Priscilla Frank recently published a piece in the Huffington Post, “A Woman Photographed 500 Naked Men To Normalize The Nude Male Body.” This piece covers the Bare Men project by Abigail Ekue. Similarly, Suzannah Weiss of Papermag also wrote a piece “NSFW: See images from ‘Bare Men,’ a New Photo Book on Male Nudity” in July 2016. In the near future, you will hear an interview conducted by clothesfreelife.com founder and Editor-in-Chief, Earl D, with Ekue about her project. For today’s piece, I want to discuss why works like this matter when it comes to women’s issues in clothes free living.
In her piece, Suzannah Weiss states:
“The majority of nudes in major art museums are female, and male nudity tends to earn movies R ratings while naked women are deemed PG 13. By disproportionately displaying female nudity, we’re left with the cultural impression that men should look and women should be looked at.”
Weiss speaks accurately on the trend that women are already widely produced for public consumption, usually by men. We live in a local culture that has trained us to expect the female nude. This trend can be observed in a large number of movies, music videos and in conversations with people we know. We might even see that expectation in ourselves. Women’s bodies are widely distributed for public consumption and critique. We see it happening and we expect it.
In addition, as Roxanne Gay observes on episode 13 of the podcast show “Another Round”:
Women are expected to bare their souls and excavate their past, and their present, and their future. That’s what publishing is interested in, this sort of cannibalizing of the self. Men are not expected to do the same thing.
Gay points to the fact that not only are women, as Weiss notes, thrown out into the public space in body for consumption, but we are also expected to throw our souls out for consumption and critique as well. People expect us to be vulnerable, even if our vulnerability is not valued or respected; we might be labeled emotional, irrational, illogical, but we are expected to be vulnerable nonetheless. Think about all the (re)published pieces about body image and self-esteem. Usually it’s depicted by female bodies and aimed at women. This is not, of course, to say that the topic is irrelevant to women. Many of us wrestle with these and many other issues. We write and talk about it. But other genders deal with these very issues, too. It’s just that for some reason, society does not seem to request or value men’s shares under those topic headings.
For these reasons and more, I have gained a huge appreciation for Abigail Ekue’s Bare Men, project. It speaks to the importance of depicting and valuing the bodies and stories of everyday men. Ekue gives us a break from the constant salivating gaze that we get from most depictions of women, that sense that men are meant to look and women are meant to be looked at, and instead shows us what it’s like just to witness men simply being. These men have stories. They are whole humans. They share themselves.
For me, speaking as a woman, one of the most important things in feeling comfortable in the clothes free community is for people to take the pressure and spotlight off of me and other women. I love chats that I have with other women and am inspired when women share themselves, but men telling me to “be confident, have more self esteem, be brave” does not work. Incessant or excessive commentary does not work. What I really want is to witness men valuing themselves and each other, and demonstrating that doing so isn’t weird. Call yourself beautiful. Laud your buddy for the story he shared. That is inspiring and inviting to me.
Lately I have been taking breaks at work to go on nature walks for fresh air. Every now and then, I come across some deer, and I feel the need to take a picture (because they never make it to my office…probably due to the terrible traffic or something). Anyway, whenever I reach for my phone to snap a photo, the deer stop what they are doing, look up at me and freeze. It seems like they are trying to figure out if I’m trouble, danger, nuisance or what. That is exactly how I feel whenever there is so much pressure and commentary on us women. When men flood the feeds with images of women or comment excessively on us, I’m asking myself, “Danger? Trouble? What is this…?” Sometimes I freeze and want to prance back into the woods. Or trample.
One important step in making women feel more comfortable is to take the pressure off. Remember that we are already mass-produced, mass-distributed and expected to throw our souls out there. We don’t need more random imagery, lectures and excessive commentary. Instead, celebrate men’s and other genders’ shares just as much. If men truly mean that they can get beyond seeing the body as sexual, then they should appreciate that all bodies reflect nature’s majesty, not just women’s. Ours are not the only interesting and beautiful curves out there. Every story is valuable. Every soul has depth. Talk about how beautiful you believe yourself to be.
As Ekue says in her project, we women actually do want to see you men. But…note that “you” does not mean reducing yourself to your penis. You are more than your dick.
Share your humanity.
We like you.
That’s inviting and inspiring.