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" The world is mud-luscious

and puddle-wonderful "

e.e.cummings

Feeling Safe

September 5th, 2014
Only humans get worried about being naked. This cat on Ibiza is quite happy wearing no clothes.

Only humans get worried about being naked. This cat on Ibiza is quite happy wearing no clothes.

The Spanish seem to have a sensible attitude to nakedness, at least on the island of Ibiza, where I am now. There, on certain beaches, if you want to go skinny dipping or don’t like the feeling of sunbathing in damp, cloying swimwear when you come out of the sea, you just head to the left, and the understanding is you can be naked there if you wish. No signs saying ‘Naturism tolerated’, as they sometimes say in France, just an accepted tradition.

This sensible attitude is in refreshing contrast to the prurience that has recently resulted in the publishing, without their permission, of private photos of famous female actors naked.

In my capacity as an ‘expert’, having written A Brief History of Nakedness, I have been telephoned on this mostly tranquil island to give interviews on the BBC and CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Company). What I said was this:

Taking nude ‘selfies’ or being photographed naked isn’t an abnormal or pathological activity. Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA was constantly finding them as they invaded peoples’ privacy, and these images were often traded amongst male employees if the subjects were female and attractive. When the NSA trawled through millions of Yahoo webcam images they were surprised to find over 10% of them were of this nature.

Why do people do this? It’s the modern mirror – we are curious to see ourselves as others see us. Being aware of ourselves as a ‘being’ can evoke such an amorphous, permeable, shifting sense of identity, that there is a part of many of us, I suspect, that wants to objectify ourselves, that wants to understand and see ourselves as a concrete, defined, object.

People do it too because it is transgressive. Humans love making rules, but they like breaking them too. They like the feeling of being ‘naughty’ – and as far as being naughty goes, taking a nude photo of yourself or your partner is a totally harmless way of gaining this feeling. Considering how much appalling rule-breaking is going on in the world right now in the Middle East and elsewhere, it is tragic we should be concerned at all about such a small and private pleasure.

On the positive side, this phenomenon shows we are increasingly capable of feeling free, of feeling proud, rather than ashamed, of our bodies. On the negative side, it may be a symptom of our increasingly narcissistic, self-obsessed culture.

As regards the recent publishing of the nude photos of actors, our only concern should be with the violation of their privacy. Someone has broken into their virtual ‘home’ and stolen their private possessions. If the photos had shown them wearing overcoats the issue would be the same.

It is the question of violation which is the central issue. The UN has just published a report that tells us that throughout the world 1 in 10 girls under the age of 20 has been raped or sexually assaulted. That is 120 million human beings who have been violated. What an appalling statistic – and what a world we live in where this can happen. And so to see women – and men – not ashamed of their bodies, not hiding, and happy to be seen naked, as here on the beaches in Ibiza, is reassuring – that at least in some places in the world we can feel safe enough to feel free, safe enough not to have to hide parts of ourselves.