June 24, 2009
Into the Light
All spring semester, as the Friendly Green Conference was approaching, my friends were exchanging emails to coordinate our conference plans. “Which field trip did you sign up for?” and “Who are you rooming with?” and most importantly, “Whose turn is it to pose naked for jo(e)?”
Blogger Who Got Naked for Me the First Time We Met and Who Has the Word Leash in the Title of Her New Book argued persuasively that we needed more male models.
It’s true that few of my male friends have posed for the blog. Oh, they like to TALK about getting naked, and they joke with me about the naked photo project, but when it comes right down to it, they somehow never get around to stripping their clothes off.
It’s an interesting gender pattern I’ve noticed so far in the conversations about this project. When women hear that I’m taking naked photos, they will jump quickly from the usual jokes into serious discussion about their bodies: we talk about cultural taboos in the communities we grew up in, the effect of religion on body image, the way that our consumer culture promotes body hatred, and the way we have come to terms with our bodies as we get older. Even when I don’t have my camera with me, just talking about nude photos leads to discussions that get intimate after about half a sentence. Women I’ve never met before will approach me and share heart-wrenching stories.
The pattern with men has been different. The idea of getting naked usually leads to a whole lot of jokes. Sometimes we get into deep conversations, but the discussion tends to be very intellectual – quoting studies and scientific data – rather than a sharing of personal feelings and history. If we talk long enough and I push hard enough, an individual man might turn and say something to me that just gives me a glimpse into how he feels about his body, but it’s a sentence or two, just a quick statement, an aside to just me and not the whole group. For the most part, I’ve been discussing this project with men and women over the age of 35 so I’m curious as to whether I’d find this same gender difference with the younger generation, who have presumably been socialized differently.
Interestingly, the age of the model – male or female – seems to influence how comfortable a person is with posing naked. You’d think, by Hollywood standards, that the young grad students at the conference, with their toned youthful bodies, would be the quickest to strip their clothes off for the camera. But no. It’s actually the opposite. The older the person, the more likely he or she will take her clothes off.
That’s perhaps the most promising thing I’ve noticed so far. The older we get, the more comfortable we get with our bodies. This idea completely defies the premise of the fashion industry, the cosmetic industry, and pretty much every television commercial or magazine advertisement I’ve ever seen. When it comes to our bodies, older is better. Being comfortable with our bodies comes with experience. “It makes sense,” said Conference Friend Who Doesn’t Have a Pseudonym Yet when we were discussing this issue. “The more books you read, the more hikes you take, the more sex you have – it’s all good.”
The photo for this post took all of two minutes to take. Jempé, who chose his own pseudonym and who is far older than he looks in this photo, agreed to pose naked for me only minutes after Blogger From Maine introduced us. Without hesitation, he stripped off his clothes and stepped into the light of a staircase while I snapped the photo. Later, when I saw him (fully clothed) at a plenary session, he came over to hand me his card and suggest a title for the post. For the rest of the conference, I kept pointing him out to my male friends as a role model to follow.
(Readers who want to know the history of the naked photo tradition can check it out here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.)
Posted by jo(e)