You can’t fight body shame with more body shame. Normalizing routine social nudity must be part of the solution.
I imagine it started in earnest with Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, but for quite some time now feminism has included in its lengthy list of critiques of patriarchy and culture the idea that, as the book’s title puts it, “images of beauty are used against women.”
Her monumental book, one of the most influential feminist writings in recent decades, focused largely on the way that women’s magazines, and the fashion and advertising industries in general, produce a vast volume of photographic depictions of women that do not at all resemble the average woman. Indeed most imagery you see of women in media depict women who are young, thin, white, able-bodied, straight, cis-gendered, etc. This deluge of photoshopped fantasy has an effect of “programming” all of us to have highly distorted and unrealistic conceptions of what women (and to a lesser degree, men) “should” look like.
In recent years, what started with the Beauty Myth seems to have burst out in a huge way in feminist literature and activism, especially on the internet. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I invite and encourage you to whip out your phone and check Twitter and Instagram in particular, searching for terms like “body positive” and “fat positive”. Along with a large number of more conventional reporting and blogging, you see there’s a very active community of (mostly) women who care very much about challenging this aspect of our culture.
Commonly, the body- and fat-positivity advocates challenges women to proudly take selfies and portraits of themselves wearing their favorite outfits, or their bikinis, or even in the nude while embracing their larger size, or wrinkles, or stretch marks, or breast cancer surgery scars. These women correctly recognize that if we don’t see women of more statistically common dimensions and representing diverse racial backgrounds, we may value these women less than those privileged enough to match the beauty industry’s prescribed ideal.
All of these efforts are great. I’m not complaining and I don’t think they should stop. If I were to complain about any of this I’d be a total dick, and men who complain about or shame body- or fat-positive women are assholes who need to fuck off and die. (I’m hoping that my use of curse words here will convince skeptical readers that, yes, I really do support the idea that women — and everyone — should love their bodies, regardless of size or appearance or conformity with prevailing beauty norms.)
What I take issue with is the fact that this movement, and Wolf’s original book (with the exception of a few lines near the end), and indeed everything I’ve seen on the topic seems to overlook a central factor in all aspects of our society’s dysfunctional relationship with the body. Namely, the role that a lifetime of indoctrination about the necessity of clothing plays in perverting our conceptions of bodies and the role that communal nudity can play in repairing this dysfunction.
Original publication 20 May, 2016
Posted on NatCorn 9th December 2020
Reference to an article does not infer endorsement of any views expressed.