The idea of nakedness has long enthralled or appalled me. From the masterpieces of the Dutch masters with those half-dressed women draped over chaise longue, surrounded by cherubs, babies or interested men, to those dreams in which I find myself half dressed, no skirt or underpants, those dreams in which I find myself fearful of exposure or discovery.

I watched a Youtube clip the other day where the film makers arranged for a young mother breastfeeding a small baby to sit on a park bench in the middle of a busy street somewhere in America.

They filmed her and watched and waited as passers-by saw fit to insult the woman for her disgusting behaviour. Men and women alike.

Even when she responded, ‘I’m just feeding my baby,’ they said she should be doing it in private.

And then, by way of contrast they chose another beautiful and well-endowed model to sit on this same bench with her breasts half exposed. This time although people passed by and many looked – one man even came over and began to chat the woman up – not one of them threw insulting language her way.

The point of the story?

Well they then placed the two women side by side on the same bench and waited. They also propped a male type of minder against a fence nearby and when people stopped to insult the mother feeding her baby, this male minder asked the question:

‘Why is she, the women with the low-cut cleavage okay and she, the breast-feeding mother not?’

The typical response from the one or two they recorded – both men I observed, ‘She’s hot,’ referring to the full breasted model, but ‘She’s disgusting,’ referring to the breastfeeding mother.

So, nakedness in all its many forms can trouble us. It’s not nakedness per se, the nakedness of a new born, of a small child in a bath, though.

It’s the prurient eyes of adults, some adults, including the distorted minds of the paedophiles who can fast shift that naked innocence of childhood into something else, something to be exploited.

And it’s not long after we get into double numbers in age, ten years and over that we begin to feel uncomfortable about being seen naked.

So, nakedness is clearly connected to the sexual.

My analyst once told me that a father who walks around naked in one family, or a mother or any parental figure who walks around naked in one family, might signify very little given the intent of their nakedness. Comfort, convenience whatever but in another household, such as my own, a father sitting in his chair in the loungeroom stark naked carries a heavy weight.

The weight of exhibitionism, as if like a peeping Tom he draws pleasure out of disturbing his children and his wife by his nakedness.

This then in contrast to the folks who take themselves off to nudist camps.

I suspect the motivation behind nudist camps are many and varied but some of them might well be as seemingly innocent as wanting to go back to nature, so called, of waning to go back to the way things were for us when we were born. Wanting to be free of the pressure of clothing, even though clothing is a great help when it’s freezing cold and you’re in danger of hypothermia and death if you don’t rug up.

And there you have it, a potted history of nakedness, though I left out one essential point here and that is the imbalance between those who are naked and those clothed. And the way this reflects something of our misogynistic world today.

Those men in suits who look on at the naked woman in the garden from that famous painting of Suzanna and the Elders.

As Hannah Gadsby points out in her famous ‘Nanette’ performance. What was wrong with women in these centuries that they could not do up their blouse buttons and so found themselves with one breast popping out inadvertently?

Even writing this risks censure and titillation, the topic itself so troublesome. Most likely because it brings out the vulnerability in us all.

The Nazis stripped naked the Jews on their way to the gas chambers, for all sorts of complicated reasons, like wanting to get at their valuables, but also, I think to disarm and humiliate them, wanting to render them like cattle on their way to her slaughter.

Nakedness is inevitable for us humans, but it’s also loaded.


4 thoughts on “Naked”

  1. This is fascinating — I could see a much longer essay in here if you expanded it. Have you thought about it? Why are men (and women) so disgusted by the breasts producing milk? I imagine it has to do with divesting them of their sexuality and, like you said, a kind of misogyny — I’m thinking the Madonna/Whore thing as well. So much to think about —

    1. I hadn’t thought about an essay on the topic, Elizabeth, though it’s something I’d consider. I suspect the revulsion towards the mother feeding her baby in public has something to do with a primitive infantile resentment towards mother – one’s own mother – for feeding another baby who isn’t you. Most of us get over this type of sibling rivalry but perhaps some not. Or maybe it’s a bit like the disgust we feel in relation to things like faeces, those prohibitions that are deep seated given they get drummed into us from earliest days. Whatever drives this revulsion it certainly packs a punch. Thanks Elizabeth.

  2. I grew up surrounded by women who covered up. The only flesh you got to see were calves, hands and faces. It’s no wonder I became obsessed with nakedness growing up. And I’ve never passed up an opportunity to see a woman naked even though these days I know I’ll be disappointed. I wonder when the last time was I wasn’t disappointed. Probably a long time ago now.

    I’ve only ever seen two women breastfeed. One was my first wife and the other my brother’s second wife whose name I find I can’t remember. She had, and most likely still has, huge breasts and I know for a fact that was a major part of the attraction (stupid boy). Anyway one day I walked into my parents’ living room and there she was at the back of the room—my mum and dad were watching TV—with one of her magnificent breasts hanging out of her top and my niece latched to it. I wish I could say I didn’t stare but I did and to her credit she didn’t make a fuss or hurriedly try to cover herself; she let me get over my shock, take my seat and that was that.

    I’ve never understood the fuss about breastfeeding. The same with nipples. You can get away with showing a whole breast as long as you have nipple shields on (tassels optional). It’s just plain silly. What I hate—and organised religion is especially guilty of this—is how people will one day decide that something’s wrong when the day before it wasn’t. One day some tribe in Africa is wandering around with only loincloths on and the next they’re being told by well-meaning missionaries that their women need to cover up their mammaries or they’ll all go to hell in a hand basket.

    I’ve never been to a nudist camp or even a topless beach but I remember when my friend Tom went on holiday in the late seventies he found himself on one and, as you would expect, for the first five minutes he lapped it up—kid in a candy shop—and then suddenly it all got very samey. It wasn’t special any more. I wish my parents had been nudists and not bible thumpers.

    1. I’ve said it before, Jim, you remind me of Gerald Murnane with this sense of feeling excluded from a view of the female body when growing up. Certainly with GM it’s a central preoccupation in some of his writing, this sense of women’s and girls’ bodies being off limits while his own body was open to anyone who cared to look, at least growing up as a child.

      Imagine yourself as the son of nudists rather than bible bashers, what a difference that would make. Thanks, Jim.

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