June 24, 2009

Into the Light

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.)

32 comments:

Sharon said...

Beautiful picture, he should be proud

Keri said...

Another wonderful naked photo -- the tradition continues!

Sandy said...

I don't know what impresses me more--how physically fit your friends are or how quickly they take their clothes off for you.

Busymomma66 said...

I'm with Sandy.

And now that I'm single again--I want to say thank you (and Jempe) for giving me a little something to think about. lol. jk.

I do find the observations very interesting. Maybe that's why the fashion, and cosmetic industry focuses more on the young--more likely to buy their stuff. Where we know if it ain't severly broken--don't fix it.

Again--glad you are back!

Lorianne said...

Good lord, he's gorgeous! ;-)

Speaking for myself, I find that as I age, my focus is more on how my body FEELS than on how my body LOOKS. So if I'm still able to walk & do the things I like, I don't care so much if I LOOK "thicker" than I used to. It's the same attitude I have toward my car: as long as it runs, it doesn't have to be fancy.

I think younger folks are so inundated by visual images, they automatically compare their own "looks" to those of the models they see. They haven't "lived in" their own bodies long enough to get a sense of their own physical limitations; it's still easy for them to take a working body for granted.

demomo said...

I am sitting at my desk, at work, laughing to myself. I read many blogs. Despite your history of naked pictures, I would never categorize your blog as NSFW. But interestingly, this picture made me immediately scroll down, and look around to see if anyone had noticed!

I am a 37 year old female, extremely obese, and would never pose for a full body nude picture. Although I would consider one of my back, if only to show off my tattoos! :) I don't think that it has much to do with my age, but rather with my image of myself, my idea of what is beautiful, and my Catholic upbringing. There are some things that you can just never shed.

liz said...

I love how you got the play of sunlight on his muscles.

And I think that men have not been socialized to talk about their bodies and how they feel in them, probably for the same reason that they're socialized to not express pain.

bsouth said...

Another great photo to add to your naked portfolio.

I sincerely hope I get more comfortable with my body as I get older (and I'm 37 already so lets hope it happens soon!).

JustMe said...

jo(e) you go to the best conferences!

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I don't know if I would pose naked or not. But that has more to do with my shyness than with my body image. (I'm 38.)

I can't believe you made an ordinary stairwell look interesting!

jo(e) said...


Speaking for myself, I find that as I age, my focus is more on how my body FEELS than on how my body LOOKS. So if I'm still able to walk & do the things I like, I don't care so much if I LOOK "thicker" than I used to. It's the same attitude I have toward my car: as long as it runs, it doesn't have to be fancy.

I think younger folks are so inundated by visual images, they automatically compare their own "looks" to those of the models they see. They haven't "lived in" their own bodies long enough to get a sense of their own physical limitations; it's still easy for them to take a working body for granted.


I like what Lorianne said so much that I'm repeating it here in my comment box.

I've often thought this when talking to people about why I'm not self-conscious about dancing. People (both men and women) often tell me that they don't like to dance in front of other people because they are worried about what they look like. I think the reason I love to dance is because I never stop to think about what it looks like -- I'm always thinking about how good it feels.

jo(e) said...

Demomo: You bring up the kind of issues that most women talk about when we get into these discussions about whether or not we want to pose naked.

How do our bodies compare to the western ideal of what is beautiful? Do we see ourselves as too thin, too fat, too tall, too short, too curvy, not curvy enough? What's amazing is that so often women who look stunningly beautiful to me will say that they are too fat/too thin/too whatever.

Religion is another issue women have talked about -- the ways in which religious rules often shame women about their bodies and sexuality -- or to flip that, can also sometimes empower women to feel good about their bodies.

I'm putting some of this stuff in the comment boxes because I always get so many behind-the-scenes emails about body issues, and I want to bring some of these topics out onto the blog where people can see them.

jo(e) said...

demomo: Oh, I'm also wondering what role tattoos and body art play in this. I don't have a tattoo myself (as readers probably know since I've posted several naked photos of myself) and I've never even had my ears pierced. I admit to feeling like I really don't have an adequate understanding of why someone would get a tattoo and how that might affect their relationship with their body. I've heard some people argue that getting a tattoo can be really empowering -- and other people argue that it's a type of self-mutilation. Both arguments seem valid to me. Perhaps context and intent decide where on that spectrum a tattoo would be?

Queen of West Procrastination said...

Wow, jo(e), you've done a good job both with the picture and with the explanation.

And this is really making me reflect on how I see my own body: it's funny to me that when I read "You’d think, by Hollywood standards, that the young grad students at the conference..." I thought: "Like me!" and then when I read "with their toned youthful bodies" I immediately dismissed it as being not like me. That's really revealing about my perception of my own body.

So, you're doing a good thing for those of us under 35 as well.

Lomagirl said...

What a beautiful body. And as you said, he appears quite youthful. I had to scroll down to see the full image, so I was surprised by how the figure looked younger as I went down.
Thanks Jempe.

Rana said...

I think, to build on Lorianne's comment, that it's not just that younger people are more prone to self-comparing to the ideal bodies presented in the media - it's also an awareness that others will be judging them as well.

Putting one's body up for public comment requires confidence, or a reasonable expectation that the comments will be more positive than negative - and I think most of us younger folk are afraid that this would not be the case.

And men may not talk about it, but men's bodies are judged with increasing harshness these days - if you are not ripped, hairless, and buff, then it's hard to believe that your body would get a positive reaction. Men who are not up to those impossible standards - the fat, the underweight, the hairy - are the subject of jokes, ridicule, and so on - and who wants to expose oneself to that? And, unlike women, most men lack the vocabulary to call out such comments on their bodies - whether mocking or the "hubba hubba" approach - as reducing them to objects.

Men are supposed to be the gazers, not the objects - and their conceptual vocabulary reflects this.

Magpie said...

his body, those muscles in the upper back, is beautiful.

Nels said...

Well, I told you I'd do it post-tenure, and the next time I'm in the area (October 2011?), I'm yours. You'll just need to get a wide angle lens by then.

Flavia said...

The older we get, the more comfortable we get with our bodies.

Yes and yes and yes. I'm only in my mid-30s now, but I never expected to feel, with each year that I age, happier with how I look--indeed, to believe that I'm actually better looking now than I was in my early 20s.

Is this empirically true? Maybe not. But feeling confident and attractive goes a long way toward projecting that impression.

Queen of West Procrastination said...

I like this idea of getting more comfortable with our bodies as we mature.

And Rana is dead on: compared with Mr. QWP, I'm super-comfortable with my body. I'm wandering around at the beach in some small bathing suit, while he's insisting on swimming in a t-shirt and shorts. And it's because of his weight and his body hair, which in popular culture are only publicly exposed as something to be laughed at.

AmpersandPrime said...

I totally agree with comments that it is about how my body *feels*. And it feels better than ever.

I love this shot -- and he has an amazing body.

Bardiac said...

I'm so glad you're back from your trip and posting again :)

Great discussion and photo. Thank you. The light is really amazing there.

Marni said...

He has a beautiful back... not backside... although that isn't bad either.

What a lovely shot.

Overeducated Twit said...

Beautiful picture. Then again, all your naked shots are.

I've noticed, not just in terms of body image, that women tend to get more confident overall as they get older. The women I know who are in their 40s are some of the most confident people I know--they're comfortable over all with who they are, so it makes perfect sense that they would be more comfortable with their bodies as well. I can only look forward to such maturation--I'm still in the self-conscious 20s stage :(.

jo(e) said...

Overeducated Twit: Good point. Perhaps the confidence women gain in other parts of their lives as they get older spills over to the way they feel about their bodies -- despite the constant negative messages we get from the dominant culture.

YourFireAnt said...

What's his phone number ?

;-)

Tie-Dye Brother-in-law said...

People (both men and women) often tell me that they don't like to dance in front of other people because they are worried about what they look like. I think the reason I love to dance is because I never stop to think about what it looks like -- I'm always thinking about how good it feels.

I used to not dance, because I didn't know what I was doing. Now I enjoy dancing - I still don't know what I'm doing, but I don't worry about it and just have fun.

It's the same with the whole nudity thing - the key is to not worry about what other people think.

the subject of jokes, ridicule, and so on - and who wants to expose oneself to that?

Hey - I've got kids. I'm the subject of jokes and ridicule whether I expose myself or not. :-)

jo(e) said...

Tie-Dye Brother-in-law: Exactly!

Anonymous said...

Nice Buns!

Tie-Dye Brother-in-law said...

Nice Buns!

Sounds like a Red-haired Sister comment... :-)

Wayfarer Scientista said...

joe - wow, someone else who is female and from this culture who doesn't have their ears pierced! I do think culture has a lot to do with the body scrutiny. In my experience Europeans are always more likely to get naked in a sauna while the American's (south and north) will sit there with a wrap.

YourFireAnt said...

Yes, that's my experience too [sauna, i.e.]. We're puritans; what can we say. ;-)

FA

I do not have pierced ears either.