The Emperor’s New Thought


When it comes to the subject of sex, my beliefs tend to fall on the conservative side – a random mix of Asian attitudes combined with a “brief” flirtation with religion. I also believe that I’m living in a highly sexualised Western form of society1, hence I often find myself at odds with liberalists in the circles that I frequent, who reckon things are about right or could even be less restrictive.

That’s why I’m surprised at the conclusion I reached while thinking about the “recent” hoo-ha in the media around body image issues, which is: our society needs more nudity. To recap, or for those of you who weren’t paying attention, here are a couple of events that lit up blogs, discussion forums, talk-back radio shows, letters-to-the-editor pages and wherever else a person can get a word in edgewise (probably not a good idea to click the links if you’re at work):

Prior to this *ahem* revelation, I’d been thinking about being unable to come to terms with my mortality2, and how as a society we hide death. Dead animals are swept away. Thrown out. Disposed of. Dead humans are packaged up and buried in specially designated areas. With the exception of the odd friend or relative passing away, our society systematically sanitises every indication that we’re all racing towards the grave.

In a different-but-same kind of way, I think this is what’s happening with our less-than-perfect bodies. Society strives to hide them away like Adam and Eve covering themselves upon discovering the shame of their nakedness. It’s becoming increasingly rare to see what a “normal” naked person looks like – or more precisely, the full spectrum of shapes and sizes that human beings come in as opposed to the parade of evil 666 clones: six-foot tall, size six (women), and six-packs (men). Against this tide of beauty served up by the media, yada yada yada, body image and nakedness have now become unequivocally equated with sex.

BreastfeedingThe culture I see around me now now is such that breast-feeding is an act considered so sexually provocative that people clamour to censor it from the public eye, lest a minor (God forbid!) accidentally catch a glimpse of the side of a boob3. And those who choose to practice public nudity are treated as if they’re handing out invitations to perverts and paedophiles.

As a conservative, I used to think that the solution to the problem was to rage at the media and tell them to cease-and-desist with their barrage of soft-core pornography, but now in light of the above I’m thinking that it will only serve to exacerbate the problem. A better solution might be to redress the imbalance of body types by encouraging works that display our humanity in all its glory – literally.

Not that I know how to appreciate art, but I can honestly say that there are some artists whose works I previously would have deplored, but can now entertain a kind of begrudging respect for (again, not safe for work):

It’s easy to dismiss these as pornography purely because their primary purpose is to depict nudity, but stripped of eroticism – particular Friedler’s books where individuals are displayed clothed and unclothed in side-by-side shots to show the contrast between the two – doesn’t the fault really lie with the viewer if sexual stimulation is the primary response? We must retrain our minds to appreciate the human form for purposes other than sex.


And finally, a few random pieces of information that I wasn’t able to work into the above piece, but which I think are still worth mentioning:

  • It’s backed by Science! In an SBS program called “What’s the problem with nudity?” scientists concluded that being clothed helps prevent promiscuity while bringing up children. The problem that I see here is that the assumption nakedness = sexiness is already baked into the experiment a-priori. What about those primitive tribes where the people wear very little clothing, and the women go around topless?
  • Artistic nudes – paintings, statues and other works of art featuring nudity practically have a category of their own. How did the people of those times (say, the renaissance period) treat nudes? Was it the equivalent of pornography in their age, or were they able to appreciate the human form objectively because their society wasn’t affected by hyper-sexualisation?


Epic footnotes!

  1. That is, on any reasonable day, you will encounter sexually suggestive material regardless of whether you wanted to see it or not.
  2. Read: I’ve always been scared shitless about dying. If you want to correlate this with my recent religious conversion: You’re wrong. Go away.
  3. I will not entertain the possibility that some think that breast-feeding is too disgusting to be seen in public. Might as well say that people should always dine in private – the way some people eat is infinitely more disturbing than seeing a mother discreetly feeding her baby.