Harry: What's with the turtlenecks? I mean it's the middle of summer.
Erica: Well I guess I'm just a turtleneck kind of gal.
Harry: You never get hot?
Erica: Not lately.[/quote]
---Something’s Gotta Give
Americans are prudes. Or, perhaps more accurately, a collection of “promiscuous prudes,” constantly contradicting ourselves. We are a nation with a complex and nuanced relationship with sexuality and nudity. Many feel ill at ease with their own bodies, particularly its exposure in public. (Hence the horror of having the TSA undress us with their X-ray eyes -- a cringe-inducing procedure that will finally stop after years of complaints, as they will now only use a generic image of a person’s body, rather than the traveler’s scanned body.)
It’s not only our own bodies we don’t want exposed -- most of us also don’t want to see others bare it all. Why?
Holly Van Voast has been arrested over ten times for completely legal topless behavior (fun fact: toplessness is legal for both men and women in New York City), was involuntarily hospitalized three times for being topless in public, and even disrobed in court.
This controversial streaker gave Sociology of Style her unique take on nudity: Rather than a nudist or activist, she prefers to think of herself as a “realist” -- for Holly, nudity is reality. “People...don't encounter nudity enough to ever have to think about it. That's why I call what people have ‘topless shock syndrome.’” (She even made a film with the same name, documenting the public reactions to her toplessness.)
Historically speaking, nudity should be in our comfort zone: For most of human existence, we lived in communal nudity, until humans began wearing clothes around 170,000 years ago (data surprisingly revealed by the link between clothing and lice). So as our bodies evolved, how have our psyches changed? Aside from weather-related, practical considerations, our reasons for covering up include everything from modesty to shame, and our reasons for taking it off range from shock to liberating expression (which can be both literal and digital).
Taking off clothing is more than mere disrobing. It also strips us of the visible markers of social categorization that guide our everyday interactions. In many ways, nudity is the great social leveler. Without sartorial wrappings, it is more difficult to ascertain personal affiliations and other socio-economic indicators. Instead, we stare at raw flesh. With no draping or cinching to accentuate or diminish, the naked body is a singular representation of itself -- a unique combination of genetics and a lifetime of laboring on the body.
Is there a happy medium between city streaking and donning a turtleneck all year long? Here are some tips to help you explore your inner nudist:
2. Recreational nudism is becoming socially accepted and popularized. Get in on the naked action with some group activities: attend a naked painting party or join the “Outdoor Co-Ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society,” a group dedicated to “al fresco reading,” as they refer to it.
3. Ready to really strip down? Find nude resorts, clubs, and nudist friendly communities or check out a local nude beach, like Sandy Hook’s Gunnison Beach, whose community is committed to “naturist recreation” (and takes nude beach etiquette very seriously).