I recently encountered an interesting thread on Twitter. Some of the language around it caught my eye and really got me thinking. Original tweet:
.@PortraitDaily was an admirable project where women failed. To promote body equality, we need to go naked when it's allowed.
— Katie L (@KatieLny) February 9, 2017
Portrait Daily was a photo project in Berlin. Strangers photographed each other naked for one full year. Most of the images show participants in their homes. While some engage in everyday activities, others seem to pose more so in the photos.
The tweet above applauds the initiative with a critique of women’s participation. I went back to Portrait Daily’s account and reviewed their images from the project. Actually, some men also opted to wear clothing or guard with an object. So, it was not just some women hiding parts of themselves. Singling out women creates an inaccurate interpretation of the project.
I felt some concern about the critique on women, because it felt like shaming.
— Katie L (@KatieLny) February 9, 2017
When it comes to women’s rights, we often want all women to engage in specific ways. Our way. This issue came up even for the Women’s March back in January. Everyone wanted women from all backgrounds to come march. Feminism! But, not all women chose to participate. And they received some shaming feedback for not expressing their feminism in pink pussy hats. “How else will we be heard?!” We do this often. We assume that everyone must behave our way in order to affect change.
I believe many factors contribute to why some women do not race to bare. And because of that, we need to place shame to the side and listen with respect.
possible factors affecting participation
I prefer Sophie Rolstad’s approach of asking a neutral question inviting conversation.
First, let’s look at the ask of this project.
- Let a stranger into your home
- …and photograph you
- share your nude,
- go find a stranger,
- step into their home
- …and photograph them
This could freak a lot of people out. What part of letting a stranger into your home sounds safe? And then to allow them to photograph you? So, partaking in this project at all is a huge risk. Safety, trust, sharing vulnerability, etc. That these people chose to do this at all, clothes on or off, is huge.
Then we must remember the images we see in advertisements. Companies use our bodies to, say, sell men’s jewelry. Or, they use our skin and bones promote ideas, concepts, etc. of parties, organizations, individuals. Women are commercial property. We rarely see examples of us taking photos for us, by us, “just for me”. Because we rarely actually own ourselves. So, diving into a project, those issues can rise again. Who is this project for? Do I feel safe? Will someone judge me? Can this just be for me?
Another issue is terrible internet behavior. People, including naturists, steal and repurpose photos all of the time. And we all see ruthlessly mean comments across the internet. There is also a loss of control, because once something is out there, who knows what happens to it? We women generally have little agency for ourselves. So, of course not everyone would jump at this kind of project.
Rather than shame, we need to support each other with love and respect.
advocating without shaming
There is a difference between encouraging and shaming. As many know, Gingerbread is a huge advocate for bare-chested equality. Her efforts impacted numerous cities around the United States. But, if you ever read her blog or talk with her, you see that she never shames anyone. She never ridicules authorities, even if they do not know their own laws. And she never claims that all women must walk about bare-chested where legal. Instead, Gingerbread promotes mutual respect and choice.
No matter how badly we want to advocate feminism, we must never forget respect and choice. For instance, when I attended a clothing optional festival last summer, most women wore clothes. None that I could see walked about fully naked until I did. But, I didn’t run around demanding women to take advantage of the opportunity. Rather, I simply chose to put my clothes aside and do me. That inspired some to either go bare-chested or fully nude, so they told me personally. Others stayed fully clothed, and that was their choice.
Shame creates defensiveness which, in turn, sews divisiveness. It burns wounds that never healed in the first place. How will we ever get anything done if we shame each other over and over again? And how would society know how to respect and support us if we don’t respect and support each other?
things take time
Honestly, there are more factors than I could possibly cover individually and in one post. Overall, though, we have to remember that such complex issues take time to shift. We should not expect all women to leap at every opportunity to get naked. The history of pain and socialization is so deep that we have to walk the phases of change. So, rather than reprimand women for not baring everything, we should commend them for engaging at all. And we have to step forward in love, encouragement and peace. We must seek to respect, support, understand and give things time and space.