The Art of Mystery: Concealing, Revealing, and the Half-Clothed Body

revealing leg

[quote]The body never lies.[/quote]
- Martha Graham

Mystery, or the unknown, has always had a certain sex appeal. Secrets are intriguing -- especially when they involve our bodies. They leave us wanting to know (and see) more.  Being “sexy” is as much about strategically concealing the body as it is about revealing flesh.  To leave something to the imagination builds suspense -- and desire.

Clothes have the power to shift focus and attention to different erogenous zones. Cosmopolitan polled men on their opinions of the sexiest bare body part on a woman, and the answers revealed that most men seemed to prefer to see bits and pieces and to “leave the rest to imagination.” Their top answers included shoulders and collarbones, backs, legs and cleavage. Even a partially shrouded face can be a point of sensual intrigue.  (And, in case you’re wondering: abs, biceps, chest, and butt are what women notice on their men.)

The performance of revealing the body has a long history.  Since the days of the Moulin Rouge in Paris, the art of burlesque and peep shows have taken a different turn. What was once considered a forbidden temple of dance and pleasure, is now a fashionable tourist attraction. Much like the scantily clad women of the time, the musical hall shed its image as a brothel and became a place of extravagant cabaret shows that attract high-class clientele. Historically, burlesque was a place where wealthy businessmen could relax, drink, and peek at the legs of beautiful young women (a part of the body which was often covered at the time), but much like the present-day definition of sexy, it is the tease, the fact that you are only allowed a sliver of leg or a glimpse of the shoulder, that keeps them coming back. And it’s not just the women that are on display these days.  (Thank you, Magic Mike. No, really. Thank you.)

Full nudity, on the other hand, is seen as more as personal expression and a call to “naturalism.” Nudism and naturism involve the promotion of nudity and nude social activities in a non-sexual way. The personal choice to be naked, according to the Nudist Manifesto, is used as a form of activism to promote a healthy body image and connect with the world and others in the most natural way possible. Nude beaches and resorts, for example, facilitate this mindset. In these settings, being nude is not for erotic purposes, but rather serves as a liberating outlet for expression.

John Berger, in Ways of Seeing, differentiates between nakedness and nudity.  For him, nakedness means to appear without disguise, whereas nudity is the body objectified and on display.  He goes so far as to categorize nudity as a form of dress.  If you’ve ever see a striptease, you know what he’s talking about.

Here are some tips to help you work that body and master the art of mystery:

  • Identify your most appealing body parts and learn how to highlight them using clothing.   Focus on one area of the body at a time (the part you feel most confident about). If you’re showing a lot of leg, cover up on top. If your dress is backless, consider a longer hemline or long-sleeves. Leave some things to the imagination. Skin-tight + cleavage + sheer = Way. Too. Much. (And where’s the mystery in that?!)
  • Learn how to mix the sass with class with Time Out New York’s list of the hottest burlesque clubs in New York City.
  • Leave it to Cosmopolitan to teach us how to look better naked.