Nudity vs. Nakedness

I've had this title written down in my little black book of ideas for almost two years. I had no idea what the story was, or even if there was one, but I was curious to find out. Though the two words, nudity and nakedness, are considered synonyms of one another they have always felt a tad bit different to me. I could never put a finger on why one sounded almost robotic while the other sounded invasive, vulnerable even as if to say using that adjective was supposed to redden my gloriously melanated cheeks. I could never quite put my finger on why those two words never truly felt equal to me but then luckily Prof. Google is at my fingertips so, I went to typing and clicking.

"To be naked" as described by one of the best male art critic ever, John Berger, “is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself. A nude has to be seen as an object in order to be a nude.” Ten minutes after reading Berger's explanation of the two words I couldn't stop playing with the two words in my head. I kept interchanging the adjectives in sentences just to get a sense of how they felt to me and how they changed my perception of the subject. The more I pondered on the words, the more I got held up on how nudity and nakedness play in different context.

Nudity and nakedness do not just apply to the human body but also to our interactions with one another and the conversations we have. 

I began to question how and what made anything naked or clothed, to start with? And how that has evolved over time and manifested in different societies, all over the world, at different phases of their history. The more you think about it, the more it becomes evident how malleable our perception of the human body is and what socially accepted adornment looks like. Just look around you at the people next to you; their personal level of comfort when it comes to showing skin; look at the different cultures you are exposed to and the body parts they are okay with baring ( as well as the context in which that is acceptable); then look at different religions and their doctrine on clothing. You realize that nudity ultimately is whatever a group of people say it is. But to be naked carries a different connotation because it does not only strip a body of its covering but exposes the truth about the body. You see glimpses of what's underneath, and that's what we connect with.

You see this even in art/photography/fashion etc. An artist can paint a wrist that evokes a visceral reaction from its viewers, and on the other hand, a painting of a naked woman birthing could fail to conjure any such emotions. That's because the wrist is naked and the woman and the action she's undertaking are merely nude.  They are devoid of the human element that makes a woman's body and birthing sacred therefore it doesn't resonate past the artists provocative subject matter.

The difference between nudity and nakedness has never been more evident than in our society today. Instagram (and most social media), advertisement and almost everything we see today have become a gallery of nude bodies, nude achievements and nude conversations. I mean this in both the sense of the display of sparsely dressed bodies we have become accustomed to as well as the unapproachable and impermeable nature of the people we see online. These people -though we subconsciously know are human with human emotions, struggles, hopes, and dreams- become statuesque. The flawless pictures and constant achievements that we are eager to share with the world take away from what makes us us. And takes away our ability to be naked (both figuratively and literally).

Nudity and nakedness do not just apply to the human body but also to our interactions with one another and the conversations we have. And just as we have allowed the impersonal, shallow nature of nudity to flood our cultures and industries, it has also taken over our human interactions and communications. We have become a race of nude bodies, nude art, and nude conversations all because we fear to be ourselves (naked). We have become professionals at stripping those few layers that allow us to deceive our audience into thinking we are being honest and naked while in fact, we are hiding our very essence, the very same thing that separates nudity from nakedness.

So, the standing question- as it always is- is why bother? I wish I had the eloquence and knowledge to answer that. All I know is I would rather be clothed and screened off visibly than to be void of that clothing yet not be recognized as myself and for my humanity. Because it is when we separate a body from the person within that we allow and justify atrocities to be committed.


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