A Brief History of Nakedness discusses the way nudity can act as a mirror of the soul. How we perceive ourselves, our degree of self-esteem or self-loathing, how comfortable we feel in our skin, profoundly affects the way we behave in the world. Body shame tends to produce shameful behaviour – our shame is projected outwards on to others. Ease with one’s own body shape tends to produce the reverse: tolerant, relaxed behaviour that comes from a sense of being comfortable in the world. That’s why it’s an important subject. That’s why I’ve written a book about it – because how we feel about our bodies has a profound impact on how we lead our lives and treat other bodies, and the body of the Earth herself.
The two reviews mentioned in my previous post, appearing as they did on consecutive days in the national press, and penned by two peers, provides the perfect demonstration of this. And now the Telegraph review has gone online, so it’s easy to compare them.
Take Robert Douglas-Fairhurst’s review from the Telegraph which opens like this:
Here’s an experiment to try at home. Take off your clothes and stand in front of a full-length mirror. What do you see?
If you’re someone like the sculptor Antony Gormley, you might be confronted by a nicely toned body with handsome genitals just crying out to be cast in bronze. If not – and frankly most of us aren’t that brazen – you probably look more like a lump of clay that’s been left out in the rain. Let your eyes linger on the wobbly bits, the knobbly bits, the weird bits that look as if they belong to someone else. Familiarise yourself with the historical route map of lines and scars. Notice the hair that seems to have decided to abandon your head and relocate itself in surprising new areas.
At this point, you may hear a little voice reassuring you that you’re beautiful, warts and all. Even so, you have doubts. Your body may even decide to take matters into its own hands, so to speak, unwilling to allow itself to be explained away by that chunk of grey matter between its ears. It may flinch or shudder.
Now pick up Philip Carr-Gomm’s richly illustrated history of nakedness.
Then read how Peter Conrad begins his review for the Observer
Writers, luckily, are invisible voices: we can only be grateful that Philip Carr-Gomm is not on television. To judge from the photograph on the jacket of his book, which mercifully stops at the neck, he’s a jolly, ruddy, probably burly fellow, with a shock of greying curls. But he has the soul of a sanctimonious flasher, and is convinced that the sight of the rest of him – adipose middle-aged belly flab, jiggling genitals, a bum that has doubtless gone south – would be good for the world, helping to usher in a new age of spiritual renewal and political revolution.
The suspicious might think that Conrad is a mate of mine and that I’ve bunged him a few quid to write something fantastically silly to create a contrast, to boost book sales (it shot up the charts on Amazon yesterday really nicely) and most importantly – to provide a graphic demonstration of one of the book’s theses: that a consideration of nakedness provides us with a powerful tool to examine issues of empowerment: religious, political and cultural. Sadly I have to report that no money has changed hands between Peter Conrad and myself.
“My hands are clean!” As the Conservative politician Juan Barranco announced on a poster of himself naked in Madrid in 2007.