One strong memory of my time at Art school was life drawing classes. There was the atmosphere, a fraught, tense stifling atmosphere, filled with deep concentration, you felt as if you were in a library or in a sacred church. The student’s eyes were fixed on the model, nobody spoke much, if at all, there were unwritten rules of how somebody should behave in this environment. Students would be religiously measuring proportions of the life model with their pencils. The tradition of using a model in drawing classes goes back hundreds of years.
What of the life model’s perspective? It’s undeniable we live in a society where nudity is a big deal and does have a stigma. The first time a model poses in front of a bunch of strangers, it must be very daunting…when it reaches the critical point when the Art teacher says “ok can you take your robe off”. This all sounds totally ridiculous, we all undress every night, it is totally natural…
Imagine in this day and age in the western world a “fat” competition! Men from the Bodi tribe pride themselves in being fat and consequently they drink a mixture of blood and goat’s milk to fatten up quickly and win the “fat contest” in their village. The winner is not awarded a prize but is afforded a heroes status for the rest of their lives.
One group of people who liked to flaunt their naked bodies were the hippies, in the 1960s. The West Coast America chose nudity to make a political statement. Nudity in public became a form of protest, challenging social norms and supposedly conservative, constraining ideas of‘decency’. It was also liberating.
Have you ever had a dream whereby you find yourself the only naked person in a public place filled with clothed people? Apparently it is quite common dream. Dreaming that you are completely or partially naked is very common. Nudity symbolizes a variety of things depending on your real life situation. Becoming shocked at the realization that you are naked in public, apparently reflects your vulnerability or feelings of shamefulness. You may be hiding something and are afraid that others can see right through you.
I come from the UK, a country known for its prudishness, the origin of this down to the the Puritans, or Queen Victoria by comparison across the channel, continental Europe has a more relaxed attitude towards nudity, I remember a place outside Vienna where everyone (apart from us Brits) was stark naked and thought nothing of this. Even Catholic Spain is less offended by breasts on the beach than Britain. You couldn’t enter a sauna in Austria or Germany wearing clothes. This bodily shame can be traced back to Christianity’s formation of the doctrine of original sin. Nudity, and nude photos, is the ultimate test of self-acceptance. Do you love yourself enough that you can go all the way?
Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.
This article is part of a blogging challenge,