If Clothes Make The ManbySalvor-Hardon©
If clothes make the man, then what am I when I am naked? What statement can be made with nothing but a body? Nudity is still a bit of an enigma in America, mostly in the way we respond when others are naked. When there is no "power tie", or "little black dress" or other uniforms of our society, our reactions can range from embarrassment to arousal, fear to thrill. Nudity when used in art, whether statically in photography, painting, or sculpture, or dynamically in cinema or theater, bears with it a symbolism that we attach to seeing humanity and its most natural.
We learn at an early age to keep our clothes on. We can influence the perceptions of others with our clothes, putting on a suit and tie to seem "professional", a dress cut a little lower up top and higher below to seem more "alluring". We even conform to the role our costumes indicate, walking differently acting differently, being other people because of how we are dressed. There is an old legend about Carol Burnett and her character "Mrs. Wiggins" when a reporter asked how she developed the walk that garnered so many laughs time and again. Her response was "I had to walk that way, there's no other way to walk in that skirt." Our clothes are not just what we wear, they are how we present ourselves to the world. We so often associate ourselves with what we wear that without it we are vulnerable and subject to attack. Not to mention that clothes first served as protection from the elements. That long ago connection to clothing as shield is still buried in our collective subconscious.
Laws that declare "public indecency" for exposed nipples or genitals constrain us, tell us that without our clothes we are somehow offending a sensibility. Horror films often use nudity to represent those times we are most vulnerable. Nothing can protect us from the monsters, not even the thin flimsy lingerie the coed tears as she runs away. The most horrific pictures we see are the ones of people stripped naked and abused, deprived of even modesty by their tormentors. To be nude is to be vulnerable; if that is the position we take. But it is not the totality of our reactions to nudity.
Another aspect of nudity is the sensuality it represents. The beauty of a human form from Michelangelo's David to Botticelli's Venus to Edward Weston's "Nude 1927 63N" and Helmut Newton's "Big Nude III" is evident and a marvel to behold. There is a an aesthetic of nudity, that lets the natural beauty of life show through, neither enhanced nor hidden by clothes. To be naked is to be sexy, flashing skin and revealing those parts of us normally hidden away. It takes a certain degree of confidence and bravery to be naked and seen, and that assuredness is very attractive. To let someone see you naked is to invite them in to an intimate relationship, even if only for a moment, perhaps very one sided. It is this intimacy that makes strip clubs and Playboy and various other pornographic media are so profitable. The arousal of seeing the hidden, the thrill of watching what we should not see, these are the sensual aspects of nudity.
There is also the open aspects of nudity, the raw simple "here I am, just me" that is espoused by naturalist groups. When we have nothing to hide behind, when we are judged by how we treat out body and our personality, when the secrets are revealed and only the inner most secrets remain, how do we interact and respond to people around us? It is in this state of "nothing but me" that nudity is its most powerful I believe. Our insecurities are faced and confronted, and we must see ourselves as decent worthy people in order to not cower in our fears and modesties. We have to bring up our personality to be attractive, and let our wits be that thing that we are known for. This is the nudity used to represent freedom in the 60's with the counterculture hippies and still remains amongst naturalist and sun bathing communities today. There is a freedom in nudity, to be you and only you, and to be accepted for who you are. One recent sociological study showed that for first time visitors to a nudist colony, the fear and arousal lasted only the first fifteen minutes of their stay. Once acclimated to the surroundings and the idea that everyone is like them, the experience turned more to "what am I going to say" than "what am I going to do."
The underlying thread to all of this is that nudity is in essence raw natural being. Who we are when we are naked is who we truly are. We are vulnerable and beautiful and sensual and free. We are natural beings when we are nude.