At 15 years of age, I fell in love with the human body; naked and delightful in all its glorious waves and curves, male and female. I started sketching in pencil; a nude that I modelled on myself as I posed in front of my bedroom mirror with a book on Grey’s anatomy alongside on the floor. I wanted to get the muscular tones just right; consulting my sister’s medical text for direction, albeit inspiration. It wasn’t a naked portrait of self but rather as I wanted to look; not a skinny, shapeless stick as I was but a full-breasted woman with her head tossed back in a sense of physical rapture. I kept the sketch and today, nearly 50 years later, it sits framed on my bathroom shelf; a testimony to some aspect of my creative endeavour. A few years later, I discovered Kenneth Clark’s book The Nude; an erudite and educational treatise about the nude in art. It was even greater inspiration as I visited art galleries revelling in the Titian, Rubens, Caravaggio and Brett Whitely nudes I admired on the walls. Interesting, I once tried to draw male nudes; abandoned the pursuit in frustration and instead drew a male in blue biro fully clothed in a suit. Interesting that I drew this; not that I can remember why or what inspired me exactly, but it’s in my teenage diary even now. I recently bought a sketch book to start drawing again and must admit I’m a trifle scared to begin again; that nude at 15 is good and I’m unsure whether I can still draw, though I know I will. But I’m still in love with the naked delight of the human body.
As summer approaches Down Under, I am able to once again sleep naked; albeit alone, but it just feels so beautiful compared to donning a nightgown in the shiver of winter. I wrote in the St Vincent’s blog about standing on my balcony naked; ensuring no one was in the street below and convinced no one would see me for a couple of seconds. Suffice to say someone did unbeknown to me at the time, believing I was suicidal with an impulsive attempt to jump. (Where’s the photo?) It wasn’t even an unconscious thought. Nothing like it was on my mind. I’ve explained in that blog why I did that, but the assumptions some people made about my nakedness says more about their pitiful attitude to nudity. I love myself in that state; often walking around my apartment with only my flesh to reveal; a liberating and beautiful sense of oneness with myself. And in bed at night, I love caressing myself; that feeling of smooth, silky, naked skin that penetrates deep inside to allow a flowing and floating sense of self as I enter slumberland. It’s just so soothing and relaxing; and of course it turns me on to, a sensual and sexual sense of self that can be transcendent. I certainly miss the intimacy of lying with a man naked beside me, but I can lose myself in my own nakedness without him.
Last week, I watched a TV reality series program, made in America (where else?) about a new experiment in nudity, a dating ritual where males and females meet each other for the first time on a date completely naked. Of course, they covered up the revealing parts, even the females’ breasts, and there was little discussion about the impact their nakedness had on their date ritual, except they said it did help them to be more open than they might have otherwise been. It’s an interesting concept; it didn’t really seem to make much difference to them in respect to who they fancied or found attractive; it was more the face than the naked body that seemed to count; with one young woman obviously overweight and plump and nothing was even said. And one guy was very skinny. I was disappointed with the show as I was expecting a greater exploration of what nudity really means when you meet a stranger for the first time on a date but it seemed almost irrelevant and I was left wondering why they bothered with the experiment at all.
It was eight years ago that a young American photographer, Spender Tunick, visited Melbourne on his photographic crusade to shoot pictures of hundreds of people lying naked in the street in the city. Urged by a then female friend of mine, we decided to participate in the naked venture, arriving at a closed off bridge across the infamous Yarra River at 5am on a chilly October morn. I had no shyness whatsoever about disrobing; what was really amazing about the experience was that there was a void of sexuality as I looked at hundreds of naked bodies of all shapes and sizes as we lay on the cold concrete close together. It was eerie on one level; in that we were revealing our bodies sans clothes, but as with the dating ritual, it didn’t seem significant in how we related to one another; people chatted and laughed and strolled together across the bridge before lying down together. We could have been fully dressed for all the difference it seemed to make. I’ve never been to a nudist camp and this is the closest I’ve ever come to being with hundreds of naked people but it was as if our nudity was irrelevant. Is this how a nudist camp feels? Is? So why do it? On another level, however, the experience was also quite beautiful; no one, including me, seemed self-conscious or concerned about their imperfect, bulging bodies or skinny shapes; it was quite inspiring to realise that all the destructive and negative social angst about body image went AWOL for a few hours; we were all there celebrating feeling good about ourselves and enjoying our nakedness whatever we looked like; young and old, male and female. It was truly liberating en masse without any innuendo of sexuality. It was almost back to being born again; naked and essentially human, united together as simply human beings in all our natural state. Where were the horrifying and terrifying sounds of gunshots; booming aircraft overhead? This was really peace; and it felt like another time; another place, another era – a 21st century testament to the human race and what can be achieved together. The actual photo however told another story. We were all presented with Tunick’s photo at the end of the shoot; fully clothed once more we picked up the photos from a table, tried briefly to espy our naked selves (to no avail) and went home to remember it all over and over again. I’ve kept the photo and it frightens me; it reminds me of a concentration camp where all the dead, albeit skeletal bodies are lying on top of one another on the ground; even though we were not on top of one another, the photo makes me shiver; as if it is a lie about what I was feeling at the time. I felt free and beautiful, others said they did, too, yet the photo contradicts these emotions so perversely for me and others who weren’t there that I’ve shown it too since. It’s strange; does a photo say a thousand words, because what are the right words to capture the experience? Tunick has travelled the world shooting naked bodies as he did in Melbourne; and I’m not sure what his underlying drive is. I will always remember the occasion as enlightening and amazing; the photo tells another far more alarming narrative that I don’t relate to.
Can nudity be frightening then in some contexts? And what is the reality of nudity and sex? Of pleasure, beauty and also fear? How relevant is it to our essential humanness; what does it really say about us all when we go naked? And why can’t we walk naked down our high street shopping malls or even stand alone on our private balcony without some sick people assuming suicide? I can’t answer these issues for other people; I only know what it feels like for me and I love the naked delight of feeling my nudity at different times in different ways and in different places. I have swum naked on a few occasions, too, and that’s another really beautiful sensual feeling that makes my body tingle and warm to the touch of the water as it ripples across me. It can be sexual, but most of the times I’ve done it, sex wasn’t on my body or mind; I was just revelling in the sheer abandoned sense of physicality that embraced me. Yet, it can be frightening at times as I’ve written in other blogs when my ex-boyfriend tore all my clothes off me, stood me under a cold shower naked and abused me as “a fucking whore”, though I’m pretty certain the reality of my naked state made no difference to my fear, but was certainly it seems, relevant to my ex-boyfriend. It all depends on the context, the circumstances, the time, the place and the people you’re with. And what is in the eye of the beholder? What is in their conscious thoughts at the sight of a naked body on a balcony? Their insanity I can only assume, too. I even bought some paintbrushes and a canvas after a casual acquaintance bought me some paints and my first attempt at resuming my artistic talents is to paint myself naked on a balcony. I still love myself naked too; as much as I love wearing beautiful clothes and I don’t have any interest in attending a nudist camp, though I would love to go to a beach where I can sunbathe and swim naked. That can be pure bliss.
But on most beaches, we can’t lie like that. Why not, when young children so often frolic naked in the sands? Is there another more insidious fear lurking in most people about nudity? And what exactly are they afraid of? When you date back in history cultures so often were almost naked; women were bare breasted (and still are in countries even now) and men just covered their genital area. So why do we all cover up, even in climates when it’s still hot most of the year? I know too I swam naked in a public hotel swimming pool in Noosa many years ago and even fucked a man in the pool, and while there were people all around, we were oblivious to them and thankfully, they ignored us, too. I had a great time, sometimes you can get away with it but most times, it’s verboten! I’ve been lucky.
The reality is that what for me may be a naked delight can be for others, frightening and a reflection of their own attitudes to their own nakedness which they then project on to me. I am so looking forward to the hot summer months ahead, lying naked in my bed, feeling beautiful on the beach even in a swimsuit, and feeling the warm water caress my body. I often fall asleep with an amazing fantasy of being at the beach at midnight on a warm night and naked in the water with some man who makes love to me and then we lie and roll over in the sand, wash ourselves in the water again, to return to my apartment where he sprinkles my body with champagne to kiss and lick it off me, reaching ecstasy in the pure sheer beauty of naked delight in the moonshine with the stars twinkling in the sky with my world at peace.