Clarissa Johal: March 2012

Saturday, March 17, 2012


Well, that probably got your attention. Perv.
I'm kidding, of course. Well, not about the subject. I'm going to talk about nudity. You may want to look away. Or not.
A recent thread in one of the photography groups I belong to addressed the topic of nudity and whether it was appropriate on the site to post nude photos. Artistic ones, of course. Whatever that means.
The thread has been going for a week now. Quite a hot topic--no pun intended. The plethora of opinions and comments led me to thinking about how we view nudity in American society. Or how often we view nudity. In secret, of course.
I've always been pretty matter-of-fact about nudity around my kids. It is what it is. There are "appropriate" places for nudity (at home, in art, museum exhibits) and "inappropriate" places (in public, text message attachments, with your future boyfriend). Okay, maybe I'm kidding about that last one. Maybe.
At this point in my kids lives, I will concede not to walk around naked in front of them, for the mere reason that it's not really acceptable in American society. Imagine the conversation in the school cafeteria should it come up (and, trust me, Things You'd Rather Not Be Shared always do). Now, I won't go screaming out of the room should one of my daughters accidentally walk in on me while I'm getting dressed. But nor do I stand there and have a complete conversation pretending that I'm not the slightest bit embarrassed about being naked in front of my children. I was raised completely differently and have many years of repression to battle over that one. But, I'll be darned if I'm going to pass that body shame onto them. So, I practice indifference. Thus far, I'm lucky because their reaction seems to be, "it is what it is."
Case in point.
The other day, I was sitting with my 10-year-old waiting for her swimming class to start, when one of the other kids plonked herself beside us and started chattering, as kids do.
Her: "Hi. My name's Madeleine."
My daughter: "Hi."
Madeleine: "I saw my brother naked once."
My daughter: "Um, okay."
Madeleine: "I saw his (insert stage whisper here) thingy."

To which my daughter had nothing to say and sat waiting for the punchline. Until she realized that was the punchline.
I have to admit, I bit my tongue and looked away because my inner child wanted to burst out laughing. You have to love kids and what they come up with. I also was pretty proud of my daughter for handling the situation the way she did. She politely remained silent.

Why is nudity so verboten and sexualized in American society? We goggle at naked photos of celebrities, pay to watch people having pornographic sex, and tune into the Victoria's Secret fashion show which features women clad in only their underwear. Sexually repressed society? Nope. Not us. No way.
My theory is this: we were settled by Puritans and have carried their fine sensibilities with us to this day. Oh yes, that 16th century lass caught showing her ankle whilst stumbling off to milk the cows? Slap a red "A" on her butt and send her to the stockade. Harlot.
These days, while not as extreme (or maybe it is) anything relating to naked skin can be construed as sexual. Swimsuits. Not for swimming anymore. You can buy an entire magazine devoted to women in swimsuits. Is it meant to be sexual? Of course it is.
It's quite bizarre, really.
Which leads me back to the group thread on nudity. Some photographers felt that nudity wasn't really appreciated, especially by those with children. Too risky. Might rot their brain and cause too many questions. Another group of photographers felt nudity was okay if it was done tastefully. You know; soft lighting, shadows over the naughty bits. Maybe a humble apology here and there for raising the eyebrow of the viewer. And yet another group felt that art need not be censored. And it was in the eye of the beholder. Please email all your nude photos and um....I'll get back to you later.
My feelings on nudity and the internet remain complex. I tell my girls that anything posted on the internet can and will be viewed by every type of person imaginable. It's a public place. If you wouldn't prance around naked in a public place, then you have no business posting naked photos of yourself on the internet. And if it bothers you that not everyone will see your artistic naked photos as "artistic" and might very well decide to um, pleasure themselves while looking at them, then again, don't post them. (Yes, yes, I used the proper word for "pleasure" when I discussed this with my kids. Give me a break.)
I do feel people have the right to post what they wish to post, but again, it's complicated. There are forums that accept this and forums that don't. Artistic forums usually do, family-centered forums...yeah, usually frowned upon.
Would I post a nude of myself in an artistic forum? Absolutely not. See argument aforementioned.
Do I care that somebody else would? No.
Would I want my girls, once they become adults, to post an artistic nude of themselves on any forum? Absolutely not. See...well, see my whole Blog. I'm an over-protective mom and that thought horrifies me. And also probably makes me a hypocrite to some extent. Whatever. Go away now.
For now, however, I can say that seeing nudes in an artistic forum doesn't bother me. If they offend, I can move on. If my girls are looking over my shoulder, it will lead to mature conversation covering everything from body image to artistic freedom to...whatever else comes up.
Once they're adults however, please don't quote me on that.