Naked Ambition: On Nude Self Expression

[Content warning: mentions of sexual violence]

Having a body can often feel like more of a chore than a miracle for anyone who
doesn’t fit within the societally accepted archetype of white, cis, straight, thin, able-
bodied, and ‘conventionally attractive’. The media, alongside wider society, polices
our bodies constantly – every curve, scar and blemish is noticed and scrutinised.
Combine this with mental illness or issues such as trauma from sexual violence and
abusive relationships and, as a result, many of us – myself included – feel as if our
bodies are not truly our own. Nudity is a complex issue too, and it isn’t something
immediately acceptable or accessible to everyone. The sight of a nipple still strikes
fear in the hearts of many, but I strongly believe that being comfortable with your
naked form is an important part of making your body a home, as opposed to simply a
flesh cage carrying you through the perils of modern society.

Most of my nude self-expression and exploration has been through art. Nudity has
always been an important part of the artistic canon, many of my favourite pieces of
art revolve around the naked form – such as Picasso’s Les Demoiselle’s d’Avignon,
Matisse’s Blue Nude series or Michelangelo’s David. These works are so important
as they portray the figures in such powerful ways, without overtly sexualising them.
Instead, they highlight the strength in the human form as well as the beauty – they
are quite literally works of art. Despite this, they still only represent bodies that
conform to the ‘acceptable’ standards of beauty – as a fat, trans person, I can’t find
myself in these artworks.

So, we create our own. Nudes are probably the greatest art form of our generation –
anyone and everyone can take them, and yes, while some are far less ‘artistic’ than
others (no-one likes to receive an unsolicited picture of a limp penis against the very
tasteful background of half eaten pizzas and grotty carpets), they are a celebration of
the body and the beauty you find within yourself. Realising that I can just take nudes
for myself is probably the biggest revelation I have had over the last year – you can
be your own mediocre cis boy; you can take a cheeky titty pic just to tell yourself that
you are a sexy legend.

My friends and I have a group chat where we just share nudes we have taken and
gush over how beautiful, powerful and cool we all are, and it is the most empowering
thing I will probably ever be a part of. Taking nudes and sharing them, not just to be
sexualised but also to just show the admiration I have for my body and all the
amazing things it can do has increased my confidence; not just in my physical form
but also in interacting with others, and even public speaking. I feel more connected
within myself and more assurance in the power I hold. I have experimented more
with my creativity and traditional art forms too – I’ve started to draw a lot of my own
nudes and practice life drawing. This is also incredibly empowering, not only for me
but also for others who look like me, those who aren’t represented in the popular
artistic canon or who aren’t seen as stereotypically ‘beautiful’. Every time I see
artwork that celebrates diverse people, it makes me feel so beautiful and seen, and
it’s really exciting that I can create that feeling for other people too.

I believe it was Kevin Bacon, the greatest philosopher of our time, who said that
“there’s something therapeutic about nudity… take away the Gucci or Levi’s and
we’re all the same.” Despite the bougie nature of his clothing choices (not everyone
gets paid millions to cut about dressed like Britney Spears on TV adverts, Kevin),
there is something true about his words. Beneath our façades of clothing and
capitalism, we are all just collections of blood, bones and flesh – each one of us
unique, but united in the experience of having a corporeal form.

In a culture that operates on the control of bodies and systematic oppression of
anyone who doesn’t fit within the norms of conventional attractiveness or
personhood, being kind to yourself and your body is the most radical and powerful
thing you can do. You don’t have to love every intricate part of yourself, or think that
your body is a masterpiece, but treat your body gently – sit in your nakedness and
admire the fact that your body keeps you alive every day, the strength in your thighs
or how your stretch marks look like lightning bolts. Being comfortable with your naked
self is an act of resistance and an act of self care, it will change your life.

[Chris Timmins – he/him- @_plantbot]
[Photo credit: Chris Timmins]

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