People react very strangely to nudity.
For example, one of my photographers told me a funny story about the nude images we had hanging at a local gallery.
An elementary school class from the local private school ended up visiting the gallery in question on a field trip. The gallery owner didn’t think anything of it…until all of the boys in the class disappeared. The teacher looked away for just a second, and suddenly they were gone. She couldn’t find them.
Well, they were eventually found: all of them were standing in front of my images, staring.
The teacher was less than pleased, and hustled her charges out. I could hear the photographer telling me the story trying to contain his laughter. “Apparently we’re corrupting the youth,” he said with a chuckle.
I laughed too. After all, the story was amusing.
But although I laughed about it, I realized later that there was a problem. Yes, the teacher’s reaction was funny. But it also showed just how uncomfortable we still are around nudity. The teacher hurried the children under her care away. She did not bring over the rest of the class or use it as a moment to teach the human form as a piece of art. They were told to not look. They were taught that nudity was something they shouldn’t see.
Those boys just learned from their teacher that what they did was wrong, and that their interest is bad. If that’s all their taught about the subject, how do you think they’re going to react when they see a girl naked in person for the first time? If we teach them that a female body is shameful, how are they going to treat the women in their life?
In the same way, if we tell girls to avert their gaze from art, do you think they’ll look in the mirror? Telling a girl that a female body is something to be ashamed of unless it’s covered seems like a poor way to teach positive body image. If we teach them that nudity is wrong, how are they going to view themselves?
This is a broad and nuanced topic, with lots of societal implications. I’m not going to pretend to have a solution for it. But I think these kinds of things would go a long way to help:
—We can show the human form in non-sexualized, non-exploitative settings. When I see a person’s image in the media, it’s almost always selling something, usually sexually. Let’s do better than the glossy magazines and advertisements we’re used to seeing.
—We can support nude art. Art is one of those non-exploitative ways to showcase the human form, so we should make more of it, and display it proudly. We can view it and share it, both new pieces and old classics.
—We can be careful to not censor nudity, especially on places like social media. After all, what says “this is wrong” more than big black bars across an image? (This is why I only share implied and clothed images on Facebook and for my blog. I would rather not show full nudity than have to censor my images).
And what if children see nudity? We can treat it as a positive thing. Don’t look away or act embarrassed. Show them that what they’re looking at is another body, another person just like them. After all, what better lesson can they learn?