I like clothing. Clothing is necessary. It protects from the cold, wind, and the sun. Bump into something a bit sharp or abrasive, or too hot or too cold? Clothing can sometimes provide a valuable protective coating over the skin, preventing a cut, burn, or bruise.
In another role, clothing hides or augments beauty and by doing so can allure. It invokes curiosity and can be expressive.
But it also hides shame and perpetuates insecurities. And clothing has reinforced the idea that nudity in the presence of others is bad or equates to sex. It is not and does not. Sharing yourself through nudity is a way to overcome your shame and fear while building trust and intimacy with another. That sharing is definitely a sensual experience, but it doesn’t have to be a sexual one. It shouldn’t be reserved for lovers only.
This is not a new topic in the history of humanity.
As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one.
full of adventure, full of discovery.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
You will have understood by then what
these Ithakas mean.
Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard
Years ago we anchored off Ithaka, but remained aboard for the night. Then continued our passage to Piraeus through the Corinth Canal without having set foot on the Island. For although Ithaka is a metaphor, the place itself is still somehow sacred to me. That I dared not enter before my time. The power of poetry.
Where is the line between admiration of human beauty and dehumanizing objectification? Is it possible for a person, a woman in most cases, to sell some sacred part of herself to the point of dehumanization? Doesn’t that power to use or sell her body as she wishes, and still retain her sacred self, rest with the woman in question and her alone? Regardless of how she is perceived by others, both buyers or third parties? Let’s be clear, objectification of women is dangerous. And the impulse to protect is strong. But be warned, it is a fast descent to the burkha, the habit, the chastity belt.
Admiration of human beauty is deep in our culture; in art, literature, and music. Consider Ruth Orkin’s iconic ‘American Girl in Italy’ photo from 1951 and the story behind it:
American Girl in Italy
Was the lady in question, Ninalee Craig, admired or objectified? Does it even matter? Craig says no. Maybe some men objectified her while others respectfully admired. We’ll never know. That is their concern. No doubt objectification can be dangerous, but if the objectification remains only in the heart and mind of the objectifier, only the objectifier himself is degraded.
Let’s not inadvertently disempower women through this concern over objectification. Let’s rather focus our efforts on disempowering men who objectify women, all the while remembering that paying tribute to feminine beauty can itself be a beautiful act.