Empowerment, ownership and naked women

Unpacking ingrained societal myths around women's nudity

Okay huns let’s talk about female nudity.

The female body is a battleground for ownership. A woman’s body is assumed to be someone else’s or for someone else before it’s seen as her own. 

If a woman removes her clothes, do you see it as a declaration that she is comfortable with herself? Or do you label her as being insecure, or needing validation? Or do you see a woman’s body and immediately view it sexually? If a woman bears all, is she devalued? 

Being naked is, in and of itself, about being fully comfortable within one’s skin. It is about taking ownership of your own body. Or at least, it fucking should be. And the reason it’s not, especially for women, is because of internalized misogyny dictated to us by centuries of society stripping women of their body autonomy. 

The historical suppression of women has created a myth when a woman takes her clothes off, it must be for a man. For sex, for children, for something other than herself. The patriarchy has reduced women’s bodies to vessels. Vessels for men’s sexual desires and vessels for their offspring. 

The patriarchy has also taught us that it is demoralizing for a woman to be naked. If we cannot see a woman naked without viewing her sexually, we are internalizing the patriarchy. Anytime someone shames a woman for showing her body, whether it’s online or in a magazine or having a leaked nude, they are reducing women’s capacity for their own sexual expression and their own body autonomy.

Religious conservatism is deeply guilty in this reduction of women. Religion tells us that women’s bodies are for the function of child bearing and child rearing. Women’s sexuality is denounced by religion; it decrees that women who are sexual are whores, and urges women to be saintly virgins. It is the foundation for the patriarchal Madonna-Whore dichotomy, which classifies women as either good and virtuous and chaste or bad and promiscuous. This binary is absolutely applied to women who show their bodies for their own enjoyment, not for men, nor for anyone. The simple act of being naked has been made to feel as it if demeans a woman and takes away her value. That if you see more of a woman, that the less she is worth. Women are told they can’t be taken seriously if they show skin.

If your attitude towards me changes based off of what I’m wearing, that’s a problem. Specifically, it’s your problem. 

Think about catcalling. If a woman has less on, does she deserve to be called at? No. Consider one of the most pertinent rape myths, the idea that what a woman was wearing makes her responsible for her own raping. Any time someone asks, but what was she wearing?, we reduce the value of women based off the amount of skin they’re showing. 

Another myth about nakedness is that it’s inherently sexual. Naked bodies aren’t inherently sexual - the gaze is sexual. Really think about that. To say that a naked body is explicitly sexual is another myth dictated to us that intertwines with patriarchal control over women’s bodies as well as rape culture. It tells us that if you see a body, it’s for sex, and therefor complicit in sexual acts whether consent occurred or not. And saying that a woman’s body should only be seen for sex is exactly the problem we’ve been talking about - it diminishes women’s bodies to be for others. 

A great example of how being naked is not inherently sexual can be found in coed naked saunas. Have you ever been? It’s so not sexy. It’s one of the least sexy places on earth. I’ve been to several co-ed ones, especially in Germany. Men and women all naked. And never has it transcended into one massive, hot orgy. The only thing steamy about that sauna was the literal goddamn steam.

We need to normalize seeing bodies in non-sexual gazes and rid ourselves of internalized misogyny around women’s bodies. If the only time you see bodies is in the throws of sex — or in porn — your association with nudity will probably be inherently sexual. This is from years of learning that we need to undo. 

So much of what we believe was driven into us by culture. Our culture and the shame we place around nudity and bodies has created the mindset in which we view our own nakedness. Remove the stigma, shame, and forced sexualization, and you realize it’s just bodies. 

Centuries of the constant sexualization of the female form has led people to wonder if it’s possible for a woman to be empowered by being naked. But thinking about nudity in that way, that it must be for someone else, is stripping yourself of body autonomy. Being comfortable in your skin is not for a performance for another, it’s about literally being comfortable yourself. Women are told through culture, through religion, through politics (hello abortion rights) to see our bodies through a reflection in someone else’s gaze. To see ourselves mirrored through how someone else sees us, rather than to focus on how we see ourselves. That’s so fucked up. 

Women’s bodies are not just in existence for others to devour, physically or visually. They’re our bodies individually, not a collective entity. 

Being naked is empowering. It’s a declaration that this body is yours alone and you’re goddamn proud of it. 

Here are some questions for you to reflect on: 

  • What do you think the female body is for? 

  • Do you see nudity as being inherently sexual? 

  • Do you devalue women (IRL or celebrity) if you see them naked? 

  • Are you okay seeing some women naked but not others? (IE based on their age, race, gender, socioeconomic class) 

  • When were the last ten times you saw someone else naked? 

  • Have you ever been judged or shamed for degrees of nudity? 

  • When’s the last time you were naked? 

  • Are you comfortable being naked? 

  • One step further, are you empowered being naked?