The movie Titanic burst into theatres when I was 10 years old. I remember seeing the trailer and realizing that it would be opening during my Christmas break. The music, the costumes, the romance -- it looked like an incredible story to watch.
When I got back to school after the new year began, my fifth grade teacher asked the class if we had gone to see this epic tale. Each hand was raised but mine. Why? My parents wouldn't let me watch it. It wasn't because of the abusive relationship that our protagonist, Rose, had to suffer through with her fiancé; it wasn't because the horror of a sinking ship would give me nightmares; it was because of the famous scene in which Jack draws Rose wearing only a necklace.
For years, I didn't understand the logic. Was I, as a 10-year-old, going to run around town, asking men to draw me naked? No, I could barely muster up the courage to say "hi" to the boy who sat next to me in class! So why wasn't I allowed to see a woman's partially nude body? I was about to grow into a woman myself.
I revisited that moment recently, when I contacted a popular blogger about advertising. She thanked me for my interest, but said that "due to my blog's readership, I'm afraid we would not make a good match." I wanted to know exactly what she meant because I'm always looking for more feedback about my blog. She explained: "I do have some younger readers. And though there are parts of your blog that I do love, I would not be able to promote a blog that contains any form of nudity." She was referring to this post, in which I featured photos of Kim Kardashian wearing nothing but silver body paint.
I wasn't offended, of course. It's her blog, and she can do whatever she wants! I respect that. I also love that she took the time to research potential advertisers (Elle Enchanted discusses the importance of that here). But it got me thinking, and as the wheels turned in my head, an entire list of questions and topics began to form: Nudity in movies. Nudity in fashion. Nudity in advertising. Nudity in fashion advertising! What's right? What's wrong? When does it make sense to include nakedness? Why does it matter? How do other countries portray the naked woman? What about other time periods!?
I had to stop myself. Between the lines, I realized, was one big question that I was dying to ask: At what age is it okay for a woman to see another woman's nude body and in what context?
Let's go back to the aforementioned example. Would my parents have let me see the movie if I was 15? I thought about this, and decided that who would know better than my parents themselves? I called them up and had them put the phone on speaker so I could ask both of them.
Me: Remember when you wouldn't let me see Titanic?
Them: Because of the nudity.
Me: But why?
Them: Because we didn't want to normalize teenage sex.
Bingo! A sexual context. It was all coming together. It wasn't that they didn't want me to see the nakedness; it was more than that, and my age wasn't exactly the issue. My parents were doing their job -- as parents -- to protect, teach and discipline me, as much as I hated it. They were simply raising me the way they believed they should. My mom couldn't help but remind me that I'd probably seen her boobs a time or two (thanks for that). But, in all seriousness, I'd also been to museums and, hell, I went to Europe when I was six and saw all kinds of naked sculptures. Those were art; this wasn't (at least to them, but what's art and what's not is another topic altogether).
From what I've seen in my life thus far, society shows the nude woman to be sexy or dirty (sometimes both). How is it possible for us, in the world we live in, to perceive nakedness as purely beautiful? It's either sexualized and lusted after or portrayed as immoral and shunned. How does anyone expect the low rate of female self-esteem to improve if we don't know how we're supposed to look at our own bodies? Check out these alarming statistics:
75% of teenage girls felt "depressed, guilty and shameful" after spending just three minutes leafing through a fashion magazine.
70% of girls ages 15 to 17 avoid normal daily activities such as attending school, going to the doctor, or even giving their opinion "due to feeling badly about one’s looks."
Only 2% of women describe themselves as "beautiful."
We may not be able to change society as a whole, but we can change the way that we react to it. I urge you to not only accept your naked self, but adore it. I'm not saying we should all form a nudist colony, but I want you to feel comfortable in your own skin, whether or not it's hidden.
And for the record, I did eventually see Titanic.
PS: I've been asked if that's me in the last photo -- I would never post nude pictures of myself on the internet! As much as I want us to love our bodies, I'm not encouraging that level of openness. She is an incredible model named Crystal Renn. Click on the photos for their respective sources.