Yesterday I read the excellent comic book Saga #2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, and at the end there is a little random reader survey. One of the questions was:
When was the last time you were naked in front of someone in a nonsexual context?
As I contemplated the question and tried to come up with an answer, I realized that at 33 years old I can’t think of a single time in my adult life that I’ve been completely naked in front of another human being in a nonsexual context. Not one.
Unless you count situations like when you have sex with someone, go to sleep naked, then wake up the next morning and get out of bed naked. That happened. But I don’t really think it counts, because even if it’s nonsexual the next morning, it’s the result of a sexual situation the night before.
I guess most nonsexual situations in which people end up naked happen in places like public showers or gym changing rooms. Neither of which I ever go to. The closest I’ve been to that kind of situation is in public washrooms where I’ve on occasion had to take out my junk in front of other guys in order to pee into some weird designer fountain/urinal. (This happened to me a couple of weeks ago at the Whiskey Café in Montreal. Check it out. It’s amazing.)
Why does this matter?
I don’t know. Maybe it doesn’t. But I was really kind of shocked to realize how little nudity there’s been in my life. I’d never given it much thought before, but it seems wrong, somehow. Maybe this is gonna sound weird, but I think there should be more opportunities for people to be casually naked in front of others. I really think this would be a good thing.
Problem is, I have no interest in “naturism” or what used to be called “nudism.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, but to me it feels contrived and, I don’t know, impractical. I think we wear clothes not just out of “decency” but also out of convenience. Going out of your way to create these situations where people come together to take off their clothes doesn’t do anything to demystify nudity. It draws attention to it and makes it into “a thing,” whereas I want the opposite. I want nudity to be a non-issue. Saying “Let’s all get together for a weekend and stay naked the whole time” makes it all about the nudity. Which, again, is totally okay if you have some spiritual need to liberate yourself from clothing or whatever. I just personally don’t feel it.
I talked about this with a friend of mine last night and he suggested I organize a naked wine and cheese party. Which, okay, I admit it, sounds like an awful lot of fun and I’m seriously considering it, but it doesn’t really get to the heart of the issue for me, because like the naturist colony, it would all be about the nudity.
I guess what I’m trying to get at is that anxiety over having our bodies exposed is not cool and I think the only way to overcome it is to make nudity not a big deal. I remember that as a teenager and even for the first few years of my adult life, I always felt very uncomfortable peeing at urinals in public washrooms. I was nervous about other people seeing my dick. Then at one point I just kind of realized how stupid that was and made a conscious effort to stop caring. And over time I got rid of that idiotic fear.
But nudity is not just exposing your genitals. It’s having your entire body be visible with all its flaws and idiosyncrasies. Which opens up a whole other can of worms about body issues and vulnerability.
I hate my body. I really, really dislike it a lot. I’m embarrassed about my weight. I’m afraid to step on a scale because I don’t want to know how much I weigh. I don’t like the summer because I don’t like wearing short sleeves and exposing my tiny little skeleton arms. I have a hard time being shirtless in front of people because I don’t want them to be able to count my ribs. But again, like the thing about public urinals, at some point in my life I decided to make an effort to overcome that anxiety. And to some extent, I succeeded. I wouldn’t say I feel totally natural and at ease without a shirt on, but I can somehow make myself not give a shit. And I’ve noticed that this forced not-giving-a-shit turns into a feeling-good-about-it. It’s a positive, empowering thing to be like, fuck you, this is my body and I don’t care.
I’m not sure exactly where I was going with all this, but I think what I’m trying to say is that the way I feel about nudity is related to the way I feel about my body in general. I think there are two components to that shame/prudishness/uncomfortableness - (1) the idea that certain body parts are meant to be “private” and (2) more general anxiety over body image - and I want to overcome both! I want to be able to just walk to the bathroom naked in the morning and not care if my roommate comes out of his room. (Although, of course, that brings up the issue of imposing nakedness on others and whether he’s comfortable with it and issues of consent, etc. But that’s another discussion.)
Sorry if this is a random, poorly structured rambling post.