What is the difference between nudity and naked? Other euphemisms include: unclad, clothing optional, naturist beaches/resorts.
Are we conditioned to be embarrassed about our nakedness? Are we unique in the animal kingdom to feel shame of exposure? Sexual modesty could be our protection of monogamy to protect our progeny.
When we are nude we are totally open, transparent but vulnerable. We step outside ourselves to see us as others see us. The word “embarrass” likely derived from a threat “to bare ass” someone.
Nudists claim they have nothing to hide – the naked truth. Some people find it a liberating experience because they feel good about their body image.
Once Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the eyes of both of them were opened, realizing they were naked; they sewed fig leaves together and covered themselves.
The myth of ‘Diana and Actaeon’
One day, Actaeon, accompanied by his hounds, was out hunting a stag, when he caught sight of Diana bathing in a pool. She was accompanied by her attendant nymphs who were all as naked as the goddess.
Then disaster struck – for Actaeon, staring open-mouthed and wide-eyed, was spotted by Diana.
Diana didn’t like being seen naked by the young man one bit. As punishment for him gawking at her, she transformed Actaeon into a stag and then incited his hounds to turn on him and chase him and kill him.
Lady Godiva, who, in the eleventh century, was said to have ridden naked through the streets of the city of Coventry in order to persuade her husband to lower taxes.
All of the townsfolk agreed to hide away indoors and not to look at their lady as she performed this act of unclothed equestrianism, but one inhabitant – who subsequently became known as ‘Peeping Tom’ – dared to look at Lady Godiva, and was struck blind for his audacity.
In most wars, women become victims, as victorious troops exact revenge by stripping and raping them. Stripping is generally a mark of humiliation and indignity to emphasise dominance.
In the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, in Amritsar, on the Indian side of the border, a large group of Muslim women was stripped naked, paraded through the streets and raped by a Sikh mob.
Strip clubs flourish during good times. Exhibitionism coexists with masochism. Strippers see their patrons as pathetic, forced to hide their contempt.
Shakespeare has Hamlet, say,
“Clothes maketh the man."
Mark Twain added his own twist by suggesting
“naked people have little or no influence in this world”.
In Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, on a R&R excursion in Rome, the Generals hang up their uniforms in a closet while they appropriate and torment Nately’s whore.
Dunbar, Nately and Dobbs went on the drunken foray that night to rescue Nately’s whore from the middle-aged military big shots holding her captive in a hotel because she would not say uncle.
The officers were utterly demoralized men of distinction.
Each time she slumped over with her eyes closed they shook her awake and made her say ’uncle’ again. Each time she said ’uncle,’ they were disappointed. She wondered how much longer they would sit around naked with her and make her say ‘uncle’.
Dunbar was hurling everything in sight out the window into the court . Dobbs was smashing furniture with an ash stand.
A nude, ridiculous man with a blushing appendectomy scar appeared in the door way suddenly and bellowed.
‘What’s going on here?’
’Your toes are dirty,’ Dunbar said.
The man covered his groin with both hands and shrank from view. Dunbar, Dobbs and Hungry Joe just kept dumping everything they could lift out the window with great, howling whoops of happy abandon. They soon finished with the clothing on the couches and the luggage on the floor, and they were ransacking a cedar closet when the door to the inner room opened again and a man who was very distinguished-looking from the neck up padded into view imperiously on bare feet .
’Here, you, stop that,’ he barked. ’Just what do you men think you’ re doing?’
’Your toes are dirty,’ Dunbar said to him.
The man covered his groin as the first one had done and disappeared.
’I’ll thrash you.’ The man raised a fist.
’I’ll thrash you,’ Dunbar warned him coldly. ’You’re a German spy, and I’m going to have you shot.’
’German spy? I’m an American colonel.’
’You don’ t look like an American colonel. You look like a fat man with a pillow in front of him. Where’s your uniform, if you’re an American colonel?
’You just threw it out the window.’
’All right, men,’ Dunbar said. ’Lock the silly bastard up. Take the silly bastard down to the station house and throw away the key.
The colonel blanched with alarm. ’Are you all crazy? Where’ s your badge?
’They’ve thrown our things out the window, General.’
’Good for them. Our uniforms too? ‘That was clever. We’ ll never be able to convince anyone we’re superior without our uniforms’.
Marie Antoinette, at sixteen, on her arrival in France, was stripped bare, subjected to an inspection and then dressed in French attire.
Sylvia Plath recorded that as part of her admission procedures to Smith’s College, she was subjected to being photographed naked with both a frontal and profile shot.
The Guerrilla Girls’ famous poster:
Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get into the Met. Museum? (1989)