wow: letter to maryland authorities on female bare-chestedness

For today’s Women on Wednesdays post, I share a copy of a letter I submitted to the Office of the Attorney General in Maryland regarding the legality of female bare chests.

As some might already know, Gingerbread has been engaging in peaceful work to establish the legality of female bare chests for several years. You can catch up on all of her work by visiting her blog Breasts Are Healthy.

Earlier this fall, Gingerbread reached out to some of us in her circle of colleagues / friends, myself included, to invite us to participate in efforts concerning the matter in Maryland. As part of those efforts, I submitted the following letter to the Office of the Attorney General to inform the opinion on the matter.

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Dear Chief Counsel Snyder,

I write with regards to the legality of female bare-chestedness in Maryland. This correspondence is part of the initiatives led by [Gingerbread] with whom you have been working, a great woman who is also a dear friend to me.

When [Gingerbread] initially invited colleagues to participate in this effort, I wrestled with finding the words. Although I personally enjoy the freedom to walk bare-chested (it is legal for women here in Washington, DC), the question that plagued me was, “Why should anyone else care? Why does this matter?”

Beyond my personal desires, there is a very important reason for legalizing female bare-chestedness: respect and personal accountability.

When I look out beyond myself and observe young girls and women, I can’t help but wonder at what age do we as a society tell them that they, their bodies, are the cause and the reason for injustice and violence? When do we say that the mere sight of their chests will invite behavior that others condone just because a certain part of their natural biology and humanity was assigned the singular and exclusive meaning of “sexual” by others?

The problem with illegal female bare-chestedness is that at the very heart of it we give people a reason to direct their anger, frustration, disrespect and pain upon girls and women. We imply that people no longer have to be responsible for their own thoughts, feelings and behavior. We convey that they don’t have to observe themselves, question their motives or frameworks or biases, and get to the root of their own personal issues.

I find it challenging to look at young girls in the second and third grade, who are just about to experience a huge physical change, and accept that soon they, for no reason, will be the reason for mindless injustice and violence. How could I possibly say that to an eight-year-old? I’ve heard women and men say, “Oh no! But think of the children!” and that would be my point exactly. Think of the message we are giving children by saying that at any arbitrary point they will become the inspiration and reason for disrespect, inequality and violence, that at some age we will stop asking people why they do what they do to others and simply blame young girls and women for simply existing.

I have been raped. I have had people make inappropriate gestures towards me and infringe upon my person just because of the way I look. People often defend that behavior, men and women alike, which is unacceptable; the justification is usually that the girl or woman must have been wearing (or not wearing) something to invite or provoke the behavior. Truthfully, though, there is no defense for such violence.

So when I look at this issue in this broader context, it’s about respect and accountability. We need to respect all bodies equally as just bodies. Honestly, the naked body is neutral. We choose to assign meaning, but chests are truly just chests. Bodies are just bodies. And as one of my best friends often says, inside every human body is a human being, a person who deserves respect.

Personal accountability is something we need to promote. So often many different frameworks, whether religious, social or other, provide us with an excuse of sorts to put the blame elsewhere instead of turning within and asking ourselves why we think and do what we do towards others. I want people to become more accountable for their own thoughts and behaviors. I don’t want a world where young girls and women are allowed by law to be the scapegoat for disrespect, violence, inequality and injustice.

This is not unlike other issues of equality in history where the rights of others were restricted based on how they looked. Once those groups challenged society to ask why people think the way they do and put the accountability back on those perpetuating discrimination, they recognized the derangement in believing that the tint of skin and “unconventional” shape of other bodies made others less than human and, therefore, a reason for violence and injustice. Similarly here, let’s step away from giving a reason for violence, inequality, disrespect and injustice based on a person’s chest. Let’s get accountable for our perceptions, assumptions and beliefs, and cultivate respect for all.

Thank you sincerely for your time and consideration regarding this issue.

Best to you and all,

naked soul reflection – our paradoxes, our nature

In this week’s episode of Naked Soul Reflections, we observe our paradoxes in nature and as a part of our humanity.

Paradoxes are huge part of life: what falls must also rise, as trees grow higher they grow deeper, we can prefer clothes free living and still enjoy fashion, we might be affectionate and still want space on certain days. All of these are expressions of nature and our humanity. They illustrate our complexity, innumerable dimensions, facets, personalities and changing needs – all without being mutually exclusive. Indeed, if they were mutually exclusive, how would we ever have trees?

What paradoxes do you observe in yourself this week? What paradoxes do you see in nature?

us and them – collaboration or competition in the online space

In the time since the humble beginnings of this effort a solo personal blog there have been many, other naturist/nudist bloggers have come along in the online space. A significant number of those have since disappeared. On several occasions there were invitations offered to collaborate, and in almost every instance the offer was rebuffed. Of those blogs, most have either disappeared or are no longer updated. The reasons given for choosing demise over partnership were many and varied but still the result was the same. Those blogs and websites disappeared into the internet graveyard of well meaning intentions. One Tumblr blogger observed

It seems that tumblogs and, especially, nudist tumblogs have a remarkably short shelf life. I’ll follow or favorite a page only to find in a few months it’s been deactivated without warning or fanfare. Granted it’s very to create a tumblr and equally easily to deactivate it when you grow board. I’m sure there are millions of for deactivating one, but I’m curious about the long-running survivors.

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Recently someone we have partnered with  at clothesfreelife.com tweeted this

Video killed the radio star and the internet is killing the clothes free world.

The subsequent conversation about the intent behind the tweet got me thinking about how effectively do nudists and naturists collaborate versus compete in the online space. The internet has allowed anyone with a little effort to start blogging or other gain a presence online. Over time that has only become easier with all the blogging and social media platforms. Anyone with an email address is given the opportunity to share their thoughts and opinions. Starting blog or social media account may be easy but as observed above maintaining a blog with quality content is another matter.

The challenge of  maintaining a blog with interesting content and committed readers takes work. On the surface it seems easy. Open an account on blogger, wordpress.com or some other blogging platform put your name on it and and start writing. What could be easier than that? But life can sometimes get in the way and interrupt the writing cycle, it certainly has for this writer. What if no one reads what you write or even cares? How do you keep readers coming back and interested, especially if writing about a single or niche issue?

A solution to that intense effort is collaboration. However, examples of collaboration among naturists and nudists in the online space is as limited as it is in the rest of the society. Nudists and naturists online seem to readily TALK about the equality and commonality of the community, but evidence of those values expressed in actual collaboration seem elusive. It seems we are all being challenged by the rampant individualism and exclusion taking over as a global worldview. “I don’t have time to work with you because I have some thing important to say and I want people to listen. I have some minor points of disagreement with you about the minutia of philosophy so I have to do my own thing rather than collaborate.”

While some say, “I need to go my own way,” others have chosen to imitate rather than collaborate. I have seen one site after another launched using the same format even sometimes similar logos in an attempt to capture an audience based on the active presence of clothesfreelife.com in the online space. Many of these imitators often disappear quickly as well or they drift into the seedy side of the internet where blogs are masquerading as naturist/nudist clothes free blogs but using naked pictures of others and some pics from porn sites in order to get or keep traffic. The saying goes imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I like to think that collaboration is.

All these leads me to wonder, what kind of impact could be made if we actually learned to collaborate rather than compete. Fortunately, as often as I pause to ponder that possibility there have been some people who have seen the common good and benefit over collaboration and reached out to join in this effort to put out quality material relating to clothes free living that give life to naturist ideals and nudist practice. There is hope, and it comes from varied sources and in diverse forms. My co-editor and women’s issues contributor an African American woman who only two years ago knew nothing of clothes free living; a prolific writer of naturist fiction living in Europe; an accidental nudist art model, and bee keeper; and more recently a journalistically minded newbie nudie from across the pond; an Indonesian man pursuing clothes free life in a place where it isn’t readily accepted; a barefooter turned nudist exploring ways to positively share his clothes  free life; An African American man with a fresh perspective. All of these people could produce blog material on their own and some do. Still they have chosen to collaborate towards a greater good. We don’t all agree on everything and have very different backgrounds. But the idea of simple nudity and clothes free living as we express it, giving life to naturist ideals and nudist practice is a platform for them to share their thoughts and ideas with the broad audience we have developed.

That is just one of the benefits of collaboration. Our contributors raise their online presence and visibility through the connection with this site. They get a platform for sharing ideas promoting naturism and clothes free living without the overhead of maintaining or marketing and promoting a blog. They get the support, encouragement and inspiration of other writers. They receive access to our other platforms like podcasting to broaden their reach. If collaboration appeals to you and you desire to collaborate with us it couldn’t be easier. Learn what we are looking for from contributors. Let me what you think about collaboration versus competition as seen through my eyes.

naked soul reflection – write your naked thoughts

In this week’s episode of Naked Soul Reflections, we write.

For me, writing is like removing clothing one piece at a time. What comes out onto the paper isn’t necessarily something to act upon. It’s a process of confession, expression, observation and honoring the process of getting naked with myself until I arrive at the heart of my being.

This week, I invite you to get naked with yourself by writing.

naked soul reflection: do it

This week we look at stepping into action even if it means making a mistake or getting it wrong.

This past week I spent time reflecting on some actions I had taken at work. My intention was to help people, but the results were far from desirable. For a while I was beating myself up about getting it wrong. This weekend, however, I realized that the beauty of it, is that I actually stepped into action rather than doing nothing and remaining silent.

In the same way that we often respond to people who ask, “How do I get clothes free?” by saying, “Just take your clothes off and read!” we can apply that whole “just do it” idea to other areas in our lives. We might not know the outcome, we might make mistakes, but there is beauty and power in stepping into action.

Where in your life have you been avoiding action out of fear of getting it wrong? Can you take even a small, simple action this week?

wow: free admission – the online female zoo

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:

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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.

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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?

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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.

naked soul reflection – textures of truth

In this episode of Naked Soul Reflection, I share some reflections that arose for me as I walked about barefoot on Sunday.

Link to audio: https://www.spreaker.com/user/clothesfreelife/naked-soul-reflection-textures-of-truth

Walking around barefoot reminded me of just how textured the world is. Usually, when I walk around in my shoes with a separation between me and the world, all I ever feel are is the texture of the shoe. I forget that ground, earth, floors change in character, temperature, texture, etc. Taking off my shoes reconnected me to a more honest reality. The real world is diverse in character.

This also tied into a change in attitude I experienced about my body and my health. I thought my body was just this blob that, well, “This is just the way it is. Nothing I do is making a difference.” I thought it unresponsive, until I realized that I needed to change my perspective and approach. Once I did, my body began to shift and respond positively to the different foods I gave it, the increase in sleep, and the other adjustments I made depending on any given day.

This week, I invite you to look at something or someone in your life where you usually think, “Well, this is just the way it is. It’s always like this.” It might be a pet, a person, your car, your body, your boss, the weather, a plant, anything. Choose one thing that sticks out to you where you’ve basically had the same attitude, expectations or opinion of it, and see if there is a way for you to “take your shoes off” with regard to it and experience a wider variety of textures with regard to the situation. Does that invite any shifts for you? What do you learn?