The Naked Truth

Confused as to why you decided to get naked in Market Square last night? IZZY PRITCHARD gets to the bottom of the vogue for stripping off.

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This week I went to a life drawing class.

This event in itself is far from spectacular or even article worthy. But the reactions a naked body elicited got me thinking. My otherwise confident and forthright friend giggled nervously when I told him my plans for the evening. ‘You mean naked people?!’ Granted, as a Nat Sci he lacked much creative capacity. When I suggested he join me his reaction turned from mild embarrassment to downright terror. But why? Why the problem with naked people?

A life drawing class is serious business. Serious expressions, serious hairdos, serious art. The Knitwear Mafia would certainly not approve if I brought an artistically challenged, tittering buffoon to their class. Especially when his visual representation of the model would look more like a deformed hippogriff than anything resembling the female form. I imagine their concentrated faces firing angry glances his way.  To be able to stare at a naked body for two hours without reacting inappropriately seems to have become a defining feature of high culture.

No wonder my friend is confused; his experiences of nudity are decidedly low culture. The topless models of his Nuts magazine, his guilt-free indulgence in The Sun, the drunken debauchery of the rugby club curry. And lets be honest, nakedness is funny. Whether is be getting your tits out for the lads, or your balls out for the…well you know what I mean.

A liberated Lily Cole…

The debagging of a student in the dining hall whilst he is carrying a tray and is incapable of resolving the problem will always illicit uproar and hilarity from watching diners. Surely even the cultured set could not help but find it amusing as the victim dashes across hall for cover. And who hasn’t heard someone tell the holiday story of ‘accidentally’ ending up on the nudist beach. Skinny-dipping feels so liberating because you are breaking the rules, the same reason for which is it so amusing. Something from our childhood tells us that being naked is naughty. It was the central feature of truth-or-dare games. My friend’s nervous sniggers are not without cause.

In the wrong context however, nakedness is highly awkward. Thinking I was safe on the top floor of my house, I left the door open whilst trying on clothes. A slightly bemused (potentially alcoholic) Porter suddenly emerged in my doorway, gawping at my topless self. ‘You look smart!’ he commented to alleviate the awkwardness of the situation. My solution was a bit more immediate – diving into a wardrobe. Embarrassing but highly amusing nevertheless.

But then there are those who find the birthday suit downright offensive. Even the nudity of ‘high art’ can cause consternation. When Justin Hollwell ‘expressed his personality’ on the Trafalgar Square plinth in 2009, it caused a lot of public offence. Even his wife was upset by his nakedness. Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 it is not an offence to be naked in public in England and Wales. It becomes an offence if it can be proved the person stripped off with the intention to cause distress, alarm or outrage. Andrew Welch of the British Naturism movement argues that “Causing upset is definitely not what naturism is about; our challenge is a cultural one. The law is fine, we just need to change people’s attitude to the naked body.”

Is nudity seen as perverse because we are just too focused on the human body as a sexual object? Is it the perversion of society, reflected onto the naked form, which brings such outrage? I’m beginning to think so.

Nudity should obviously have a time and a place. I do not propose you embrace the flasher on the bus, or that you forget the skirt when you head to a lecture. I opt for a middle ground. Somewhere between those of the nose up Renoir’s arse, and my tittering friend who fails to see the difference between a Klimt and Jodie Marsh. Let’s go for an appreciation of breasts without forgetting the funny side of boobies.