I work as a nude model. I pose for various artworks. Sometimes when I’m modelling, it gets a little chilly. And sometimes that makes my skin pucker. Occasionally, it leads to some serious nipple-centric stiffening.
Often the tutor notices, but this being a civilised artistic endeavour, they take it not as a sign that I’m nude, horny and ripe for the fucking, but a cue to increase the ambient temperature. My body is responding biologically to the conditions, so they don’t start groping for my visibly apparent chest fruits; they turn on another bloody heater.
Now this might sound obvious to you or I, but there appear to be many who believe nudity in visual culture, particularly female nudity, is effectively advertising for the sexual experience.
Lately an image has been cropping up on Facebook, and while I’m now blind to every request masquerading as friendship from Farmville to Fuckbook, this one got my attention.
The image depicts a female, semi-nude and sticker-nippled, standing in a street with the words ‘Still Not Asking For It’ painted onto her skin. Not surprisingly, this photo arrived with a barrage of comments and debate trailing beneath it. While most site users were positive and admiring; others seemed downright incensed by the woman’s behaviour.
One responder, Leftybegone, posted this comment:
“I would totally put my face 4 inches from her chest and scream, “I’M SO HAPPY RIGHT NOW!” And I’d make a point never to take my eyes off her boobs until she got so uncomfortable and creeped out that she decided to leave, go back home, sit on her bed in the dark, and think about how completely stupid she was to write “STILL NOT ASKING FOR IT” while asking for it.”
Now apart from the fact old Lefty would be proving the woman’s point, (imagine what a complete twatwaffle they’d look by acting out that particular fantasy) their assumption that physical confidence and pride should be destroyed and replaced with shame and fear is not only regressive, it’s a disturbingly common viewpoint.
Other commentators on the picture took a less aggressive tone, but their shoulder-shrugging apologies, likening the exposure of her body to swimming with sharks in a meat suit, conveyed much the same perspective of women’s bodies as consumables, and men as instinct-driven brainless beasts.
I take issue with this viewpoint for many reasons. But mainly, it’s because as a life model, I spend a good portion of my time nude in a semi-public context. Now if the logic of this woman’s critics was accurate, and baring flesh is a sad but inevitable invitation to trouble, I would be at risk of gang rape every time I pose for a class.
Think about that for a minute. How completely absurd does that sound?
It’s an extreme example I know, and life modelling is a very different context to walking down a street, but in principle the same potential body politics are at play.
I’ve been a life model for about three years now, posing on average 2-3 times a week. If dangling a pair of breasts in front of a man gave him automatic right to touch them, I would have been assaulted more times than I’ve had hot dinners by now.
But you know what? I haven’t. And that’s because the men, and women, who attend these classes, get it. I’ve given them permission to draw me, not touch me.
And should the tutor need to touch me to move my arm or foot back into position for example, they will say what they’re going to do and check that’s ok first. Because being nude does not mean giving up all rights to have your boundaries respected first.
What we need to get away from is the idea that the body is an innately sexual entity; that being nude is a sexual act in itself. This is not true; our bodies do many things while nude that don’t have anything to do with sex at all: we get waxed, we have showers, we’re examined by medical professionals, and some of us perform in plays or model to tell stories or make art.
By making our bodies visible, we’re choosing to express our nature, not necessarily our sexuality. We’re certainly not inviting anyone to express their sexual desires on or through our bodies without permission.
So when people decry nudity or revealing clothing as a knowing invitation, designed to inflame sexual lusts and provoke tactile attentions, I wonder how well those people cope at restaurants. Do they lean over and take a mouthful of their neighbour’s repast, before blaming the neighbour for ordering something too gosh darn yummy-smelling to resist?
The bottom line is, men should be (and most are) capable of beholding a nude woman without losing their ability to see her as a person, with her own sexuality that is housed by her body, not merely stamped on it.
Just because she is nude, doesn’t mean she is automatically expressing sexual desires, or inviting you to do the same.
By portraying human bodies as primarily vehicles for the sex act is to reduce them to mere symbols (Clothes on: Red, Clothes off: Green) and does a disservice to the intricacies of us all.
We are of course sexual beings, and we do use our bodies as a means to express that, but that is not all we are. Nudity is a state; sex is a choice, and an action. It’s time we all learned to tell the difference.