she needs to perform in order to “get it” or “arrive.” She/he/they is already valuable, powerful and amazing just as is. She/he/they always will be.