We cry out that photoshop and media are responsible for the rising climate of self-hate and body dysmorphia and malcontent, but we overlook society’s role in this trend that is sweeping the nation. We are a society focused on body shaming. We have become so ashamed of our own humanity as a society that artistic renderings old and new, and even breast feeding mothers have become subjected to relentless censorship, targets of hate and public ridicule. Those things that make us intrinsically human, anatomically, physiologically, spiritually all start and end with our human form, our naked body.
By enabling our culture to perpetuate a climate that encourages self-depreciation, denial and shame we are feeding and fostering a culture of hate: of the self, of humanity, of each other. Too many are held hostage by false piety and necrotic self-loathing that is fed and nurtured by a censorship controlled society. As we are bred and raised with these burdens of shame, we are restricted and controlled by fears of job, family, and religious repercussions from our peers for violating such boundaries. The frustration that is engendered in each victim of this social disregard of the self spreads like a virus as the repressed who are forced to deny their humanity feel then compelled to impose these baseless limitations on others. We begin to see a domino effect not only encouraging superficiality but discouraging authenticity and self-acceptance.
How does it come about that we begin to perceive the human anatomy that we all share as abhorrent and obscene? How does perception of the human form become so restricted in its context for potential beauty, normalcy, respect, and gratitude? Regardless of race, color, stature, physical ability, age, or belief we all share something as part of the human race. We are all experiencing this opportunity call life through a physical human body.
It is my personal stance that no part of the human body is obscene, which is not to say that a portrayal or circumstance cannot be in bad taste due to the lack of respect for oneself or others' humanity and body. Often times religious ideologies are referenced as a basis for encouraging hiding one's’ body. Religion as an argument against artistic nudity is the most immediately confusing argument for me as an artist and as someone coming from a very religious family (who does not agree with these sentiments by the way).
Regardless of your Christian, religious or non religious orientation, we all know the story of creation, Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. Often times it is pointed out that Adam and Eve felt shame and covered their nudity and this has been used to corroborate the import of concealing our bodies, but this interpretation of the scripture completely neglects the context of the story. Adam and Eve clothed themselves and felt shame only after they disobeyed God and ate from the tree of good and evil. God was saddened to find that they had covered themselves, that they were ashamed at what he created in his own image as good and miraculous. The sin here was not that they were naked, but that they were ashamed of their nakedness.
How can you claim to believe in a miraculous, omnipotent God and be ashamed of what scripture says was His greatest work made in His Own image, and was Good. What do you think God’s stance is on seeing his children shame each other and nurture hate of his creation and the miracles of feeling, and functioning, and expression and living as humanity was designed to do?
Adolescence is particularly hard in our society because all of our maturing and development have been instilled in us as a product of sin, an ever evolving thing to hide and deny and run from in hopes of obtaining salvation and social acceptance through personal denials. Too often we hope to feel separated from our physical form as for the sake of misguided religious guidelines instead of showing gratitude and living fully in the vessel we are blessed with.
Over various cultures and time periods various things have been considered obscene, from ankles to faces, nipples to direct eye contact. Many of the proponents for modern day censorship may guffaw at censoring some of the later, but are adamant that exposure of the female nipple is obscene. Men have been able to bare their chests in American society unhindered for centuries, but for some reason the female nipple is still obscene? The only real difference between the two, male vs female, other than the organ between their legs, is adipose tissue and the potential to lactate. I am confused and disheartened that we encourage and celebrate imagery of women in lingerie with push up bras and excess makeup in provocative poses, blatantly objectified and oversexualized with no artistic merit, but insist on forcing censorship on fine art nudes and classical paintings and, yes, even on breastfeeding mothers. I am disheartened that I know that the children growing up with these ideals will grow to hate their bodies instead of embracing them and the wonderful miracle of expression, action, and creation that they possess and are.
I am an artist, a model, a mother, a wife, a friend, but most of all I am a human being just like anyone taking the time to read this article. I have the unique opportunity to have friends, family, and an occupation that support and accommodate my non-conventional pursuit of art and the conviction and abandon with which I embrace humanity in myself and others, but it was not always that case. I grew up in a fervently religious household. I have always had an affinity for art, and when I began to dote on famous paintings and fine art nudes it was to my family’s dismay. The statue of Michelangelo's David while it captured my imagination and awe of art and human potential was considered obscene in my household as would have been any art nude. As I began to pursue mimicking such artistry through drawing and painting, trying to learn the naked human form and the beauty and movement I saw in these pieces from throughout the ages, it was met with stark disapproval by my family and colored as porn. These were the days before the internet was commonplace so I would spend hours at the library pouring over art Encyclopedias. I continued to move forward and view the work with awe and respect but it was always tinged with guilt because of the context that I was raised in.
I was a victim of abuse in my youth as well, which coupled with my zealously religious upbringing spelt disaster as I began to mature. We are taught to fear and hate our bodies frequently in religious communities, whether or not with intent, and I believe that is a dangerous lesson to instill in our youth and one that can cripple their potential, their happiness, and their base wellbeing. I went through many years of self loathing and fear of myself and my humanity. This unhealthy but very common thought process alienates you from the self, you become detached and the feeling is that of being trapped within your skin. If you think that my story sounds unique, I am saddened to say that it is far from it. I went through years of very damaging self destructive behaviors fighting my own humanity relentlessly and becoming sicker and sicker in every context. Over the years I subjected myself to cutting behaviors, anorexia and bulimia nervosa, among other destructive patterns. It was only through hitting “rock bottom” and quite literally after many close calls being ready to die, that I finally made a conscious decision to come back to life and to fight to experience authentically whatever my life and body had in store for me to experience, and to seek out my own potential. I was finally ready to own who and what I was as a unique being regardless of societal stigma and expectation. I was fortunate, some people never arrive at that point of liberation regardless of how much they suffer.
The same line of thinking that forces the mass public censorship of art enforces the devastating trend of victim blaming regarding sexual abuse. By proclaiming that our anatomy is for sexual invitation only robs us of our every potential as human beings and individuals and allows shame to dictate that should we be violated we must have somehow invited the attack. This line of thinking supports the devastating idea that our bodies are tools to be used by anyone other than ourselves, they are confirmed and simplified into something objectified. Our society protects and perpetuates this sickness that debases each and every one of us, but to take possession of your body and use it as a tool of expression and art will immediately label you as deviant and obscene. And the repercussions are very real.
Embracing my own body and those of others was essential to becoming well and whole, flourishing and growing. I am not the only one. The number of beautiful, misguided, troubled souls that I have encountered over the years that reflected my own story are too numerous to even attempt to recount here. Whether becoming a part of art through modeling, painting, sketching, photography, digital artistry or viewing the beauty and empathizing with the art rendered by someone else I have been blessed to see the domino effect of beauty and healing that art can leave in its wake.
I do not understand the stigma of shame surrounding nudity. We all have the same parts, we are all human, and what better way to communicate not only our uniqueness but our oneness than through symbolic expression implementing the nude form as art has done since the beginning of time? Our disregard of the human experience is breeding a nation of suffering suppressed individuals petrified to be authentic. It seems a sad truth that we are not permitted to be whole beings in this corrupted modern society. We are encouraged to hide behind makeup, clothing, labels, and false smiles regardless of our personal truths or potentials, fit into social molds and norms and comply with baseless standards of behavior. We are discouraged from thinking for ourselves or disagreeing with the societal norm regardless of logic or reason. We are encouraged to be silent. We are encouraged to hide, and there can be no joy or growth or love or connection in a society that does not allow for an acknowledged self.
This trend of dehumanizing society reaches much further than the censorship of artistic nudity. We are conditioned to restrict our emotions, our ideas, our goals. Anything and everything at the core of our humanity is potentially subject to this modern propensity to be labeled obscene and censored accordingly; whether our lust, our curiosity our melancholy or ideals. We live in fear of our humanity, we live in fear of experience and thought, we live in fear of our identities.
My husband says, "its just Facebook, hunny", but it is not just Facebook. This is the society that we live in. This is the climate of judgement and shame that you take on when you venture into the non commercial pursuit of art. This is just a small fraction of the battle you join when you decide to draw, paint or photograph the art nude, when you decide to take a figure drawing class or share an image of the classics, or breastfeed in public. This is the climate of shame that we as artists fight and can't understand. This is why we hide our humanity. I do not engage in the creation of art involving the human form in every facet of my life to shock you, to offend you, or to arouse some base lust that we as a society are apparently not only afraid and ashamed of but at the mercy of. I create such art to convey and share and relate human beauty and experience, to show my fellow man a new way of seeing something, myself, us all.