Last week, clothesfreelife.com ran the following poll for Talk Up Tuesday
“Are all pics of naked young women posted by naturists/nudists more lust or promoting body freedom?”
The poll received 18 votes in the following response categories:
39% (7 votes) – “Nah, admiration of naked body
33% (6 votes) – “Simply promoting body freedom”
28% (5 votes) – “Yep, lust filled male eyes”
This poll and other pieces discussing photography, permission and entitlement raised important questions. Moreover, I found some potent and relevant points in an unexpected topic.
I encountered a variety of references discussing Human Zoos. In these environments, European societies collected and showcased people of Other “exotic” backgrounds for entertainment. Their bodies were publicly exposed for “scientific study” of what was considered unconventional human anatomy (e.g. Saartjie Baartman, the Hottentot Venus). Those showcased in the nude contrasted with the showcasing party fully clothed, which indicated a kind of separation, distinction and superiority over those exposed.
A piece from BBC “Human Zoos: When real people were exhibits” from December 2011 covered a Paris exhibition on the history of human zoos. Some observations in that piece, although focused more so on racism and othering with regard to ethnicities, also correlate with concerns around marketing, promotion and communication in the online naturist/nudist community:
This same behavior appears in some naturist/nudist/body freedom online marketing. Some create a kind of online zoo of young women to “admire” the naked body, “encourage” body freedom or “promote” naturism/nudism. What is freeing about taking a picture of an unsuspecting beach-goer, or stealing a picture of someone online and using it for purposes unknown to them, even if we are using it to promote true naturism? What is freeing about seeing certain (not all!) men stand on the sidelines and put young women on display while keeping themselves hidden? Where is the humanity? The equality? The respect? Often times, these feeds appear to be a collection of skin-bound trophies.
As a woman, this is one of my greatest concerns, especially when considering promoting clothes free living and social events to other women. In general society, there is a kind of entitlement that many (not all) men have when it comes to women – an entitlement to our bodies, our lives, our stories. I’ve even had to manage a conversation with a random a bus driver who thought it perfectly appropriate to ask prying questions about my life and schedule. Many men assume that we will (MUST) give and share our information and bodies, even if they, themselves, do not. Roxanne Gay has spoken on this a number of times, that women aren’t expected to have secrets or things we keep unto ourselves. We are expected to put ourselves out there, or men feel entitled to access us and put us out there. It’s amazing the things men say to me even today, because they think they have a right to me.
This surfaces when I see people collect the random images of young naked women, even if they aren’t sexual, because it implies an inherent right to those bodies as artifacts for any given purpose. They strip the story from the image, so the humanity disintegrates to a point where those who curate and post these images don’t feel that they owe the human in them anything – no acknowledgement, no request for consent, no story. They simply curate a feed for all the world to see, free admission, by the way. Such practices deprive us of a sense of respect, equality and connection. This not only concerns women, as I have seen feeds behave this way with other genders. Do we see these images as opportunities to promote whatever we want, or do we see each picture as a moment in time of a human being? Are we thinking about whether the message we slather across their framed skin is something they embrace?
We must be wary of going down the road of creating human zoos online for others to “see” naked bodies, even if we claim that it is to admire the body, encourage body freedom or promote naturism/nudism/clothes free living. If and when we use images to communicate naturism/nudism/clothes free living, we must be mindful and employ respectful practices. Most importantly, we should be sharing ourselves and our messages in meaningful ways. Sometimes we focus entirely on the issue that “nudity” in and of itself is the thing that offends people. But what about how we ‘say’ nudity? The way we talk about it is just as important, if not more so.
I can’t sell a human zoo of young naked women under the guise of “body freedom! naturism! nudism!” to the people in my environment. The women I know don’t trust or care about that.
But they do love a good honest story.