Friday, September 20, 2013

Weekly Roundup: Nudity Week #2

After our two posts this week on the subject of nudity (Naked Dark and (Not) Streaking at College), we're excited to announce our next topic: mental health. We wanted to talk about the ways that mental health issues are part of our bodily experience. [For example, depression is not a symptom of sin, it's about chemical imbalances in the brain.]

So: How have you experienced mental health issues in your life? Has it been related to your body? This could be directly, like if exercise helps mitigate its effects, or perhaps indirectly, such as if body image or expectations cause you anxiety or stress. Tell us your fears about it (will I ever conquer it?), your successes (I helped a friend find great counseling and now we can joke about it!), or anything else! NB: we previously hosted a series specifically on postpartum depression specifically (view the entries here)--but don't feel like you can't write on that if it's the aspect of mental health you really want to share.

We've got a little bit lined up, but we THRIVE on your submissions! Send us your thoughts and experiences using the info in the upper right. Also, we may be publishing one or two more submissions on nudity as they come in/get edited, so if you were thinking about writing something up, you can (and should!) still send it in.

A few weekly roundup items from around the internet related to this week's posts:
  • Alicia's awesome post from Monday included this absolutely lovely meditation: "When I am lying there looking at the underside of the universe from the water, I think about the thing that someone told me once: that our bodies are made from the cosmos, that we are literally made of star dust. Star dust has scattered and floated through the universe and settled on our humble planet and given life to the crops and animals that have fed me and given me life. The wind and air I breathe has risen up and settled into Earth’s atmosphere from the heights of heaven and the force of stars’ eruptions. This prayer is a prayer of communion with the entirety of the universe, and with the largess of God." Well, that someone who told her that was absolutely right! Listen to none other than astrophysicist superstar Neil deGrasse Tyson tell you all about it:
  • There was almost going to be one of the greatest collisions of opposite cultures ever in early October in Utah. The Utah Underwear Run was planned to head past Temple Square just as LDS General Conference was getting out on Saturday--but it looks like the city was worried about shepherding runners through all the traffic and so it will take place slightly later :( The organizers of the run were worried they might have to delay it another weekend, and that is trouble because "scheduling the run any later into October risks frigid, underwear-unfriendly temps" :)
  • You have to love the internet: of course there's a Mormon Skinny Dippers forum! With threads with titles like Can Mormons be Nudists? and Modesty & Nudity, it sounds interesting.
Any thoughts on our posts from this week or these random tidbits? Any suggestions? Leave a comment or submit something!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

(Not) Streaking at College

At the school I attended for my graduate degree, there was a tradition among students to streak down a very large quad at night. Not everyone did it, of course, but it was a commonplace sight there after about 11 pm. I once talked to some security guards posted nearby about it; they just laughed about it and said they never interfered. So I kind of really wanted to. I've never streaked (struck?) or skinny-dipped in my life. I figured this would be a great opportunity to do so in a way that I wouldn't get in any trouble--socially or academically--for. But I never did.

Why not? Well beyond the normal hesitation I think most people raised in American culture feel about being nude in public, I'm also kind of shy and didn't want to do it alone--but also didn't know anyone who would be interested in doing it with me. I blame* that mainly on most of my friends being fellow Mormons. That pretty much ruled out my female friends: even though I knew a few who might have possibly been OK with it, I just didn't know how to start that conversation ("hey member-of-the-opposite-sex, want to run around naked in public for a few minutes?") and didn't want to risk the awkwardness if they said no.

Male friends didn't seem like a much more promising pool of people, either, sad to say. Honestly, I think part of it was my fear of vague societal homophobia--I'm already semi-outspoken about LGBT issues, will guys in the ward kinda look at me weird if I ask them to run around naked with me? [To be clear, this isn't something I'm proud of, but I have to admit it did factor into my apprehension about asking any Mormon male friends to join me.] But even without that factor, I hadn't seen any of my male friends nude before, and vice versa, and it's not easy to offer to change that.

So I think the main reason I didn't ask anyone to join me streaking (and thus why I never did it) was the weird taboo our culture (American generally, but especially the Mormon sub-part thereof) has about nudity. There's just no non-awkward way of being naked in someone else's presence unless you're in a sexual relationship with them. If you have experiences with breaking that ice in a non-sexual context, I would love to hear about it, though! How do you ask someone to go skinny-dipping or streaking with you?

Anyway, this cultural nudity taboo is sad to me. If nothing else, it means I missed out on a fun, safe, liberating experience. But hey, I guess there's always reunions!

* I use "blame" in a not-carrying-any-bitter-connotations kind of way, just describing reality. I have nothing against Mormon friends! :)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Naked Dark

by Alicia Harris

I am a Christian woman, and I believe that my spirit is embodied.

The most beautiful nights of my life were spent in deep water under stars and clouds and without clothing on.

In so doing, I submit my most vulnerable flesh to the elements of the world. From doing this, I have learned about God and I have come to grow in sacred trust and belief in the greater good. I learned that my breasts float and that nothing would harm me in the still darkness of mountain lakes. I learned that the bodies of others are unique and beautiful when they are reflected in the moonlight. I have seen their pendulous bellies and arms flinging through water and then resting on wooden docks in the middle of the night. I have been scared and felt exposed, but I have always left these experiences feeling powerful and capable. I have never left a conversation about hemlines or necklines feeling this way. I have only left those feeling judgmental or judged.

I remember being very small and my dad reminding me that everything that was there in the dark was the same that was present when the light was on, and so there was no need to be afraid. I want to extend that assurance and say that everything that is there when your clothes are on is still there when they are not. There is no need to be afraid of the things you see when clothes are off, because that is all still with you even when you cannot see it. Naked dark enriches the spirit. It is where we learn to trust and know our bodies and trust the universe.

My favorite thing to do in the middle of the night is to float on my back in the quiet depths and let my belly, thighs and breast float above the surface. I don’t want you to talk to me when I am doing this because it is a form of prayer. When I am lying there looking at the underside of the universe from the water, I think about the thing that someone told me once: that our bodies are made from the cosmos, that we are literally made of star dust. Star dust has scattered and floated through the universe and settled on our humble planet and given life to the crops and animals that have fed me and given me life. The wind and air I breathe has risen up and settled into Earth’s atmosphere from the heights of heaven and the force of stars’ eruptions. This prayer is a prayer of communion with the entirety of the universe, and with the largess of God.

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I have been endowed with many gifts inside the Mormon Temple. Because of that, I wear a reminder to nourish my body and my spirit under my shirt every day. In the naked dark, I feel nourished in both. In the naked dark, my body reminds my spirit that they are connected. In the naked dark, my spirit reminds my body that it is alive inside, and that it won’t be left to silence and covering. 

I worship in the LDS temple in Winter Quarters, Nebraska, regularly. I am often struck at the depiction of Adam and Eve. Prior to their partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (is that not THE longest name for a tree!?), they are undressed. They only become awakened to their nakedness by Satan’s pointing it out to them after they have eaten of the fruit, and thereby are capable of understanding the possibility of indecency. In this instance it becomes a shameful thing to be embodied because, in Mormon theology, Satan is disembodied. Evidently, therefore, there is power in the bodies that God has created for Adam and Eve, and Satan seeks to attack these very innocent and marvelous bodies before they are even expelled from the garden. It is literally the very first thing that is attacked by the force of evil. When God returns, He inquires about their covering, concerned at the sudden distance that His children have now experienced from His work (Genesis 3: 7-11). It is the first moment when the human family senses its distance from God. In the naked dark, I demand a return.

My family has never been one of shame for our bodies. My people are big. I never realized that I was bigger than my peers until I left for college and “body image” was the hip thing for girls to be concerned about. I moved in with three former pageant contestants who weighed themselves three times a day. I hadn’t ever stepped on a scale outside of a doctor’s office. It was startling to be suddenly situated at Brigham Young University as a bumbling 19 year old who was unaware that constant body critiques and calorie counting were a mandatory component of sociality. I didn’t know that you were a bad person if you ate a bagel. Weren’t we taught that we are Daughters of the God of the Universe? How could we claim our imperfection as integral to our selves? It was a stark contrast to the soft comfort of my mother’s breast, or the encouragement that my father gave me after a good long run that we often took together. My body was so much alive, until I was told that it was too big, too tall, too round, too brown, not brown enough, too stinky, too young, and now too old. I just wanted to go back to not knowing. 

While I was raised in a family for whom body image seeks health, I was also raised to understand modesty, and the gravity of sex.  There is power in these things, and I know that this power is embodied literally.  But I contest that the over- and under-sexualisation of the body is removed from modesty. The claim that bodies are to be shamed, or in some way disallowed to be sexual, is a removal from their innate function. Further, the denial that bodies are capable of more than reproduction or use for gratification is a perversion. I believe that more is meant when we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, are asked to be modest. Maybe modesty isn’t even about sex at all. Maybe it is an extension of the entire mission of Jesus Christ: to further our love and reverence for one another. In being asked to view one another with respect; we are asked to protect the sovereignty of our fellows, and in so doing we reflect our own.

I do this in the naked darkness.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Weekly Roundup: Nudity Week #1

We had two great posts this week on the subject of nudity, and we've got a few more in the pipeline for next week, so stay tuned!

Today is also our first in what will hopefully be an every-Friday feature: a Weekly Roundup of links to interesting blog posts, websites, and other miscellanea we've come across during the week (or had sent our way--please do share anything you find!) on the current topic:

  • First, this is a great short post by a masseuse titled "What Real People Look Like." With the subtitle of "Women have cellulite, men have silly buttocks," you know it's a must read! :)
  • Then there's this classic of the Mormon blogosphere, "High Priest Sauna Night." Written by a member of the LDS church living in Finland, it ends on this hilarious note: "It would be difficult to come to High Priest Sauna Night and say, sitting naked in a small room heated to 95C hip-to-hip with the stake patriarch and a deacon, ‘You know, the church is the same wherever you go.’" You know you wanna read it.
  • Finally, a recent project has started that showcases tasteful, artistic, nude photographs of Mormon women. It's called Mormon Women Bare (potentially NSFW, depending on where you work), and here's an excerpt from the introduction: "The women shown here are not paid models. They are your daughters and mothers, sisters and friends. They are different ages, shapes, and sizes. What they have in common is a shared history with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a tradition that seeks to both exalt the body as divine while treating its natural impulses as temptations to be overcome. These women show incredible bravery and vulnerability to share their stories through their words and their bodies. Together, we aim to show that bodies are beautiful and sacred, flawed and powerful, earthly and divine."
So that's a bit of what's been going on around the embodyed internet. Please share any thoughts, impressions, or responses to these links in the comments--and point us towards anything we've missed!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Two Views of Nudity

by Anonymous

I got two different stories in my youth. My mother constantly told me to cover up, to wear shorts over my bathing suit even when it was just family in the pool. I think I was 6 in the backyard playing soccer with my brother when I took my shirt off due to the 100+ degree heat and my mom came flying out of the house telling me to put it back on. My mother has always been uncomfortable with bodies, how they function and what they look like. My dad’s approach is totally opposite. He’s a doctor, and to him a body is a body is a body and nothing to be embarrassed about. He has no shame and will answer any question about bodies like you asked what was for dinner. I saw my dad naked countless times, but it never seemed weird. Actually I think it was really healthy, because I was never afraid of the male body and felt like I knew more than most about how bodies worked.

That being said I was still a shy kid and very afraid of people seeing me naked. Come high school I had some crazy friends who thought running across bridges over the freeway at night naked was fun, and other such antics which I won’t go into. So I tried it, and it felt amazing. So free! All different shapes and sizes of teenaged girls running naked, one at a time, across the freeway with no fear. I also ended up seeing most of my male high school friends naked as well either running naked laps or playing truth or dare. And I don’t think it was a bad thing. Being nude and seeing my friends nude was empowering.

In college I found myself quite alone in my body confidence. There were so many girls that thought they were fat and ugly, it was easy to let it rub off. Eventually I found friends that were a more positive influence and I felt we were free to do and be who we wanted to be, and that sometimes included skinny dipping, underwear dance parties, etc…

The biggest jump in my views on nudity came a few years ago when I got married. I remember taking my clothes off for my husband on our wedding night. It was crazy, and when he took his off too I was like whoa that’s so cool! Now it’s a totally normal thing. I may come home to find him sitting naked at the kitchen table—doesn't even phase me. I have inadvertently started cooking dinner naked, but why put clothes on if it’s hot in front of the stove? I also don’t mind if people see me naked, honestly I think I look better naked than clothed anyway. I always thought it would be fun to pose for an art class. Pretty sure we've been naked in every State Park we've visited; it’s kind of a running joke. Something about nature just makes you want to take your clothes off and be free. It’s also pretty exciting wondering whether or not you’ll get caught. What’s going to happen if somebody sees us, their eyes are going to melt? Ha ha, blinded by the beauty! Modesty is respect for your body, not being ashamed of it. I think more natural and normal nudity would be a very good thing for society. Seeing normal people naked, like my dad when I was a kid, or my friends in high school, my husband, even the men peeing in the street on my mission has never been a bad thing. In fact I feel lucky to have been influenced by so many people that are comfortable with their bodies. And it has had a very positive impact on my confidence in my own body. There’s a reason so much art is of nudes, because the human body is beautiful!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Explicitness is not the issue. Here's why.

(With some help from Naomi Wolf.)

Let me preface this by saying I have been thinking about this post all week and realize that in honestly expressing where I stand and how I feel, I will probably alienate persons on both sides of the issue (this seems to happen often these days just by being who I am). 

However, it's a risk I'm willing to take.  I didn't start this blog with the hopes that everyone would love my opinions and thoughts all the time, but with the hope that what I write will open dialogue and get folks thinking and speaking and deciding and problem-solving and changing.

I believe in the importance and benefits of chastity and in modesty (there are conversations to be had about either topic in a completely different post/series of posts).  I believe in the sacred nature of the human body.  

I also have some feelings about nudity and the naked body that sit outside of the conservative Christian mainstream.  I will share them and some pretty powerful quotes but FIRST we (Naomi Wolf and I) need to tell you what "beauty pornography" is.  

"Beauty pornography looks like this: The perfected woman lies prone, pressing down her pelvis.  Her back arches, her mouth is open, her eyes shut, her nipples erect; there is a fine spray of moisture over her golden skin.  The position is female superior; the stage of arousal, the plateau phase just proceeding orgasm.  On the next page, a version of her, mouth open, eyes shut, is about to tongue the pink tip of a lipstick cylinder.  On the page after, another version kneels in the sand on all fours, her buttocks in the air, her face pressed into a towel, mouth open, eyes shut.  The reader is looking through an ordinary women's magazine.  In an ad for Reebok shoes, the woman sees a naked female torso, eyes averted.  In an ad for Lily of France lingerie, she sees a naked female torso, eyes shut; for Opium perfume, a naked woman, back and buttocks bare, falls facedown from the edge of a bed; for Triton showers, a naked woman, back arched, flings her arms upward; for Jogbra sports bra, a naked female torso is cut off at the neck.  In these images, where the face is visible, it is expressionless in a rictus of ecstasy.  The reader understands from them that she will have to look like that if she wants to feel like that."  

Did that last paragraph make you feel uncomfortable?  It should have.  And yet, why would it, seeing as beauty pornography is, quite literally, everywhere?  What Naomi Wolf describes embodies the social cues we absorb about "beautiful" female bodies and female sexuality and you certainly don't need to be a connoisseur of pornography to take in daily an overwhelming diet.  

I love to skinny dip.  I have loved it since I was seven years old and my girlfriend I made while visiting my grandma asked me to go swimming naked with her in her family's pool while no one else was home.  Pools are alright, but mountain lakes are the best!  Especially when it is late at night and the sky is saturated in starlight reflecting perfectly off the black glass your naked body is enveloped in.  Recently on a church camp-out, I took a group of four girls who had never gone before.  One by one they consented.  One 19-year-old girl who months prior swore up and down she would never go gleefully exclaimed once naked and in the water "This is one of the most freeing experiences of my life!"

Yet there's always the frustrating fear of "what if we get caught?"  And worse--what if we get caught and there are children?  (As a public school teacher, the risk of sex-offender status is a pretty good deterrent in broad daylight on trails with heavy traffic.)

And yet I wonder why my naked body in a mountain stream is obscene while one and one's children are bombarded on every side with beauty pornography, with no petitions, and no laws.  So does Naomi Wolf.

"Obscenity law is based in part on the idea that you can avoid what offends you.  But the terms ordinarily used in the pornography debate cannot deal adequately with this issue.  Discussions of obscenity, or nakedness, or community standards do not address the harm done to women by this development: the way in which "beauty" joins pornography conventions in advertising, fashion photography, cable TV, and even comic books to affect women and children.  Men can choose to enter an adult bookstore [or visit pornographic websites]; women and children cannot choose to avoid sexually violent or beauty-pornographic imagery that follows them home.

"Sexual 'explicitness' is not the issue.  We could use a lot more of that, if explicit meant honest and revealing; if there were a full spectrum of erotic images of uncoerced real women and real men in contexts of sexual trust, beauty pornography could theoretically hurt no one.  Defenders of pornography base their position on the idea of freedom of speech, casting pornographic imagery as language.  Using their own argument, something striking emerges about the representation of women's bodies: The representation is heavily censored.  Because we see many versions of the naked Iron Maiden, we are asked to believe that our culture promotes display of female sexuality.  It actually shows almost none.  It censors representations of women's bodies, so that only the official versions or visible.  Rather than seeing images of female desire or that cater to female desire, we see mock-ups of living mannequins, made to contort and grimace, immobilized and uncomfortable under hot lights, professional set-pieces that reveal little about female sexuality.  In the United States and Great Britain, which have no traditions of public nakedness, women rarely--and almost never outside a competitive context--see what other women look like naked; we see only identical humanoid products based loosely on women's bodies."

Thus it is.  Most women have little to no idea what is actually going on underneath the clothing of other women (even those scantily clad).  To quote the brilliant Kate Savage from her entry on this blog, 

"Maybe the best way to finally outlaw real, human, sexual bodies is to replace them with purified simulations. We’ve got our own heavy paper to paste over the indecent materiality of flesh: only ours are printed with porn. Behind that heavy paper, the punishment and shaming of women’s bodies -- of our breasts, our thighs, our asses -- hasn’t let up, in all these centuries, for a second."

This conversation is only getting started, but let me share an experience I have had on several occasions that I wish I could give to every woman in my life.  

I love to run and I LOVE to run relay races.  I ran my first Hood to Coast this year, and I've run two Ragnar races.  Look 'em up.  All-through-the-night, three legs per runner, twelve people, 200 miles, two sweaty vans filled with six sweaty humans each.  Looking for a shower?  The course provides several high school locker rooms where you can strip down and join the other thirty (plus) naked ladies under your own stream of hot water as dirt trickles off your body and races to the drain while steam and conversation fills the room.

Naked bodies, and lots of them.  This, THIS is diversity.  I had no idea that breasts and nipples came in so many different shapes and sizes and colors.  Some bodies are bigger than mine, some are smaller.

Short, tall, squatty, lithe, pears, apples, carrots, hourglasses, women!  

Scars, cellulite, stretchmarks, muscles, bones, skin, hair, lungs and hearts beating blood circulating women talking, laughing, living, thriving.  

How healing it is to see real naked bodies.  They are, in my opinion, the only balm for the deep scars beauty pornography has left in our minds and hearts about bodies.  Our bodies.  Why are we so afraid?

Women--imagine for a moment how your life would be different if advertisements were replaced by real-life, first-person experiences with real, naked, female bodies.

Imagine if on your 14th birthday you were taken to the bath-house with your mother, your grandmothers, your aunts, your sisters, and all of your female role-models.  Imagine that you all sat with only a towel between you and the wood, in the steam and the heat, no posturing or posing, only soft bellies and thighs pressed down taking up delicious space.  Imagine being surrounded by naked, real women.  Imagine that these women only spoke well of their own bodies--praising them for their capacities, strength, miraculous feats, stories, and all that they are. You were encouraged to look, to ask questions--about bodies, about menstruation, ovulation, the complexities of sex and love.  Imagine you were encouraged to be confident, respectful, and never ashamed of your body.  Imagine the woman you respected most stood before you bare, in all of her flaws, looked at you boldly in the eyes and told you emphatically that she was in love with her body.

How would you be different today?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

[insert idiom about reviving this blog]

This blog which began in the spring of 2012 was chugging along nicely until yours truly (my name is Dana if we haven't met.  I guess I sorta started this thing?  Hi there!) let her professional duties (oh you know putting on a full-fledged high school musical production.  If that doesn't sound too time-consuming, let's talk,) completely overwhelm her.  Everything that wasn't absolutely essential (food, sleep, running) went to pot.  Sadly, that included this blog.

In the months between then and now, I have received private messages and emails from quite a few of you asking what happened to this blog, and expressing a desire for it's return.  After months of emotionally and mentally wrestling with what to do with and about this blog, we are ready for its return.  My friend (and fellow moderator) Austin and I have decided the time is now.  

With that being said, please understand this blog exists because of submissions from readers like you!  We need your thoughts, experiences, feelings, and words on these topics.  

So let's get this ball rolling!  Let's get this show on the road!  Let's do this!  Vamanos!  Давайте!

The first topic (of MANY) we'd like to cover is nudity.

As a woman with many, regular, and varied locker room and skinny-dipping experiences, I am of the mindset that we in America don't see enough REAL nudity.  Our experience with what real human bodies (not airbrushed/photo-shopped/well-lit) look like underneath clothing is very limited.  What are your thoughts on this?  What has been your experience with nudity (whether of the same or opposite gender--whether your own or the nudity of others)?  Share one with us.  Do you feel uncomfortable about it?  Why?  Why not?  How does that word make you feel?  Nudity.  What is it like to look at your naked, relaxed body?  Do you wish this experience was any different?  How has it developed over time?  What influence does media have on the way you experience naked bodies, especially your own?  What scares you about the body?  What excites you?  

Submit your responses to dana.rose.fleming@gmail.com

We will begin posting next Monday.  You can expect a post every Monday and Wednesday with a "Weekly Body Roundup" on Friday.  The weekly roundup will include articles, blog posts, pictures, etc. that we found relevant to this blog from around the interwebz and which will hopefully prove interesting, inspiring, insightful to you!  

As a reminder, we are always accepting submissions on any topic regarding the body in general.

Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back!